Build A Better Meal Plan!
Preparing your meals for the week ahead of time is a fantastic way to 1.) control portions, 2.) stick to your diet, 3.) make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs meal-by-meal! Whether you’re a seasoned chef or new in the kitchen, meal prep is a “work smarter, not harder” approach to hitting fitness goals & leading a healthier lifestyle.
But meal prep is useless if you’re not eating the right amount of the right foods! Here’s everything you need to know to build a better meal plan!
Step 1: Identify Your Goals
If you are doing meal prep solely to save yourself time, money & energy, your meal prep menu can be whatever you want it to be. However, if you are trying to improve your overall health (blood pressure, blood sugar, inflammation, weight, etc.) you have calorie counts and macronutrients to consider.
Calories & Macronutrients
Hitting your 1.) recommended daily amount of protein, carbohydrates & healthy fats & 2.) sticking within your appropriate calorie range is the key to hitting your health goals! Just keep in mind: specific diets require different nutrition goals!
Note: If you are following a specific diet, (e.a. high protein, low carb, muscle building, fat burning) this macronutrient breakdown may not apply!
For a 1800 calorie per day goal with 20% calories from Fat, 30% calories from Protein and 50% calories from Carbs, an individual has to consume:
- 40 grams of fat
- 135 grams of protein
- 225 grams of carbs
MyFitnessPal has a great calculator for this on their app under “Goals”! These goals can be spread out in 3 big meals, 5 small meals or even 1 super meal per day.
Identify & Incorporate The Best Ingredients For Your Goals & Taste
One of the most crucial macronutrients in our diet is protein. This is because protein is responsible for new cellular growth; mainly muscles, tendons, organs and skin as well as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters and other various molecules. Made up from amino acids, there are particular proteins that can only be obtained via diet, so it is very important to reach daily protein requirements for the body to operate efficiently. Without enough protein, our whole body is affected. From metabolism and healing ability to mental clarity, protein truly is king! (More on what happens if you don’t get enough protein here.)
How Much Do You Need Per Day? 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women – more if you are active.
Lean Protein Vs. Fatty Protein
For those attempting to keep calories and fat low, lean protein is the answer. It is high in protein and nothing else! Lean proteins include skinless chicken breast or turkey, lean ground beef, pork tenderloin, low fat dairy, fish and shellfish.
For those following a high fat, low carb or muscle-building diet where calories are of little concern, full fat meats are a delicious way to get your protein. These include full fat beef, chicken thighs, pork, eggs and full fat cheese.
For those staying away from animal products, getting enough protein takes work – all-the-more reason for a meal plan! Some man-made products that are great sources of protein include seitan, tofu and tempeh. These foods can be made to mock meats like sausage, chicken, burgers and more. Other plant-based sources of protein include lentils, chickpeas, beans, corn, nutritional yeast, seeds, quinoa, wild rice, nuts & nut butter, breads from sprouted grains and more. Other meatless protein sources we love:
- Chia Seeds
- Hemp Seeds
- Greek Yogurt
- Wild Rice
- Cottage Cheese
Carbs get a bad wrap, but are the body’s main source of energy. Dietary guidelines suggest we get about half our calories from carbohydrates, but what kind of carbs matter greatly!
Carbs are made up of sugars, starches and fiber. Sugars and starches are broken down and used for immediate energy (glucose) or, if in excess, stored as fat for later use. Fiber, however, does not provide energy directly, but feeds the beneficial bacteria of our digestive system.
Note: Every body is different. Some people do better with lower carb intake, others do fine with plenty of carbs. This can be determined by a chat with your doctor or experimenting with how you feel eating less or more carbs over a period of time. (there is typically an adjustment period for low carb diets)
Simple Vs. Complex Carbs
We can all agree there is a great difference between a donut and a sweet potato! One is made with a combination of flours, sugars and other ingredients, while the other is found as-is in nature.
The donut, a simple carb (also referred to as “refined” or “processed”), has been altered so the fiber is removed while sugar and other artificial ingredients have been added. Refined carbs include sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and juices as well as pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice, candy, chips, etc.. These carbs are burned quickly, causing a spike in blood sugar levels which leads to an energy “crash” and cravings for more shortly after. Long term effects of too-much processed carbs include obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The sweet potato on the other hand is a complex carb – the kind found in vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, nuts, & seeds. They provide a slow, steady release of energy as well as fiber and other essential nutrients not found in processed carbs.
With this in mind, aim to include mostly complex carbs in your meal planning while keeping simple, processed carbs in moderation.
Since fiber is indigestible yet essential for optimal digestive functions, we count it in a league of its own. MedicalNewsToday reports that adult men require about 34 grams of fiber per day while women require 28 grams per day. Fiber is mainly found in whole fruits, vegetables and grains. Work in these foods for an extra oomph of fiber to reach your daily goal!
After a decade on the naughty list, studies are finally showing that fat, including saturated fat, may not be the culprit of obesity and disease as once believed. With new data and studies on the rise, healthy fats are being recognized for what they are – the delicious and satiating oil to any well functioning machine! Fat contains more calories by weight than other macronutrients however, which is why it is best in small amounts.
Different Types Of Fat
Not all fats are created equal unfortunately. Trans fats are a byproduct of hydrogenation – a process used to turn healthy oils into solids to prevent spoilage. This is commonly found in any ingredient that includes “partially hydrogenated oil” – margarine and vegetable shortening specifically. Trans fats increase the amount of LDL – the bad cholesterol – while reducing the amount of HDL – the good cholesterol. This combination contributes to insulin resistance, the primary cause of type 2 diabetes. Luckily, trans fat is being used less and less in foods.
Solid at room temperature, saturated fats are found in red meat, whole milk and cheese, coconut oil and most commercially prepared baked goods, among other foods. Despite conflicting reports, a diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol and sometimes tip the balance toward harmful LDL cholesterol. With this in mind, nutritionists recommend limiting saturated fats to under 10% of calories a day.
The best fats come from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils. Polyunsaturated fats – omega3 and omega-6 – are essential fats that can only be acquired via diet. These polyunsaturated fats are linked to reduced LDL and triglycerides. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil, while omega-6’s are found in safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut and corn oils.
Vitamins & Minerals
A lack of the variety in our diet can inhibit us from getting the vitamins & minerals we need for prolonged health.
The USDA reports that adult Americans typically don’t get enough:
Calcium. Found in dairy products like yogurt, cheese and milk, as well as sardines, salmon, soybeans, spinach and oatmeal.
Potassium. Found in both white and sweet potatoes, beans, yogurt, milk, fruit, fish and tomato-based products..
Magnesium. Found in pumpkin, spinach, bran cereal, beans, tofu, brown rice and nuts.
Vitamin A. Found in organ meats (liver), sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, spinach, turnip and cantaloupe.
Vitamin C. Found in most fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin D. Found primarily in sunlight, but also salmon, swordfish, tuna, and fortified dairy products and juices.
Vitamin E. Found in nuts and seeds, peanut butter, spinach, avocado and tomato-based products.
The Key To Any Great Meal Plan: Variety!
Mix and match these superfood ingredients in your meal prep plan!
3-4 Oz. Protein: Chicken Breast • Salmon • Shrimp • Tofu • Steak • Sausage
½ Cup Complex Carbs: Sweet Potato • Wild Rice • Whole Grain Pasta • Beans
1 Oz. Healthy Fats: Cheese • Nuts • Oil • ½ Avocado
Vitamins & Minerals: Spinach • Kale • Broccoli • Cauliflower • Zucchini • Tomatoes • Fruit
Now that you know your goals, get started with Cooking 101: Meal Prep!
August 8, 2018