“Have a plan, work the plan.”

If you’ve ever attended one of our Time Management workshops, you’ve heard us say: Have a plan, then work the plan. It’s important for time management, but also for all health & wellness goals. Whether you stick rigidly to your plan or make adjustments on the fly, the important part is having a clear roadmap on how you’ll achieve your goal.

For anyone who’s ever run a long distance race, or lost a significant amount of weight, you can probably list exactly what you did to make it happen. You didn’t just go from sitting on the couch and watching TV every night to running every step of a 10K. Rather, you probably started with some slow jogs, and worked your way up to the distance. One person I know actually set and met a goal of running or hiking 2015 miles in 2015. She broke down exactly how many miles that meant per day, per week, and per month so she could stay on track. That’s an example of a goal that certainly wouldn’t have happened by itself without careful planning!

We had you send in your goals for 2016, and they are fantastic. So many fun things are happening in 2016! Now we would encourage you to write out the roadmap, or that plan for how you are going to achieve all the amazing things that you have set out for yourself. As anticipated, many of you mentioned losing weight and/or eating better as a goal for this year. It was no mistake then that the MT Meals January Challenge of the month is to Be A Meal Planner. Planning out your meals, particularly dinner, eliminates the weeknight scramble to come up with something at the last minute, when you are already hungry and tired after work. It also helps you avoid reaching for the easiest, quickest food you can put your hands on, which is usually not the most health-promoting. As a bonus, you can save a lot of money by meal planning, especially if you put some time and effort into your plan.

A few tips for successful meal planning:

  1. Keep it simple – Unless cooking is your passion and you enjoy making elaborate five-course meals for dinner each night, keep in mind the time and energy needed for meal prep. At the end of the work day, most of us are looking for a meal that is relatively easy and quick to prepare. Occasionally, I like to make more time intensive recipes, but I usually save these for the weekends or nights when I know my to-do list is short. I  recommend having a list of about 10 or so meals that come together relatively quickly, that you know your family will enjoy, and that use a lot of ingredients already on hand (read this for some suggestions on what to keep in your pantry). Then rotate through these familiar favorites, throwing in a new recipe from time to time too.
  2. Utilize leftovers – Intentionally plan leftovers for dinners later on in the week. For example, you could roast a pork tenderloin on Monday, then thinly slice the leftover meat for tacos or a taco salad on Wednesday. Or, if one recipe calls for fresh basil, find another recipe that also uses it too, so none goes to waste. Do this with most of your ingredients, and you will be saving a big chunk of change on your monthly grocery bill.
  3. Make a list. Make a list of all ingredients as you select recipes. Check off the ingredients that you already have, then organize by grocery store section before you head out shopping.
  4. Prep. If there are steps that you can do beforehand, do yourself a favor and put in some prep work for a future meal. Even small steps like mixing spices, or chopping up a few vegetables, can make dinner time just that much easier.

If you like the idea of a weekly meal plan, but you want someone else to do the work for you, many online meal planning services are available—for a fee of course. Costs vary, usually $5-10/month. Most of the time, the meal plans still require some tweaking based on your schedule and food preferences. But, at least you’ll have a good starting point. You may find it worth the additional cost, or you may not, but it might be something to consider if meal planning is a chore for you or if finding the time to plan, organize, and shop for meals isn’t happening. Check out this review of several meal planning services from Shape magazine to get an idea of what’s out there.

And as a reminder, we do offer a Meal Planning Made Easy Workshop as part of our Wellness education.

Happy Meal Planning (and eating)!


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Cristin Making Meal Planning Easy at UM Missoula

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