This quote is often used in a business scenario, reminding managers to plan for upcoming projects by determining the steps necessary to complete them.
I believe the same applies to our health. I plan my workouts, plan my meals, and even plan my rest. Sure, the plan doesn't always go smoothly and sometimes I must revert to Plan B, but without a plan, I flounder during the day trying to decide when to workout, what to eat, and usually find unaccomplished tasks keep me up later than I want to be. Often, without a plan, my focus get diverted to something else and I end up making unhealthy choices and skipping my workout.
No, I am not obsessive about my plan, but I do use it as the foundation of my day. Just as my work day is scheduled, so is my meal/workout/health plan. I have to work, and I have to take care of my health. Many of the other things that occupy my day are the things I want to do (nothing wrong with that), and the energy drains that somehow suck up more time than they should (nothing good with that!). Somehow, those energy drains can easily take over and, before I know it, the day comes to an end and I have little to show for it.
I am easily distracted and tend to work on 5 different projects at once, often completing none of them. So, I have learned to schedule my time and keep focused on one thing at a time (OK, still working on that one!!). Having my meals planned is one less distraction for me and keeps my mind focused on the task rather than what I am going to have for lunch.
Planning can seem intimidating, but it doesn't need to be. I actually begin near the end of the month by looking at the month ahead. Yes, I know, planning a whole month ahead may seem ridiculous, but we are just getting the framework established.
So, near the end of June, I begin planning for July. I know I will be celebrating the 4th of July, heading out of town for the few days, attending as many festivals as possible, and spending some time relaxing by the pool. I also know I will be working evenings Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday all month and 2 Tuesday evenings.
I write all of my outings/special events/holidays on my calendar so I can plan around them. The weekends I am out of town will leave me unable to prep, so I will prep a little extra on the weekends I am home, and include some easy to throw together meals when I get back. I know I will splurge on July 4, which means I better watch my calories before and after so I stay on track for the week.
I establish a theme for each night, such as Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesday, Italian Wednesday, etc. Often I change them up - I am adding some of my favorite "ethnic" recipes on Tuesdays and my husband gets grill duty on Wednesdays. Thursdays are "Empty the Fridge" night to ensure I use up all of that summer produce I will be buying. Now, I begin filling in the calendar:
Once I complete this framework, I begin filling in, while thinking off creative ways to use the same ingredients in multiple meals throughout the week. For example, on July 16, I will be making portobello mushrooms stuffed with artichokes, feta cheese and pesto. The feta cheese and artichokes will be used again to be served alongside the chicken souvlaki I will make on Tuesday. When my husband grills on Wednesday, I will have him grill some asparagus to serve with salmon on Friday.
I don't spend much time planning breakfast. I usually prepare a few jars of overnight oatmeal, layer up some simple yogurt parfaits with fruit and nuts, and make a couple egg muffins or egg wraps. Breakfast is simple, as is lunch. Generally I have a big salad a full-serving of protein for lunch. I use ingredients from other meals to toss together a large, healthy salad.
Pork left from the Thai pork lettuce wraps can be quickly tossed into a Santa Fe style salad with black beans, avocados, tomatoes and grilled corn. Basically, I take a few puzzle pieces and fit them together to create a full month's worth of meals. Using the pieces and by prepping a little extra, I always have plenty for lunch.
To ensure that I am ready to grab and go, I prepare 5 basic green salads and package them into separate containers. With the basic foundation prepared, all I have to do is add the "toppings" - whatever protein I have cooked along with beans, nuts, parmesan cheese, etc. and I have healthy, delicious lunches for the whole week. I always have a couple different salad dressings - balsamic vinaigrette, ginger sesame, and a yogurt based "Caesar" - so I can match the flavors.
How much time do I spend planning? Not much anymore. Often I will think of a recipe I want to try, or one I want to repeat, and I will write it down on the next month's calendar. I love Japanese food and don't have it planned for July, so I will write it down on my August meal plan. I also know there will be an abundance of fresh produce on the market, so I will incorporate those into my meals. Usually, by the middle of the month, I already have next month's meals planned just by writing down ideas as they come.
Yes, I know what I am having for dinner next Tuesday; no I don't spend all weekend planning, prepping, and packing up my food. I can get it done in 2 hours or so. I enjoy cooking, so there are days when I can easily spend hours creating new recipes, baking, and chopping vegetables. But, most weekends I prefer to spend outside, visiting friends, or attending some special event. Summer is short here in the Midwest, and I don't want to miss any of it slaving over a stove.
Planning and prepping may take up a couple of hours of time each week, but in the long run, I end up saving time and money. I never have to hit the drive thru because I am unprepared. I go to the grocery store once, avoiding the quick stops after work to get what I need for dinner. Instead, I use that time after work and before dinner to relax, have a glass of wine, or go for a bike ride.
I buy what I need, which avoids food waste and also prevents those impulse purchases of items I don't really need or want but am drawn to by clever displays at the store. If it's not on the list, I don't buy it. If it's something I really want to try, I jot it down and add it to my menu for the next month.
Are you ready to eat healthy, save time and money, and remove the pressure of "what am I going to make for dinner"? Careful planning and efficient prepping can give you healthy, delicious, budget-friendly meals in little time.
Eat Better, Feel Better, Live Better! For the Health of It!