Meal planning 101

Every day, you make several decisions about what to eat. What will you eat for breakfast? Do you need to pack a lunch for later? Will you cook at home for dinner or eat out?  Making healthy choices around meals is an important part of the lifestyle changes that come after bariatric surgery. Planning ahead may help make it easier to choose healthy foods and sustain your new eating pattern. Here are some basic strategies to get you started with meal planning. 

Follow the guidelines. Whether you are preparing for surgery, recovering in the hospital, or sustaining your new lifestyle, your dietitian and healthcare team will give you specific nutrition guidelines to follow. Meal planning around these guidelines will look different depending on your surgery stage. For example, a liquid diet will require different foods and preparation than a pureed diet. Ask for a list of approved foods and sample menus at each stage. Check in regularly with your health care team to make sure you are staying on track with your nutrition goals. 

Look up recipes. Set aside an hour this week to browse the internet or your favorite healthy cookbooks for some meal inspirations. Use your nutrition guidelines to start your search. Look for healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack ideas. Check with your dietitian to see if the foods and recipes fit within your nutrition plan. Get organized and save your recipes in one place such as a journal or online board so you can easily add or use them later. 

Create a meal calendar. With your nutrition guidelines and recipe inspirations, start a calendar of what you want to eat for the next week. Write down the day and plan each meal for that day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Assign specific foods or recipes to each meal or snack. If you know you’ll be busy on specific days, include this in your planning. For example, if you eat lunch at work, make sure to plan for a meal that you can make ahead of time and easily pack. 

Make a shopping list. Use your meal calendar and write down the foods or ingredients you need. Before heading to the store, check what you already have at home. 
Pick a time to shop. Set aside a specific day and make it part of your weekly routine. If a family member or loved one does the grocery shopping, clearly communicate your nutrition needs to them. 

Prep your meals. Busy schedules sometimes get in the way of meal planning. Ask yourself, what meal is usually difficult to find time to make something healthy? For example, if you have limited time for breakfast, try doing the preparation the night before and store in the fridge. You could even try using the weekend or your scheduled day off to prepare several meals for the upcoming days or week.

Save some for later. Take your time to enjoy your meal. But remember you can always save the rest for later. After bariatric surgery, you may feel full sooner. Leftovers can be added to your next meal or you can freeze them for a later date. Invest in some good containers to portion your meals. This may help save time throughout the week and keep you on track with your nutrition goals. 

Get the right kitchen appliances. Meal planning after bariatric surgery may be easier with specific food preparation tools. A blender or food processor can help with pureed or soft meals. Or a try a slow cooker, to add variety and flavor to your favorite meats or soups.  

Find support.  Involve your loved ones in the meal planning process. If you eat with your family or partner for most meals, ask for their support. Support groups can also be a great place to get healthy meal ideas and/or discuss challenges. Keep in mind that meal planning takes practice. Find what works for you and stick with it.