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4 Steps to Meal-Planning Success

The hallmark of the Forks Over Knives whole-food, plant-based lifestyle is its unique ability to prevent, halt, and even treat chronic illness, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The Forks Over Knives Plan will provide you with a 4-week, meal-by-meal plan as well as the tools you need to transition to a fully whole-food, plant-based diet, including guidance and tips on stocking your house with good-tasting food; handling cravings; eating out; dealing with social situations; and finally, more than 100 recipes so that you have delicious meal and snack ideas literally at your fingertips.

No matter what stage you’re at in your transition to a whole food, plant-based diet, creating a meal plan every week makes life easier. And in the early stages it will keep you accountable to yourself. Create the plan and shopping list in a calm moment and you’re much less likely to end up at the grocery store, knowing there’s not really anything to eat at home and so overwhelmed by the options that you’re suddenly making decisions on the fly. This is when you’re more likely to be impulsive and may even fall back into the familiar patterns from before you began your transition. A plan empowers you to remain true to the promise you have made to yourself to choose a lifestyle that will enable both good health and satisfaction. You can certainly continue as you began with breakfast last week: Simply list your planned meals based on what you’ve eaten for lunch recently and create a separate shopping list. But we prefer a slightly more structured system. We use it ourselves and it is so effective that we encourage our patients to use it as well.

On one side of a sheet of paper, list your meal plan for the week, and on the other side, create the corresponding shopping list. Once your shopping is complete, save this page. After just a few weeks you’ll have several plans and corresponding shopping lists all ready to go. When you hit a week that allows no time to create a new plan—and you will surely have those weeks—you can just reach for a plan you’ve already created.

This simple paper system works great for us and for many others, but you can certainly expand or tweak it. Perhaps you would prefer to use your computer to keep track of your plans and shopping lists. You can even create a folder for each week on your computer that can hold the meal plan, shopping list, and all the recipes for the week.

With a bit of time invested up front in planning and compiling your shopping lists, you will make preparing your meals so much easier down the road. This kind of convenience cannot be underestimated. It’s a big part of ensuring that the changes you’re making now are sustainable over the long run. Keep a few things in mind as you make the plan itself:

Try to plan two or more meals that have ingredients in common. This not only saves time at the grocery store, but it will also help ensure that bunches of leftover herbs, produce, and opened containers of vegetable broth, for instance, don’t languish in your refrigerator after you make just one meal with them.

Make sure that you plan meals you can actually fit into your schedule for the week ahead. A complicated, multipart dish isn’t good for a busy weeknight.

Early in the week or during the weekend, try to cook at least twice what you’ll need for that night’s dinner so that you have another meal already mostly prepared for later in the week.

During the weekend, prepare a big batch of grains and/or beans, too, for the week. Both can be easily reheated to serve as part of meals all week, and both make good bases for salads or can be stirred into soups to make them more filling.

This extra planning and preparation early in the week means that you’ll have a good supply of already-cooked foods ready and waiting to be mixed up in different ways on subsequent nights.

We like to also freeze individual meals—kind of like homemade TV dinners. For example, you can put a generous serving of cooked grains or beans in a freezable container and then cover it with stew and freeze. Or bake a full casserole and then divide it into portions and freeze them individually. You can prepare and fully cook a bunch of wholegrain burgers. Put one or more in an individual container and put a portion of the grain-and-stew combination alongside. These containers can be stacked in the freezer easily and removed one at a time for a quick and delicious meal-for-one whenever you need it. The smaller portions defrost more quickly than big batches and these “TV dinners” are as convenient for folks who live alone as they are for people in busy families who sometimes find themselves needing to quickly feed one or a crowd.

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