Meal planning is essential if you want to be successful with the keto diet.
What Is Meal Planning?
Essentially, meal planning is organizing, preparing and storing some of your meals ahead of time.
Whether you’re buying and cooking in bulk once a week and storing and freezing your food, you can use the tips and ideas when you are still new to keto and learning how to meal plan.
In this post, I’ll share an easy, three-step process to create a routine and habit of meal planning.
Why don’t we do meal planning?
We all know that meal planning saves us time and money. But why don’t we do meal planning? And, what can we do differently this time around to make sure we are successful with keto?
I think we don’t do meal planning because it can seem overwhelming or like it’s a major task, so we put it off. Or, we don’t do meal planning because we don’t plan it, and it doesn’t form part of our daily or weekly routine.
Just like any other habit we have, meal planning is something we have to start small with and cultivate over time.
So, we know what meal planning is, and we know why we don’t do it. How do we fix that, and how do we set ourselves up for success?
Goals vs Systems
I’ll take a wild guess and say you started keto to lose weight. Well, I know that is a generalization, but in my five-six years of coaching, most of my clients wanted to lose weight. So, if your goal is to lose weight, what will you do to achieve your goal? You’re obviously going to follow the meal plan, right? But what if you get derailed or discouraged?
The problem with a goal being weight loss driven and thinking: “I have to lose x amount of weight” puts your goal at risk.
Let’s imagine you start the meal plan and a week have gone by, and it’s time for your weekly weigh-in. You jump on the scale, and you only lost 0.9kg for the week. The 0.9kg is something, but it’s not enough in our minds and that feeling of being slightly disappointed places our goal at risk. This scenario is still positive weight loss, but what if you lost less weight or fast forward three weeks into your diet and weight loss plateaus?
The best way to achieve our goal is to create a system and focus on the system (not only on weight loss).
Below is my suggestion on how to go about creating this system in three easy steps. Building and strengthening your system will help you stay focused and help you stay on track as you get to know how keto works, what you can eat and what you should avoid, and become more confident in preparing your meals.
Before you meal plan
Before you begin meal planning, you need to think about your unique situation. Here are some questions to think over:
- How do your days work? Do you work from home, do you go into the office?
- When in your week do you have some spare time? Is there an evening in the week where you have some free time to prepare, or do you only have weekends?
- Will you do leftovers, or do you want to cook fresh meals every day?
- Do you have any kitchen appliances that can save you time and effort? Things like a Slow cooker, Instant Pot and don’t forget the life-saving Egg Boiler!
- How many people are in your household? How old are your children? Can you get them involved?
Once you’ve answered some of these questions, you need to figure out how you will manage your system.
Creating a system
Essentially the system consists of three steps:
- Meal planning
- Grocery shopping
STEP 1 – MEAL PLANNING
I suggest that you keep things simple and use the same meal plan for two to four weeks in a row. Planning for two weeks and rolling it over for the next two weeks will make things easy and ensure that you are set for your first month on keto.
How what and where you do your planning with is very personalized.
- You can use good old fashioned pen and paper.
- You can plan digitally on your phone using a notepad, or
- You can use meal planning apps or websites.
It is very important to remember that your planning needs to be an easy task, easily accessible, and you need to schedule it into your week.
I have a little more time on a Thursday, so I’ll plan the weekend and week Thursday evenings. I have also set a reminder on my phone to go off Thursday evenings when I know I’ll have some time to do the planning. I find that my mobile phone works best for me. I always have my phone with me. Whether maintaining my grocery list or simply taking a picture of a recipe, I always have my phone with me. Planning on my phone means I am never stuck in a place where I don’t know what I need. So, for me, my phone is easy to use and always accessible.
My shopping list is also on my home screen. I can plan the week on my phone and update the inventory on the go or immediately when I see we’re out of an item.
When you are doing your weekly planning, especially initially, I also recommend that you print your meal plan out and stick it on your fridge. Print your recipes out and make a file that you keep in the kitchen.
If you’ve signed up for my course, you’ll receive resources such as a grocery shopping planning template, a guide to foods to eat and food to avoid as well as top items I buy at some of our local grocers. All of these resources are helpful when you do your planning.
