Trying to figure out what to eat each day, and what to make for dinner every evening, can be exhausting. It is so easy to resort to getting takeout.
But not only does that get expensive, it is not easy to find keto-friendly takeout meals. This means you will likely end up eating something with too many carbs.
What people also often resort to is having the same one or two meals day after day – which gets boring very quickly.
There is a better way. Enter ‘meal planning’.
Meal planning is the process of planning out your meals for the week, in one sitting.
The beauty of meal planning is that it is a flexible process – there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Each person will have different needs, preferences, and schedules. It is so easy to adapt, anyone can do it.
Because the ketogenic diet follows a specific breakdown of your calories (75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs), it can be difficult to follow without proper planning.
(If you want to read more about the specifics about the ketogenic diet then check out the Ultimate Guide to the Ketogenic Diet).
By doing all that planning for the whole week in one go, you reduce the stress of figuring out what to eat each day. You also save a lot of time, because you are not starting from scratch each day.
Another benefit of meal planning is the cost savings. Following a keto diet doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive, but it certainly can become expensive if you are regularly running to the store for items you forgot, getting takeout, or letting food go to waste in the fridge.
By creating a meal plan, you only need to go to the store once. And you know you will be eating everything that you purchase.
So…how does it actually work?
Split up your meal planning, shopping, and meal prep so you’re not trying to do too much at once and end up getting overwhelmed.
I prefer to do my grocery shopping late on a Saturday afternoon – this way I beat the Saturday morning rush. Grocery shopping can already be stressful without having to navigate screaming toddlers and errant trollies in the middle of the aisles.
The best time for me to plan my meals, then, is on Saturday morning. And it leaves Sunday for meal prep. (Now meal prep is another topic entirely – I will share my meal prep tips with you in another post).
Whichever time you choose to do your meal planning, make sure it is as distraction-free as possible, and give yourself a good hour – especially when starting out. Once you get the hang of meal planning you will be able to plan out your week in about 20 minutes.
Ok, so now we get into the actual steps of meal planning.
Remember – this is just a guide. Meal planning isn’t an all-or-nothing type of approach. Once you do it a few times you will start to figure out what works for you, and develop your own system.
Take a sheet of paper and down the left write out the days of the week, and across the top write out your meals (including snacks, if you have them).
Start with looking at your ‘standard’ weekly schedule.
Do you fly out the door first thing the morning with no time for a cooked breakfast? Does your workplace have a microwave where you can warm up your lunch? Do you tend to eat a snack with your kids when they get home from school? Is Friday pizza night? (Yes – there is such a thing as keto pizza!)
When meal planning it is important to work with your current schedule and how your life looks right now, rather than trying to fit into an ‘ideal’.
Sitting at the table with a cooked breakfast might sound like a great idea. But if your mornings involve running off to gym, or trying to get kids out the door and off to school, then trying to squeeze in cooking – and eating – bacon and eggs will only add to your stress.
Next, think ahead to the coming week (or have a look in your diary), and see what you have planned.
Will there be days where you are running around the whole day and you won’t have a chance to sit down and eat? A friend who is having a birthday dinner at a restaurant? Mark these on your sheet.
On a busy day, you will know to plan quick and simple meals (or leftovers, even), and if you are going to be eating out, you will know not to plan a meal for that evening.
Check to see what you already have in your kitchen. Look in your pantry, your fridge, and your freezer. Checking your fridge is most important, as that food will spoil sooner than the rest.
You will likely find quite a few items that you had no idea were in there!
Write down what you have, along with quantities.
Now the fun part – choosing what you will be eating for the coming week. (Unless you really like planning, in which case this whole process will be fun!)
Look at the sheet where you marked down how your week was looking. Count how many meals you need to make. For example – 6 breakfasts, 4 lunches, 2 dinners and 2 ‘on-the-run’ dinners. Also, keep the list of your pantry and fridge items at hand.
I recommend starting with your favorite keto recipes, and each week adding a new recipe to try out. Remember – the goal here isn’t to completely overwhelm you. One new recipe a week is enough to add variety, without adding too much unnecessary stress.
For the days where you are running around, consider packing a small cooler with a variety of easy-to-eat snacks.
And for dinner, a slow-cooker meal (that you can start in the morning), or leftovers from the night before, are good options.
Keep the more detailed recipes for days when you get home early.
When choosing your recipes, also keep in mind to select ones that you really want to eat, and know you enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I chose a recipe because it was ‘healthy’, then dreaded eating it and ended up getting takeout. Not only was it bad for the waistline, but I felt guilty for wasting the food.
Another tip for selecting your recipes is to choose ones that use some of the same ingredients (for examples, tomatoes and peppers). This makes the shopping and meal prep steps a lot simpler! For some ideas on really tasty keto meals, have a look at this post of 9 keto dinners.
Once you have your recipes for the week, compare it against your pantry and fridge list to see what you already have. Then, write out your shopping list of the ingredients you still need to buy.
A clever grocery shopping hack is to also include the quantities of each item. Go through your recipes and add up how much of each ingredient you need and include it on your list.
Now you are ready to shop!
(A bonus of following the keto diet is that grocery shopping is so much simpler. Stick to the meats, veggies, and oils, and bypass all the processed goods. So much quicker!)
And there you have it. Four simple steps to get started meal planning.
Don’t worry if the first time you do this, it takes you quite long. It will get quicker and easier after the first few times.
Keep trying – each week you will learn more about what works for you, where to improve, and you will develop a process that works best for you and your lifestyle.
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