5 amazing health benefits of having a weekly meal plan

Gone are the days when you had to spend hours preparing one healthy meal. Weekly meal planning is the ultimate answer–time saver, less cost and no hassle for the whole week, and of course, healthy meals can be achieved. 

Doing a weekly meal plan is perfect for people with busy schedules and who have weight loss goals. There are meal plan charts you can easily follow from everywhere on the internet, but how beneficial really are the weekly meal plans? 

Basics of a weekly meal plan

Meal planning is a practice where you sit down and decide which meals you will eat for an entire week. It is flexible to your dietary needs and requirements for at least seven days, which includes your breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks. You can prepare your healthy food choices in advance, involving the recommended number of calories, nutritional value and healthy ingredients. 

One good thing about having a weekly meal plan is there is no rush. You are not limited to time in preparing your weekly meals as you only need to do this once a week, preferably on your day off. To-go meals from fast food restaurants and poor food choices can be minimized as well [1]. 

A weekly meal plan has many health benefits, whether you are trying to lose weight, gain muscle or cope with your dietary intolerance. Here are five of the major health benefits of having a weekly meal plan. 

5 amazing health benefits of having a weekly meal plan

1. Improve diet quality and variety

Generally, home-cooked meals are healthier than takeout foods in terms of ingredients, freshness and sodium content. In fact, meal planning is scientifically proven to be a more diverse and quality diet as it provides essential nutrients that unconscious eating won’t give you. 

To further prove the claim, research published in 2017 studied the relationship between improved diet quality and meal preparations, involving a few factors at play, such as nutritional guidelines, weight status and food variety. It was found that meal planning provides an accessible healthier diet and can lead to less obesity [2]. 

Furthermore, another research reveals that more time spent on food preparation, which can be around an hour a day, can increase the intake of vegetables, salads and fruits. Hence, you may feel full and nourished through the well-balanced plate from meal preps [3]. 

2. Weight management and obesity prevention 

Aside from being naturally high in sodium content, takeout meals are also loaded with calories, total fat and saturated fat that all contribute to weight gain or obesity. Meanwhile, meal planning’s role is to ensure you are eating only the right and healthy foods, which is why it is associated with weight loss and obesity prevention. 

Research has proved that meal prepping can aid in weight loss and instil a proper, well-balanced diet. The findings were derived after conducting pilot research where the participants met every Sunday for a six-week period to prepare healthy weekday lunches and dinners. In the end, the participants lost more than three pounds [4]. 

Moreover, prepping meals within a week helps reduce weight because portion control is a critical factor if you are in a calorie deficit. When you are cooking in batches, you have to portion the food based on your recommended calories. You need to control and pick the ingredients and cooking methods to make your meals healthier as well. Most of the time, people who do meal preps use measuring cups and spoons, a food scale and proper storage containers. 

Plus, you need to follow the principle, “eat less, move more.” The idea of meal planning is to be aware of how much you are taking inside your body. If you aim to lose weight, the obvious way is to choose recipes with low-carb, high-protein, nutrient-dense and plant-based foods. Eating plant-based snacks can also aid when you are cravings, making you a little bit full before eating a meal. 

3. Remove impulsive and poor food choices

Sometimes, we become impulsive in our food choices, causing us to eat foods that are not nutritious and disease triggering. Well, it is perfectly normal! Scientifically-speaking, impulsiveness in food choices may happen because of low glucose levels. Your brain looks for something to immediately aid in the energy production, resulting in eating what’s appetising in front of you. However, continuous impulsive and poor food choices can lead to serious health repercussions. 

So, what is the solution? Simply, meal planning. Creating a set of meals for certain eating schedules within a week can restrict you from eating anything else when you are hungry. Meal prepping allows you to be flexible with your food choices while, at the same time, eating the ones that will make you feel mentally and physically great. It is all about promoting a sense of mindful and conscious eating. 

One research in 2014 suggests that following a planned food strategy can promote healthier diets, which is not the same for those who purchased and prepared foods based on impulse or have little to no planning at all [5]. Meal planning is linked with a high amount of diverse, healthy foods, which is a key element in a healthy diet to sustain the nutritional needs of the body. 

4. Less stress

In a month, we eat more than 100 meals. The food choice is all in your hands, and with that hundred eating times, you may be left wondering what to eat next? Who eats the same meal for thirty consecutive days, right? You definitely need a variety of foods to boost your appetite!

Here is where the dilemma comes in as most of us may become stressed thinking about different healthy meals aside from salad, especially for parents with kids to think about aside from their own diet. 

Meal planning can help with the agony of thinking about what to cook over and over again. You can have plenty of time to search and list down good food combinations for your weekly meals. It can curb unnecessary stress and allow you to slip easily into prepping and cooking time.

Some meal planners find the practice really convenient, making their lives a little less stressful. The so-called ‘decision fatigue’ can be minimized when you plan your entire week’s meals, especially for decision-makers in households. 

Most of the time, people who plan their meals do the prepping on Sunday. They list down healthy recipes and their respective ingredients and then buy them in the stores; that’s why meal planning is cost-efficient, too, as it limits your grocery purchase to the products you only need. Once buying ingredients is complete, you can then prep, cook and control portions of the meals. 

5 amazing health benefits of having a weekly meal plan

In a research study conducted in Canada, the scholars observed a significant relationship between the time that Canadians spent on daily meal preparations and higher self-rated mental health and lower self-rated stress. In the end, the researchers found that both time spent on meal preparations and the sequences of activities happening during an evening meal preparation are significantly linked to numerous positive health-related variables [6]. 

Some other research studies suggest that when the burden of choice is eliminated from eating, you can relieve anxiety and anger by eating the food, and it also reduces systolic blood pressure more than when choosing meals is involved.

5. Help with longevity

Surprisingly, meal planning can help you lengthen your lifespan. A study found that regular eating of meals prepared away from home is essentially linked with an increased risk of death by any cause. 

Also, another study suggests that individuals who ate at home more compared with the time they ate takeout food lived longer than those who dined out frequently [7]. The researchers tracked the dietary habits of exactly 35,084 adults aged 20 and older from 1999 to 2014, including their mortality rate through the death records until the end of 2015. The research concluded that eating home-cooked meals up to five times within a week could potentially add years to your life. 

Furthermore, a recent study conducted by the researchers from Monash University, the National Defense Medical Centre, Taiwan and the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan found that people who cooked at their homes for around five times a week were 47 percent more likely to still be alive after ten years [8]. 

The ten-year study published by the Public Health Nutrition studied the cooking habits of Taiwanese elderly, aged over 65 years, who were living independently. 

Among the participants, 31 percent were preparing their meals at home at least five times per week, 17 percent cooked their meals no more than twice a week, 9 percent cooked their meals at home around three to five times per week, while the remainder, 43 percent, reported that they never cooked at home. Hence, meal planning is really beneficial for your optimal health. 

[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/meal-prep/ 
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5288891/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4254327/ 
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33541769/ 
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3718071/ 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8170144/ 
[7] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212267221000599
[8] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/cooking-frequency-may-enhance-survival-in-taiwanese-elderly

Photograph: Okrasyuk/Envato
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