Welcome back to Wellness Wednesday! Today we’re going to talk a little about one of the dimensions we most often think of when we talk about wellness — the physical dimension. According to SAMHSA, the physical dimension of wellness is defined as “recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep.” Today I’d like to focus on the ‘healthy foods’ aspect of our physical dimension, specifically meal planning.
Eating nutritious meals can really make a difference in our overall wellness, but it isn’t always easy. Cooking at home makes it much easier to know and control what we’re eating, but sometimes coming up with nutritious meal ideas can be a real chore, especially if we haven’t planned ahead. That’s where meal planning comes in.
If you’re like me, meal planning might not be your favorite thing to do. I just have a hard time knowing what I might want to eat from one day to the next. That can make it somewhat difficult to plan ahead, but if you can build some flexibility into your plan, that problem is solved. A good meal plan can help us meet our nutritional goals, make sure we have a variety of nutritious foods to choose from, and give us some ‘wiggle room’ for those delicious treats we like to enjoy from time to time. Simplifying our meal-planning process can sometimes mean the difference between eating something good for us or calling for take-out.
Below are some tips for making meal-planning easier. It may seem like a little more work at the beginning, but once the preliminary work is done, it’s basically just a matter of plugging meals into the plan.
4 Steps To Easier Meal Planning
1. Make a list of the foods you like.
List foods you like and will want to include in your meals. It’s helpful to break the list into categories: Protein, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains and Seeds, and Healthy Fats. Of course, as tastes change or you discover new foods you like, you can add to the list, and if you want, you can even include specific dishes that use that particular food. If I’m thinking of a certain recipe, I even include which cookbook and page number so I can check the recipe when I make my shopping list.
2. Determine your eating pattern.
Do you have a specific eating plan you want to follow? Do you have a certain number of meals you want to eat each day? This will give you a guideline for how to plan for each day. For example, I try to stick to the Mediterranean Diet style of eating as much as possible. I chose this particular pattern for its emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and other foods that are delicious and good for you. If you’re interested in the Mediterranean Diet, please check out www.oldwayspt.org. They have tons of information, not just about the Mediterranean Diet, but other traditional diets as well, and lots of yummy recipes. This pyramid serves as a visual reminder to me of what I need to include in my meals for the week.
Used with permission by www.oldwayspt.org
3. Divide your day into the number of eating opportunities you’ve decided on.
These eating opportunities include both regular meals and snacks. For example, I usually have about five different times that I eat during the day, so my plan looks like this:
4. Just “plug and play.”
Now all you have to do is plug foods from your Foods I Like list into your meal plan for each day. I try to make sure that I have at least a few meals that are super-easy to prepare in each week’s plan. That way, if I don’t feel like cooking, or want to spend minimal time in the kitchen, I choose those.
I also like to make sure that my meals are each similarly balanced; ie, each larger meal has the same basic number of servings of protein, veggies, starches and fat, so that I have lots of flexibility to switch things around. I have the days numbered just as a guideline, but if I don’t want to eat what I have planned for a specific day I can just change it out for something from another day.
A meal plan allows us to plan ahead, stick to a shopping list (which also helps our financial dimension of wellness), and automate our healthy eating habits – we don’t have to think too much about whether what we’re eating is healthy – because we planned nutritious meals we know we’re good to go.
Wellness is so much more than just the physical dimension, but for those of us who live with fibromyalgia or other chronic illnesses, we have to stack the deck in our favor in the physical dimension as much as possible. Meal planning can help us do that.
What are some of your favorite tips for making sure your nutritional deck is stacked? Please share!