Here are two tips when you are doing your planning:
Tip #1: Create themed days
Creating themed days helps to create structure around your weekly meals. Meat-free Mondays is a thing, and Friday night (for us) is burger night! If you have kids in the house, get them involved and let them help you cook! Depending on their age, they can take control of one of the days of the week. They can even pitch in and help create the themes based on their cooking skills. My son, for example, has seen me make burger patties so many times, he knows exactly what to do.
Tip #2: Find new recipes but keep things simple
You can find endless sources of inspiration on Pinterest and in your favourite recipe books, and on my website. However, if you are new to keto, you’ll probably start with a meal plan and whatever new recipes are in the meal plan.
Knowing what to eat and what to avoid on keto is a steep learning curve so keep your recipes in the week simple. I always suggest to my clients to experiment with new keto-friendly recipes over weekends. We tend to be a little more relaxed during weekends, and weekends offer the best time to experiment with new recipes compared to evenings during the week when we have limited time and feel exhausted.
STEP 2 – SHOPPING
You’ve done your planning and created your shopping list. Now you’ve got to determine when you’ll do your shopping.
Here are tips for shopping:
Tip 1: Weekly or monthly shopping?
Keto is heavily focused on whole, fresh foods, and you’ll need to buy fresh products like dairy and vegetables weekly.
Protein can be bought weekly or even monthly as it can be frozen.
Tip 2: Slowly build your keto shopping list
Don’t feel obligated the first time you’re doing your keto-grocery shopping to buy all of the items on the foods list. I am not very pro doing a pantry purge because it can be expensive if you clean out your cupboards and restock them with keto-friendly products.
On the foods allowed list, you’ll see many different oils you can use to cook with. If you already have olive oil, just buy a tub of butter, or try ghee this month. Next month you can try out avocado oil or coconut oil, and slowly but surely, you’ll build your keto-friendly pantry items over time.
Tip 3: Meal prep or food prep?
Some people religiously do meal prep every weekend. On a Sunday, they will cook in bulk, portion their food and place their meals in containers. Meal prep can be beneficial in your first few weeks on keto, but it is not always sustainable and can become monotonous.
The alternative to meal prep is food prep! As you go shopping and come home, don’t just pack out the food and place it directly in the fridge. If you have time, take some of the veggies and chop them up. If you can, portion your protein and try to do as much food prep as you can.
Don’t worry if you don’t do loads of this at first. As you become confident with the foods you can eat on keto and your meal planning, you will become more efficient at food prep. You can also line up your food prep with your actual cooking. On the day when you are out doing your grocery shopping and you have time, you can come back home and prep some of your meals.
STEP 3 – COOKING
Part of meal planning is freeing up time spent in the kitchen cooking your meals. Personally, I love to make food, but I don’t always have time. The tips in this section will help free up time and help you stay prepared.
Tip #1: Use leftovers
In the 6 years of creating client’s meal plans, I’ve had one client who refused to eat leftovers. Leftovers save time and electricity! If you’re not opposed to leftovers, you’ll love the next tip.
Tip #2: Cook your protein in bulk
As mentioned earlier, the keto diet focuses on fresh, whole foods, so it can be challenging to quickly whip up something if you have not prepared your meals. Sure, you can pop into the shop and buy some nuts or biltong or even grab a chicken breast and guacamole for lunch. However, when you are still new to keto, you may not know what foods you can eat and what foods to avoid yet.
I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to stay prepared and plan my meals is to cook my protein in bulk. Protein, unlike vegetables, takes time to prepare. Preparing your protein bulk is an easy way to always have something to eat. Simply adding a salad or whipping up a side like cauliflower rice takes little time and no effort.
Here is an example where a family of two adults with two little ones can prepare enough protein in one session, to have meals lasting Monday to Friday.
Cook a roast chicken for dinner. That’s dinner covered for the first evening. You’ll have leftover chicken salad for the next day and leftovers for kid’s lunch boxes. Next week, change your meal plan, use some of the leftover chicken, and make Loaded Egg Muffins for lunch boxes.
Whilst you are in the kitchen, use two kilograms of ground beef and prepare bolognese with one kilogram and burger patties with the other kilogram. The bolognese has dinner covered for tomorrow evening and lunches the day after. The patties keep fresh in the fridge for up to four days. A full kilogram makes approximately 11-12, one hundred gram patties. You can choose to keep it in the refrigerator, cook it whilst you’re busy or only cook half and freeze the rest for next week’s meals.
