Why its important
Meal planning for weight loss is definitely a strategy you should think very critically about if you are serious about losing weight or maintaining your current weight.
It is commonly said that abs are made in the kitchen. This is not far from the truth.
If you don’t get your meal right, you will struggle a lot to make your weight loss efforts work.
You simply cannot out-exercise a bad diet. However, doing the right exercises will help you get results faster.
In this post, I walk you through, step by step on how to make your meal planning work for your weight loss goals.
Basics of meal planning for weight loss
You probably already know that there are lots of ways you could lose wight.
Different strategies are always popping up all the time. Some based on real scientific evidence, some others based on personal health preferences.
But underlying every strategy that works, some basic components need to be present.
- Calorie deficit
- Emphasis on whole foods and avoidance of processed foods.
- Exercise (though not directly related to meal planning)
When it comes to weight loss, 80% of your results would result from your diet and 20% from exercise and other things.
The diet part essentially, has to do with creating a caloric deficit while maintaining healthy nutrition by eating whole foods that contain vitamins and minerals.
So it basically comes down to this;
“reduce the amount of calories (quantity of food) you consume while maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet”.
Weight loss works differently for different people, so its important you choose the weight loss strategy that suits you.
You might go with a low carb approach (Though not very sustainable over the long term). Or may prefer paleo or mediterranean style diets. You can also decide to add intermittent fasting to the mix.
The basic concept of meal planning is choosing what you will eat for each day of the week ahead and preparing them in advance.
Coming up with your meal ideas for the week, shopping for the ingredients, preparing the meal and storing them for the entire week is what the whole process looks like.
If you don’t already practice this super habit, you absolutely have to try it out. It might be difficult initially, but with time you’ll get the hang of it and it’ll be a piece of cake.
How to… Meal planning For weight loss
In other to make it easy for you to get the best out of your weight loss meal planning. I have divided the process into four(4) simple steps.
Let’s call it the 4Ps
- Put away
These steps are super easy to follow if you can get clear on what you need to do at each step.
I’ll walk you through the steps one after the other. Also, I’ll give you tools to help you breeze through these steps like a piece of cake.
Are you ready? Lets go…
1. Plan your diet strategy
This where you mix your weight loss strategy with the meals you would love to eat during the week.
The first thing to do would be to choose the kind of weight loss diet style you want to follow.
Is it a keto diet, a mediterranean diet, paleo diet or vegetarian diet.
The the next step would be to plan for caloric deficit.
This means your means you have to know the caloric value of the food items you’ll be using for your meals.
Don’t worry, its not hard to know. Just google the food item eg.
Caloric value of egg is….
The other thing to be mindful of is to ensure you choose food items that supply you with enough vitamins and minerals. Putting lots of fruits and vegetables on the list ensures you are covered.
It would be helpful to include foods that have high satiety eg. Protein. They help you maintain caloric deficit without suffering the pangs of hunger. Also learn about foods that boost your metabolism [Internal Link].
As part of the planning process, you need to choose the meals for the different days of the week ahead. Remove dinner dates and other times you will likely be eating out.
2. Purchase the ingredients you need
The planning phase would have enabled you come up with your grocery list for the week.
Go through it again and eliminate those things you already have.
Then go ahead and buy all the stuff you need form the grocery store. This should be pretty easy, you only have to resist the temptation to but excess things you don’t need.
Make use of your list and shop only once.
3. Prepare your meals
This might be the daunting part of the whole mix. But if you have completed the previous two steps, you’ll most likely have the momentum to complete this step.
You don’t have to do it all in one go, but it’s a good way to go if you can do it all at one.
Do it however is most convenient for you.
Cut and dice all the vegetables, prepare your recipes halfway so its easier to complete during the week or fully prepare your meals and package them for storage.
4. Put away safely
Definitely the most interesting aspect of the process, but can leave you with nightmares if you do it wrongly.
You have to learn how to use proper storage techniques for different food categories. If you don’t store your meal well and your food goes bad, you will have wasted your precious effort and time.
Fruits and Vegetables
Leafy greens will stay fresh longer if they are rinsed, wrapped in paper towel and put into a container or sealed plastic bag.
You can refrigerate most fresh fruits and vegetables except for:
- Avocados, mangoes, melons, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears, tomatoes. Keep Them at room temperature until ripe, then refrigerate.
- Bananas, garlic, onions (except green onions), mature potatoes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, . Keep at room temperature, best not in the refrigerator.
Remember to keep fresh produce away from any raw meat, poultry or seafood when preparing or storing it.
You can also stock up vegetable for the long term by freezing them.However, you have to blanch them before freezing.
Blanching involves heating water to boiling point, then plunging the vegetable inside and allowing it to boil again and rapidly cooling it by running cold tap water over it or using ice water.
Learn more about the blanching times for various vegetables here; Home Food Safety.
It’s better not to blanch fruits. You can just wash, dry and pack them.
Meat, Poultry and Fish
Store raw meat, seafood and poultry in clean, sealed containers on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
Keep cooked meat separate from raw meat and ready-to-eat foods in general.
Never refreeze raw meat (including poultry) or fish that has been defrosted. You can cook frozen meat and fish once defrosted, and then refreeze them.
You can refreeze cooked meat and fish once, as long as they have been cooled before going into the freezer.
What to do with leftovers
You don’t have to throw away leftovers, you already have tomorrow’s lunch in hand.
Here is what you can do:
- Cool leftovers as quickly as possible, ideally within 2 hours
- Use refrigerated leftovers within 2 days
- When reheating food, make sure it is heated until it reaches a temperature of 70c for 2 minutes, so that it is steaming hot throughout
- When defrosted, food should be reheated only once, because the more times you cool and reheat food, the higher the risk of food poisoning
- For safety and to reduce waste, only take out of the freezer what you intend to use within the next 24 hours
If you have never tried this 4 P process before, your first attempt will be the hardest. But as you push through it for the first couple of weeks, you’ll see the benefit and you’ll most likely get hooked.
Tools for the process
Using technology can help make meal planning super easy and fun to do. There are numerous apps for meal planning you can use in your weight loss journey.
I have listed just three of them here.
Each has a different set of features. You can test all of them and choose which one you like best.
1. Eat This Much
- Easy to use calorie counter and a meal planner.
- Includes a database of recipes and basic foods with full nutrition information.
- Calculates a macronutrient range based on your height, weight and health goals
- For the free version, you can only create a meal plan one day at a time
- Paid version at $5/month gives you access to the automatic grocery lists
- Available on iOS and Android.
2. Lose It!
- More of a calorie and macronutrient tracker.
- Has a Free Version
- Premium version includes meal planning features.
- For maximum features you’ll have to pay $3.33/month.
- Available on both iOS and Android devices.
- A meal-planning tool combined with a calorie tracker.
- Free of charge if you want to use the calorie tracker alone.
- The meal planning features require a $79.99 annual fee.
- After entering your height, weight and activity level, you’re able to personalize your meal plan according to food preferences, allergies and specific dietary patterns.
- It’s available on iOS and Android
Meal planning is not for the faint of heart. But it is a very important strategy you will not want to look over if you want to succeed with weight loss.
Have you tried meal planning before? What works for you? Please share your thoughts.