Picture this. It’s Monday evening, already past six o’clock and I am just walking out of the office. In my head I am already doing the math; by the time I pick-up my partner from his office, it will be six-thirty. We don’t live far from his office, but another fifteen to twenty minutes will have passed when we finally walk in our front door. It will be close to 7 o’clock when I organize myself to start cooking dinner. I can figure another twenty-five or thirty minutes to prepare one of my go-to meals, meaning we will finally eat around seven-thirty. No problem, right? There is a problem though; I really, really do not feel like cooking dinner tonight. I have been at work for ten hours and my body and mind are fried. I want nothing more than to swing by the kebab shop on our way home and leave the burden of cooking to somebody else. When I am this tired, my ability to rationalize basically goes out the window, so you wouldn’t need to flip a coin to tell whether I am going to select the easy option. It is pretty much a sure thing, and I can’t guarantee tomorrow is going to be any better.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. There is a reason why so many takeaway shops and restaurants thrive in this city of ours. We are a busy people and many of us rely on somebody else to sort-out our evening meal so we don’t have to. Unfortunately, many of these meals, albeit delicious, are packed with excess fat and added sugar, and the portions are usually excessive for our needs. Not to mention, this type of behavior is not cheap! At one stage, my partner and I were relying on takeaway meals at least two or three-times per week, sometimes more. Both our physical and financial health were suffering, and we knew something had to change.

We decided to start a weekly meal planning process to help us spend more time in our home kitchen and less time in the Chinese joint up the street. We started by simply choosing meals, allocating them to a day of the week, and purchasing the ingredients at our weekly shopping. We quickly learned that this method was not sustainable, as it did not consider our lifestyle or the burdens of our workweek. Having the ingredients necessary to prepare a beautiful meal on a Wednesday evening is one thing, having the energy and willpower to do it is another thing entirely. We did finally sort-out a system that works for us, and these are some tips that we now live by.

Be realistic with your time
Before deciding what you want to cook during the week, think about how much time you actually want to spend in the kitchen. We now have a repertoire of healthy weekday meals that can be prepared in 10-15 minutes.

Cook in bulk
On a Saturday or Sunday when we have more time to spend in the kitchen, we often make a meal large enough to feed us for another one or two days. Before we even sit down to dinner, we portion out the excess in individual-serve containers and pop them in the freezer. (This way we aren’t tempted to overindulge in a second helping.)

Plan ahead for breakfast and lunch, too
At the end of the weekend, we also do what we can to get ahead for those first few breakfasts and lunches of the week. I will often wash some fresh berries and portion them into a couple of small containers with a few spoons of Greek yoghurt. That way, all I must do is add a splash of muesli as I am running out the door on Monday morning. We also hard boil eggs to use in sandwiches and salads, and cut some carrots, celery and capsicum for veggies and hummus.

Invest in quality storage containers
I cannot stress this enough, and I suggest this to nearly every client I work with. Being able to grab a container of leftovers from the freezer or grab my breakfast and lunch as I race out the door in the morning has made the difference between having something tasty and healthy to eat vs resorting to the tinned tuna and crackers sitting on the shelf in my office (which I still sometimes do, but far less often than I used to). We keep a variety of sizes that are useful for tons of different foods. https://www.woolworths.com.au/shop/productdetails/379107/decor-tellfresh-storer-set

Be flexible with your week
We no longer allocate meals to a specific day, and for the five days of the workweek we only plan on cooking three meals from scratch. For the other two days, we know we can pull some leftovers from the freezer, and we do still get takeaway every couple of weeks. We’re smarter about that now too, though. We’ll often get one takeaway meal to share, and bulk it up with a quick and easy salad from home.

Too often I see people give up when their first attempt at meal planning doesn’t go to as planned. It took us a long time before we finally settled into a rhythm that fits our timetable, lifestyle and budget. Although we don’t use a meal planning template anymore, we did find it useful when we were just starting out. Meal planning has been such a benefit to our lives; we are now able to eat homecooked meals most days of the week, and we don’t feel guilty anymore over the times when we don’t. The extra time has even given us the chance to take some fitness classes at our local gym on some evenings! It can be difficult to get started with meal planning, but we would be thrilled to help you take those first steps and support you along your journey to a healthier life. Give us a call at (02) 6282 9422 or email at dietetics@focusact.org to chat about how we can help.