Another idea is to, instead of the ground beef, cook a gammon with the chicken. Combining two to three types of protein in one session in the kitchen has all of your meals covered for several days.
I’ll give another example of what I do in my house.
Because I am in consultation with clients Monday and Tuesday evenings, I can’t prepare dinner on those evenings. So I follow the exact guideline I just explained. I will prepare two different types of proteins on a Sunday, making sure there is enough for Monday up to Tuesday. The protein will be enough that my kids can take whatever they want for lunch Monday, and I don’t have to worry about dinner.
Please keep in mind that whatever you are starting off with, it does not necessarily mean that it is what you’ll eventually settle on. This system you’re creating now is to help you do meal planning in an environment that you are unfamiliar with and to help you adapt to this lifestyle as quickly as possible.
Tip #3: Use your kitchen appliances
Some of the best things you can invest in are kitchen appliances. Here are my top three items:
- Pressure cooker or Instapot
- Slow Cooker
- Egg Boiler
The Instapot is a lifesaver and reduces cooking time significantly. Just today, whilst creating this post, I made two meals in the pressure cooker. One was beef stew for dinner tonight and leftovers tomorrow, and a pot of minestrone soup for my domestic goddess. My actual time preparing the meals was less than 20 minutes. The pressure cooker did all the work!
Most mornings, I’ll boil 4-6 eggs in the egg boiler. Having hard-boiled eggs can create plenty of meal options. Preparing some hard-boiled eggs is an easy go-to lunch to take to work or simply spicing up a green salad for dinner by adding some eggs.
Slow cooker recipe links?
Tip #4 Let your side dishes shine
If you’ve worked with me or know me, you’ll definitely have heard the story of my lack of creativity when I started keto. My first few weeks of creating keto-friendly sides were dull and unimaginative. But, five years later and I am a side dish slayer! Give me zucchini, and I’ll make 5 different dishes with it!
As I am doing meal planning, I’ll decide on three to four different vegetables for the two weeks. I’ll vary between the frequency of salad and veggies, depending on the season. In summer, we mostly have a Greek salad as our side. And, during winter I’ll make more vegetable side dishes.
Using two to four different types of vegetables in a two-week rotation, you can take, for instance, aubergine and cauliflower in week one. Change it up to broccoli and cauliflower the following week, or zucchini and mushrooms the next week. Again, depending on the season, alternate with green salad in between.
Here are some vegetable recipes for side dish inspiration:
- Grilled Eggplant and Mushroom Salad
- Low carb Zucchini Fritters
- Golden Cauliflower Rice
- Bacon and Broccoli Salad
Tip #5 Have some backup foods
Extra food, whether extra portions of protein or meal fillers such as egg muffins or hard-boiled eggs, is essential. Especially in the beginning when you are still finding your feet and hunger patterns.
As I prepare the protein, I will make a batch of the egg muffins, some hard-boiled eggs and sometimes prepare a side dish like the red cabbage coleslaw recipe. These “backups” can serve as snacks or a meal. And, it is very helpful when you find yourself unprepared.
Keep in mind that none of these tips will help you if you haven’t done step one – planning!
If your first week doesn’t go as planned – don’t give up! Figure out what went wrong, what you need to tweak, what wasn’t working for you and try again! The answer is really in the system you create and prioritizing it.
Until you are confident and know how keto works, you have to take a couple of minutes a week and plan ahead.
If you are downloading the free meal plan on my website, print it out and print out all of the recipes and create your shopping list from it. Also, take a picture of the meal plan or download it and store it on your phone.
How you set up, manage and maintain your system is the key to getting to your goal.
The concept of systems vs goals isn’t new. Take a look at this excerpt from James Clear’s blog post on goals vs systems.
Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change
Imagine you have a messy room, and you set a goal to clean it. If you summon the energy to tidy up, then you will have a clean room—for now. But if you maintain the same sloppy, pack-rat habits that led to a messy room in the first place, soon you’ll be looking at a new pile of clutter and hoping for another burst of motivation. You’re left chasing the same outcome because you never changed the system behind it. You treated a symptom without addressing the cause.
Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. That’s the counterintuitive thing about improvement. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level. Fix the inputs and the outputs will fix themselves.
If you’ve just started out on keto and feel a bit unsure or need some advice, feel free to book a 30-minute free session with me where you can ask as many questions as you like and get some more tips on making this keto lifestyle easy.