The 5 habits of successful meal planning

For ophthalmologists and health care professionals, a good diet can make the difference between surviving each day and thriving each day. If we eat the wrong foods, we may find ourselves experiencing a blood sugar roller coaster with falling energy levels and cloudy thinking, as well as a body ridden with aches and pains.  If we eat the right foods, however, we can have clarity of mind to think and focus, and the energy to be highly productive. Whether at the clinic or at home, optimal nutrition can make a meaningful and real difference in your life.

What is meal planning?

One way to improve your diet is by meal planning. Failure to prepare meals leaves you hanging in a desperate spot when hunger strikes, often leading to poor decisions at a fast food outlet or vending machine. Preparing healthy meals to take to work or eat at home will take you down the desired path for optimal results.

How should you plan your meals?

I tell my clients to “shop and chop” – in other words, go to the grocery store and get all your proteins, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats ready before the start of your week. In the fitness and nutrition industry, this is often called the Sunday ritual, since most people have this day off to prepare their food for the week. As a level I certified Precision Nutrition Coach, I recommend that my nutrition clients follow the five habits of successful meal planning as outlined by John Berardi, PhD and Ryan Andrews, MS, MA, RD.

These five habits include:

Meal consistency

Most people should plan to have their meals every two to four hours. Try to listen to your internal hunger cues to know when to begin each morning. Eating with consistency helps prevent us from becoming overly hungry to the point where we feel starved and want to eat everything in sight.

Nutrient timing

Nutrient timing refers to a window of time where consuming macronutrients such as proteins and fats can best be used by our bodies. This opportunity occurs immediately after exercise when our blood sugar storage tanks known as glycogen are at their lowest.

Your post-workout meal might include whole grain oats, brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes. Consuming fruits after a workout is also advantageous.

Consume protein with each meal

Eating protein has numerous benefits. Not only can protein help rebuild and repair our cells, but it also adds satiety, filling you up and keeping you satisfied between meals. Protein rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy, whey, and brown rice.

Consume non-starchy vegetables and fruits with each meal

As Americans, we tend to miss the boat when it comes to getting enough vegetables. Ideally, we should have 1-2 servings of vegetables with each meal. Make a list of your five (or ten) favorite vegetables and make sure to include them in your meals throughout the week.

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower are best since they contain fiber, water, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. When it comes to fruits, berries are best. Compared to other fruits, berries are much lower in natural sugars. Like vegetables, fruits have many health benefits due to their phytonutrients and anti-inflammatory properties.

Consume healthy fats with each meal

Fats are important for many reasons – not only are they a great source of fuel, but they also help us feel satiated.

Fat can be categorized into three categories: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. All three are important, and ideally, we should get equal amounts of each.

  • Saturated fats come mostly from animal sources like meats, eggs, and dairy, but also from plant sources like coconut and palm oil. Saturated fats provide integrity and firmness to our cell membranes.
  • Monounsaturated fats are known for being heart healthy and are found in olives, olive oil, almonds, almond butter, and avocados.
  • Polyunsaturated fats can be broken down into omega 6 and 3 essential fatty acids, substances that are necessary to stimulate hair and skin growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism and refine brain function. Omega 6 fatty acids are found in vegetable and plant oils such as corn, soy, and sunflower seeds, whereas omega 3 fatty acids are found in walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and flax seeds, as well as fatty fish like salmon, sardines, herring, and tuna.

Taking the time to plan your meals each week can make a world of difference in the quality of your life. Make sure to eat meals with plenty of protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats. Don’t forget to eat meals at consistent times, and watch what you eat after a workout. These five rules will make it easier to plan meals and take control of your nutrition.

This blog is part of a series written by our friend Kirk McFarland, CPT, NASM, NSCA. Kirk is a Certified Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with Life Time Fitness in Eden Prairie, MN. This article was created to help Sightpath surgeons alleviate health and wellness issues often faced by those in the ophthalmology industry.