Meal Planning 101

February 1, 2017

Performance Nutrition Specialist Lee Hyrkas helps us get a healthy handle on meal planning

The running off-season is a great time to focus on dialing in your nutrition plan. Many of my clients struggle with planning meals — especially dinner, which is why I recommend starting there.

Many factors make dinner the most difficult meal to plan. You may be working long hours, cooking for a family, feeling tired or stressed after a long day — the list goes on and on. But having a solid dinner plan can help with other meals, too, as leftovers can be used as quick and easy options for breakfast, lunch or dinner meals throughout the week.

Strive to come up with at least three different dinner options for the week. At the least, a well-planned meal should include a lean protein, a quality carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable. Once you’ve got a dinner meal plan, create your grocery list so you’ve got everything on hand. And yes, there’s an app for that — I recommend downloading the Grocery iQ app, which can save your list from week to week and allow you to scan bar codes of products for organized, easy shopping.

Setting up weekly challenges is a great way to develop new nutrition habits. Try a five-week meal planning challenge, planning and making at least three healthy dinner meals per week.

These guidelines and recipes will help get you started:

Planning Protein — Quality Protein Sources

Animal Protein:
• Lean beef (fat trimmed)
• Skinless chicken or turkey
• Lean pork (fat trimmed)
• Seafood and fish (non-breaded)
• Wild game (venison, elk, bison, etc.)

Meat alternatives (with serving sizes):
• Dairy (milk, yogurt, Kefir) — 1 cup
• Cheese — 1 oz.
• Egg or egg whites — 1 egg or 2 egg whites
• Peanut butter — 1 Tbsp.
• Nuts or seeds — Approximately 10 nuts
• Tofu or edamame (soybeans) — Approximately ½ cup
• Beans (black beans, lentils, etc.) — Approximately ½ cup
• Hemp seeds — Approximately 3 Tbsp.

Protein Tips:
• Plan for ~3-4 oz. of animal meat at meals or ~2 servings of meat alternatives.
• Shop the weekly sales. Meats are often the most expensive portion of our food budget. Stock up during in-store sales and label, date and freeze the extras. On occasion, substitute animal meats for meat alternatives (beans, nuts, peanut butter, eggs, tofu, etc.) to cut cost. 
• Cook meats in larger quantities, which I like to call marathon cooking. Marathon cooking allows us to cook more food at once so we don’t have to cook as often during the week. For example, if you are grilling, put an extra two or three pieces of chicken on the grill. Use the leftover chicken as a quick and easy lunch meal or shred the extra chicken and make into a casserole dish or soup.
• Choose at least three different protein sources weekly. Rotating your protein choices may help prevent taste fatigue and boredom. Additionally, rotating your protein choices will ensure that your meal plan has a variety of different vitamins and minerals weekly.
• Stay on track at work by stocking your work fridge or desk with protein-rich options.
o Greek yogurt cups, string cheese, cottage cheese cups, Kefir, hard boiled eggs, nuts, edamame, etc.

Planning Fruits & Vegetables
• Include at least one fruit and or vegetable at your meals.
• Aim for at least three different types of fruits and vegetables weekly. This will ensure your body is receiving different vitamins, minerals and antioxidants weekly. These nutrients are crucial for long-term health and promoting recovery from exercise.  
• To save on produce, shop for in-season produce and look for weekly sales. Frozen produce may be a cheaper alternative, especially when certain fruits and vegetables are out of season.
• Consider having a small garden with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Can or freeze extras for the winter months.
• Prep raw vegetables and fruit by washing and portioning into containers or baggies for the week on Sunday. I find clients are much more likely to include a fruit or vegetable at meals when it’s pre-prepped.
• If you dislike prepping vegetables and fruit, consider buying the pre-washed and cut versions (apple slices, broccoli florets, fruit trays, carrot sticks, etc.). Although the price may he higher for these options, you will generally save in the long haul by not wasting produce that sits in your fridge untouched.
• If you like roasted or stir-fry vegetables, cook larger batches and use the leftovers for quick and easy side dishes for other meals.
• Steam bags or containers can cook raw or frozen vegetables in roughly five minutes or less, making them a great tool for those meals that need to be quick and simple.

Planning Carbohydrates
• Quality carbohydrates are a great source of long-burning energy for daily tasks or workouts. Including quality carbohydrates can also aid in recovery from exercise.
• Plan for roughly a quarter of your plate to be quality carbohydrates on rest days or low-intensity training days. On higher-intensity training days, aim for half of your plate to come from quality carbohydrates.
• Cook larger batches of grains (rice, pasta, oatmeal, etc.) or beans. Portion the extras into freezable containers for easily reheated side dishes.
• Roast, grill or bake large batches of potatoes for the week. Place cooked potatoes in airtight containers and store in the fridge. To ensure they don’t spoil, use the cooked potatoes within 5-7 days. 
• Strive to include a variety of different quality carbohydrates each week.  
• Minute® cooking grains (rice, oatmeal, quinoa, etc.) make convenient choices when time is a constraint.
• Drained and rinsed canned beans can be a simple side dish as well.

Quality Carbohydrate Sources
• Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat or millet
• Brown or wild rice
• Quinoa or amaranth
• Whole-grain or sprouted-grain bread
• Beans or lentils
• Buckwheat or oatmeal pancakes
• Whole-grain or sprouted-grain pasta
• Peas
• Squash or pumpkin
• Edamame
• Popcorn, air-popped
• Fruit — all types
• Low-fat milk, yogurt or Kefir

Planning Healthy Fats 
• Be sure to include at least small amounts of healthy fats at some of your meals each day.
• Consuming healthy fats may boost the immune system, improve cholesterol numbers, reduce inflammation and help our body absorb fat soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E and K. 
• Examples of healthy fats include fish, seafood, whole eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, olives, olive oil, canola oil, avocados or avocado oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds and oil-based salad dressing.
• A serving is equivalent to 1 tsp. butter or oil, 1 egg yolk, approximately 1/4 avocado, 1 Tbsp. peanut butter, 1 Tbsp. flax seeds or chia seeds or 2 Tbsp. salad dressing.

Planning Weekly Dinners — Example
• Monday
o 1.5-2 cups lean beef stew or chili
o Large garden salad with dressing
o 1 cup diced fruit
o 8 oz. milk
• Tuesday
o 4 oz. wild game
o 1.5 cups basmati rice
o 2 cups roasted vegetables
o 8 oz. Kefir
• Wednesday
o 4 oz. baked or grilled fish fillet
o 1.5 cups garlic roasted red potatoes
o 1 cup raw vegetables with hummus
o Infused water
• Thursday
o 4 oz. wild game
o Large garden salad with dressing
o 2 slices sprouted grain bread with avocado
o 8 oz. milk
• Friday
o Stuffed peppers (basmati rice, lean ground beef, beans)
o 1 cup roasted vegetables
o 1 piece of fruit
o Water

Meal Planning Resources

Lee Hyrkas is a registered dietitian and performance nutrition specialist at Bellin Health. Lee’s goal is to assist every athlete and active individual in maximizing his or her performance and health. To schedule a one-on-one appointment, please contact Lee at [email protected] or (920) 430-4728.