Friday, September 10, 2010

Meal Planning by Pam

I eat three meals and three snacks per day. Of those six meals - five of them are eaten away from home (on the road or at work). And once college classes start again, I don't eat at home at all on school days.

My crazy schedule requires serious meal planning. My personality requires that my meal planning ideas must be easy and fast. So I'll share with you some of the things that have worked for me over the past couple years.

Make All Meals Portable (Grab-n-Go)
I pack my lunch bag in the morning while I'm brushing my teeth (yes, I walk around during teeth brushing) - so that gives me about one minute to get it done. My rule of thumb is: "If I can't pack it in 30 seconds, it's not getting packed." So everything has to be ready to grab and go before I'm ready to pack it.

The Grocery Shopping Rule
I have a strict rule that if I'm going to go grocery shopping, I must also allow time afterward - when I get home - to put my food away properly. Nothing goes into my fridge or cupboard in it's "whole" package, it must all be packed down into single-serving size packages (bowls or ziploc baggies).

So if I buy grapes, I must have time to bring them home, pluck and wash them and get them into individual snack size baggies before putting them into the fridge. If I don't have time for that, then I don't buy grapes.
Grapes are pre-packaged in snack-size ziploc baggies

What's in my Fridge?

Early on Monday mornings when you open my fridge you'll see the following:

  • Five individual serving size bowls containing my lunches for the week (more on this later)
  • A short plastic "shoebox" containing baggies of grapes (or some similar fruit)
  • A  short plastic "shoebox" containing a dozen or so Carbmaster Yogurt
  • A bowl of cut up veggies (carrot or celery sticks, cauliflower or broccoli, etc.)
  • A "basket" for all my tortilla pizza fixings.
  • Salad fixings - either pre-made in bowls or a big bowl of mixed greens with toppings nearby
  • Deli sliced turkey - weighed to 4oz and packed into baggies (it's gotta be Jennie-O)
  • Sargento Light Mozz cheesesticks (yes, that specific brand and no others)
Trail Mix gets packaged into single servings
What's in the cabinets?

  • Snack size baggies of Fiber One twigs (1/2c gives me 14g fiber!)
  • Trail mix packed into single-serving baggies
  • Soy Crisps in single-serving packs
  • Protein Bars
  • Peanut Butter Crackers
  • Wasa Cracker / Flat Bread
The Same Lunch Every Day?
Yes, I really do eat the same thing for lunch every day for at least five days straight. And sometimes I even have it for dinner a couple times during the week. But why? Because I'm lazy... ur... efficient. 

Most weeks I cook a big pot (or pan) of something on Sunday afternoons. And then I package that big recipe into individual serving size bowls for meals later in the week. Some weeks it's an elaborate cooking production. Some weeks I'm rushed and it is an easy cooking day.
Salad for lunches this week!

For instance this week I'm having salad with diced turkey. So I pulled out my new bowl (similar to these by GladWare) and layered in my favorite salad toppings. Mixed baby greens, matchstick carrots, cherry tomatoes (from my garden). Then I weighed my turkey into 4oz portions and diced the thick slices - placing them in a baggie and then inside the bowl with the salad. I keep a bottle of Kraft Light Italian Dressing in the refrigerator at work.

On Tuesday I stopped at the Farmer's Market near my office and bought some heirloom tomatos. OMG-YUM! So I added those as a side dish to my salad for the remainder of the week.

Next week I think a pot of chili is on the agenda. The weather has turned into instant Fall and I'm in the mood for something warm and comforting for lunches.

What's for Dinner?
Dinner is the one meal that I really make a great effort to eat at home. Before my WLS surgery - and before I wised up and started eating healthy in the years before my weight loss surgery -- I'd stop at whatever fast food restaurant I was in the mood for that night. But now I make it a ritual to get home in time to cook dinner and eat at home. I use a similar solution for dinner that I use for lunch.
Roasted veggies become the side dish for dinner all week

As I mentioned above, I have the fixings for tortilla pizza and salad in the fridge almost all the time. But I also tend to cook a large portion of something and have that for dinner - or at least part of dinner. This past weekend I roasted some seasonal veggies - squash, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, onion, mushroom - tossed in extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with Mrs. Dash. So I can pair any number of things with veggies for a different dinner each night. I've got frozen individually frozen chicken breasts and fish and steaks -- so the choices are plentiful.

What if I'm lazy?
Of course there are times when I feel lazy or just don't feel like cooking at all. In the past week -- and probably because of my new Ninja purchase -- I've had a protein shake in place of meals when I normally would have cooked.

Ninja Update -- these ice cream shakes out of the Ninja are seriously amazing. I just edited the recipe in the original blog post because I discovered that the chocolate ice cream shake is so much better if you add a bit of chocolate pudding mix and lots more ice. I had one the other night and needed to eat it with a spoon because I couldn't suck it through a straw (too thick!). The folks in my support group will get a treat next week... I'll be taking my Ninja to the meeting so we can try these together.

Meal Planning Summary
My basic philosophy about meal planning is that I need to find a simple routine that will work within my too-busy schedule. I also have to take my own "rules" seriously. There's nobody who is going to do my meal planning for me if I don't do it myself and I have to respect myself enough to follow the rules I set for myself.  So my "grocery shopping rule" is a serious rule... my "30 second packing" rule is a serious rule .... and because they're serious rules, I must follow them.

My plan works great for me and my lifestyle. You'll need to figure out what your plan needs to be based on how you live your life. But once you have a plan, it sure does make life much easier and make it pretty simple to eat healthy and make the right food choices.



  1. OMG! How do you not get bored of eating the same thing every day of the week? I soooo wish that I could do that. It would make things much easier!

  2. I do get bored. Today is Friday and I couldn't bear to have salad again... so I went out and grabbed some food at a local restaurant instead. But that doesn't happen very often. I'll eat the same thing for lunch 5 days in a row, then I probably won't eat that dish again for 3 or 4 months. Next week is Chili -- but I haven't had chili in about 5 months, so I'm looking forward to it. But by Friday of next week I'll be tired of it.

    The other option would be to cook like I mention but then freeze portions for use later. So after a few weeks of cooking you'll have 5 or 6 different lunch options stocked up in the freezer. For instance, earlier this week I pulled out of the freezer a leftover portion of Southwest Chicken and had it for dinner. It was delicious!

  3. I picked up my Ninja and I absolutely love it.
    You rock Pam!!!!!

    Tressa Ü

  4. Roasted squash, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, onion, mushroom ... that all sounds very healthful and very tasty. Yum!

  5. Awesome post, Pam! Tho quick question... If you package up 5 servings of salads on Sunday, how do you avoid them getting soggy or squishy? I know there isn't salad dressing mixed in, but my lettuce always gets slimy after a few days in the fridge... Alissa

  6. There are a couple keys to keeping salads fresh for 5 days. 1) make sure the lettuce is VERY dry. Wash your leaves as normal, but then pat them dry with paper towel or a cotton kitchen towel or use a salad spinner. 2) air tight containers are essential. Air and moisture are the enemies of lettuce. Remove both of those and you'll have fresh salad for a week, easily.


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