I’m not coming up with a completely new concept here, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to you that planning your meals in advance is vitally important to your success in the challenge. We live in a food culture that preys upon the person who doesn’t have a plan, loses track of time, and just needs to “grab something quick”. Unfortunately, pretty much all of your “quick” options are either overly processed or filled with sugar and flour.
Even if you aren’t a planner, I strongly recommend you sit down and map out your meals and snacks for the week. Then take that information and incorporate it into your grocery shopping list so you have a focused approach to buying groceries. This will allow you to get in and then get out of the store quick so you aren’t wandering in the land of temptation.
Below are a few suggestions to help you get started on your planning process.
• Stack the deck in your favor the first two weeks.
As you go through your list of foods that fit with the challenge and you enjoy, make a sub list of your favorite foods and the dishes they can be made into. While you don’t want to rely on any one food too heavily during the challenge, you can still stack the deck in your favor with dishes you most enjoy and are willing to cook. Put those meals into the rotation during the first two weeks and then integrate more variety during the remainder of the month.
• Plan for interruptions in your schedule. (Have an emergency backup plan)
Our lives are busy and it would be unrealistic to create a meal plan without taking into account potential interruptions during your day. If you think you might be running late on a particular day, then have two potential meals on your list for dinner. One that you can create with ample prep time and the other if you only have a few minutes because the meeting went long or traffic was bad. If you don’t feel like having two options, then at least have a snack plan ready so you can eat some fruit or cold veggies while taking the time to prep your meal. This will help take the edge off of the hunger and allow you to focus more on the meal you’re making.
I’ve found that temptation is a powerful thing and if you don’t create a backup plan for meals, then you might come home after a frustrating day, look at a pile of ingredients you have to whip up, and decide that you’d rather just eat a quick processed meal instead. We all have challenges that make us want to “throw it all away” for just one meal, but with the proper plan and backup, you can avoid the pangs of regret from giving up after one small setback.
To be even more secure with your backup plan, find an option or two at your favorite restaurant that you can take advantage of at a moment’s notice. Start looking at menus now for food choices that don’t involve flour and sugar and make a mental note of them. If things get really rough and you’re running way behind, then swing by the restaurant or call for takeout.
• The Crockpot is your friend.
Trust me when I tell you that there are hundreds of crock pot meal recipes available in this world featuring your favorite foods in the challenge. If you haven’t cooked with a crockpot yet in your life, let me just say that it is so simple that I can even do it, which is saying a lot. In fact, since going through the challenge last year, I can tell you that there are a variety of ways to cook everything, so don’t feel like you can only cook your food through one method. Mix it up a bit.
• Precook and store main dishes.
I’ve had people tell me that one of their biggest challenges is having to cook single portions just for them because they live alone. The amount of prep for one meal just doesn’t seem worth all the effort, and I have to completely agree with them. I want to recommend looking at the option of cooking for leftovers or making freezer meals that you can pull out whenever needed.
Another great method is recycling your dinners into lunches the next day, but shaking them up a bit. We might cook up a seasoned pork tenderloin for dinner and serve with vegetables, but then I might just slice the leftover tenderloin and put it on a salad for lunch the next day. This makes it so I don’t feel like I’m having dinner leftovers for lunch because it’s changed just enough, and I also don’t feel like I’m eating the same old salad day after day.
Use the form available at the bottom of this blog to help you begin mapping out your meals for the week. Feel free to create your own if you’d like, the key is that you use something. I also recommend you keep your lists from week-to-week as an inventory of foods you've made. Go the extra step and make notes on your sheet after having your meal and rate how much you enjoyed it and the prep time or difficulty.
Thanks for reading!