What are you having for lunch? For dinner? Tomorrow? This weekend? If you’re like most people these days, you have no idea what you’ll be having, where you’ll be having it, or with whom. Life moves too fast to plan meals, right?
Right. It’s hard. However, planning meals is a great way to keep your diet healthy and your weight down. Why? Because simply knowing where your next meal is coming from and what it contains helps you control eating between meals.
When we plan our meals, we’re far less likely to overeat, snacking on foods “just in case,” taking advantage, as we are programmed to do, of all available calories in a world where calories are always available.
There are lots of ways to manage food while maintaining the flexibility you need in the real world. One way is to plan by “designing” your meals. I design mine by choosing calorie goals and food groups for each meal.
Those of us who fight obesity and work to manage diabetes “design” 5-6 tiny meals, each with a little protein content. We also know we need to get a lot of veggies in our mix. By “designing” our meals this way, we’re able to visualize an appropriate mini-meal, and negotiate our food environments accordingly.
So for me, morning mini meals are designed around fruit and protein or a whole grain and protein. Lunch and dinner mini meals are vegetables and protein. Evening mini meals are dairy and fruit or fruit and protein.
I know if I have a big bag of leafy greens in the office fridge, leftover veggies from the night before, a package of string cheese, a can of beans, and some almonds, I can cobble together healthy mini meals during the workday. If I don’t have those ingredients, I know I can head downstairs to the pub for a cup of soup. A few blocks away for a chicken salad. Keeping to my design helps me pass up the bagels and donuts, the vending food and other people’s lunch extras. These other foods are not part of my design.
A scan of my calendar gives me some clue about dinners this week. Keeping a list of what’s in the freezer will help me try to defrost or shop appropriately, but knowing that dinners are designed around a serving of protein, two or three vegetables helps more. Freezing single-serving baggies of homemade soups that meet that formula keeps me honest when I’m crunched for time. Most frozen diet meals fill that bill perfectly.
Gone are the days when I could have planned all my meals for the week and shopped accordingly. That always left me with too much or too little of something. But left entirely to my own hunger-at-the-moment, I always overshopped at overate. Designing meals helps me negotiate a sea of choices and eat a well-balanced diet. Am I perfect in my choosing? Far from it, but a good pattern helps quite a bit.
Try meal design. You might like it.