If you’re like most runners, you wouldn’t train for a race without a training plan, so why would you eat without a meal plan?
Discover how these nine benefits can help you plan meals to save time, money, and improve your health.
1. Less stress at meal time
Imagine this: it’s been a busy day and you haven’t had a single second or even a hot minute to think about what you’re going to cook tonight. Well, you’ve thought several times about the fact that you don’t know what to make, but you still don’t have any great ideas.
You pick up the kids and they say they’re starving. “What’s for dinner?” they ask. You try to get a few more things done before your spouse gets home. Or maybe you try to squeeze in a run before dinner. Everyone’s hungry, getting hangry, and you wonder why it’s all on you to decide at the last minute what everyone is going to eat. Does this sound familiar? I’ve certainly been there, and I didn’t like it.
Making too many decisions in a short amount of time is stressful. This stress turns into decision fatigue, which is the idea that after making many decisions, a person’s ability to decide becomes worse. When you’ve been busy making decisions all day you likely don’t want to decide at the last-minute what’s for dinner.
Planning meals in advance helps you avoid these mealtime catastrophes. If you plan your week’s meals ahead of time and involve your family in the process , no one has to wonder what’s for dinner.
2. Eat fewer processed and unhealthy foods
In the previous scenario the path of least resistance is to grab what’s quick and easy. Sometimes it’s so easy to scarf a bag of chips to curb the hunger while you order takeout or find something from the freezer.
Frozen can be healthy, but when you’re super hungry, it’s often more tempting to grab junk food if you haven’t planned any healthy alternatives. When you have a plan you can make sure to have healthy food on the ready.
3. Save money and reduce food waste
The average American family throws out nearly $1500 worth of food each year, according to CNBC in 2019.
The meal-planning process involves first inspecting your fridge, pantry and freezer before you shop. This way you can make sure to use those bulk purchases rather than forgetting and letting them go to waste.
Meal planning also saves money by allowing you to cook at home more and eat out less.
According to Forbes , it’s five times more expensive on average to order delivery than to cook at home.
Meal kit services are a handy way to get home cooked meals, but they’re almost three times more expensive than cooking from scratch.
4. Simplify grocery shopping and cooking
How easy is it to go to the store to buy one item and walk out with ten? When you grocery shop with a specific list you not only save money, but you also save yourself decisions and time. To save the most, check what’s on sale before you (or whoever does the shopping) go to the store.
There’s also the option of online ordering so you don’t have to be confronted with all the goodies you didn’t know you needed.
Meal planning in advance allows you to search for quick-to-make recipes so you’re not just picking something that sounds good in the moment, then you later realize takes way more time than you accounted for.
5. More time to appreciate and enjoy meals (and digest them better)
On those days when you’re so hungry you can’t see straight and the kids are clamoring to eat right NOW you’re more likely to rush to get food on the table. It’s easy for everyone to start scarfing their food when they’re over-hungry.
Whereas when you have a plan and dinner is ready before everyone is starving, you can slow down and savor the food, which in turn allows better digestion.
6. Get more variety and spark creativity
When you plan meals in advance you can make sure to eat many different types of proteins and produce. Keep in mind, you don’t have to pick a new recipe to eat every day. In fact, that’s a recipe for overwhelm. Try only introducing one or two new dishes each week.
You could try a theme for each night of the week. For example: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, slow cooker Wednesday, grill Thursday, and Pizza Friday.
Even if you have structure for your meals like with theme nights, it’s fun to find variety within those parameters. For example, if you do Taco Tuesdays, one week you could do fish tacos, the next week chicken, then another type of protein the following. Anyone have a good recipe for tofu tacos?
The principle of “cook once, eat twice” saves so much time. This can happen either in the form of pure leftovers, or by repurposing meals. For example, one night we have burgers and then a couple nights later I use that meat that’s already cooked for a quick Cheeseburger Salad.
Plan meals that use the same ingredients so you can use those items in other dishes later in the week.
7. Satisfy everyone's tastes and improve the whole family's health
Families who have had success getting kids to eat what’s prepared often report that they involve the kids either in the planning or preparing of meals (or both).
This often takes time and patience but has long-lasting rewards. The younger you can start this with your kids, the better. Don’t just ask them, “What do you want to eat this week?” or you might just hear “Mac and cheese!”
Give kids options at first. For example, “Which would you like more, chicken with rice or chicken with pasta?”
When kids start reading you can give them a cookbook to choose a recipe (or more) each week they can be involved with helping cook.
Have you found that your kids eat better when they’re involved in the prep? And what about your partner; how could you involve them in the decision making? Maybe sit down with a calendar once a week and delegate who’s going to cook or shop on which days.
8. Increase togetherness
Eating together as a family provides a time to connect, yet it seems to be getting more challenging in today’s busy society. There are nutritional, social, and mental benefits to eating with others. In a recent study 84% of parents said that family meals were important, but only 50% of family dinners were eaten together.
Consuming meals together (whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner) teaches kids better eating habits, improves communication, among a myriad of other researched benefits.
9. Fuel your running
When your meals and runs are planned and your family is on board, you’re much more likely to get your workouts completed. Getting your nutrition dialed in means you will have sufficient energy for your training. Running demands much from your body, so it’s especially important to be prepared and get adequate nourishment for your efforts. Meal planning is key to having healthy meals and snacks ready to fuel your fit lifestyle.
I said it at the beginning, and I’ll say it again: If you’re like most runners, you wouldn’t train for a race without a training plan, so why would you eat without a meal plan? Even if you’re not currently training for a race, it’s important to eat healthy on a daily basis, and meal planning will help you and your family do that.