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by Steph Saullo RDN

January 15, 2018

Tackle the dreaded task of meal planning without feeling overwhelmed

We’re inundated by images of and captions about meal prep all over social media, so it might make you think that you should embrace the all-out meal-prep-method to be a successful athlete. But you don’t have to spend four hours every Sunday afternoon prepping food for the week to be adequately prepared.

As an athlete, you do need to put time into your nutrition and fueling plan to be successful, but that needn’t translate to being confined to the kitchen for hours. We know Americans don’t cook as much as they once did. Who has the time when you have packed your life full of work, school, training, volunteer work, Netflix, and other extracurriculars?

So how do you show up with nourishing meals to adequately fuel your practice or competition without spending a ton of time in the kitchen? There are plenty of shortcuts to make life easier and help you succeed. With just a few simple tips, you’ll be pulling together homemade meals without much effort.

Plan Ahead

First, take a few moments to plan ahead. Simply look at your schedule to understand where you’ll be during each time you eat. Sometimes the schedule is the most challenging piece.

Once you take a moment to anticipate where you’ll be and when, you can then easily decide if you’ll be 1) brown bagging it; 2) eating at home; 3) purchasing and consuming food away from home; or 4) lucky enough to be invited to dinner at someone else’s home.

According to ZAGAT, Americans go out to eat an average of 4.5 times per week (not counting breakfast). That’s roughly 20 percent of all meals (assuming you eat three meals per day). For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on things prepared at home (the other 80 percent of meals). We won’t address selecting food away from home or using meal services in this article.

Write It Down

Write down where you’ll be for each meal and, while you’re at it, jot down some meal ideas. I do not mean that gorgeous looking bourbon-peach glazed braised brisket you saw on Instagram. What do you like to eat and what are you capable of throwing together without a lot of thought or effort? Save the bourbon-glazed-whatever for a rainy day. After you do this exercise a few times you’ll feel more comfortable tackling new meal ideas. For example, it might look a little something like this:






H: Microwave egg and cheese sandwich

O: Turkey wrap, tortilla chips, and veggies with ranch dressing

H: Tacos with seasoned black beans and corn


O: Instant oatmeal mixed with peanut butter, honey, and a banana

Out to eat with office gang

H: Grilled chicken, baked potato, and frozen vegetable of choice


H/OTG: Smoothie

O: Leftover tacos, black beans, and corn

Out to eat with running club


OTG: Oatmeal and latte from Starbucks

O: Turkey wrap, baby carrots, and tortilla chips

H: Loaded baked potato with black beans, salsa, steamed broccoli, and cheese


H/OTG: Microwave egg and cheese sandwich

Meet friend for lunch

H: Grilled chicken and cheese quesadillas and steamed corn with butter


H: Smoothie and hardboiled egg

O: Leftover quesadillas and corn


Out to eat with family


H: Pancakes and eggs

H: Burgers and veggies on the grill

H: Turkey wrap and leftover grilled veggies

“H” indicates home, “O” indicates office, and “OTG” indicates that you were on-the-go (in the car, at the gym, etc.).

And don’t forget about your snacks for the week: Bars, bananas, grapes, frozen fruit, and Greek yogurt for smoothies; string cheese; trail mix (or just nuts and dried fruit); pretzels; peanut butter; eggs (to hard boil); and chocolate chips.

Know Yourself

You’ll notice that some meals are planned to be eaten more than once and that’s OK if you are OK with that. As a dietitian, I recognize the importance of including a variety of foods in your daily repertoire, but that doesn’t mean you must eat something different for every meal of the week.

I wouldn’t recommend that you to eat the same thing every day, but you can definitely hit repeat on your selections. If you can get by on bananas one week, switch it up to apples the next. If you get bored with just one type of fruit, buy two types or have canned fruit (canned in 100 percent juice or water) or keep a few of those fruit bowl cups packed in juice in the pantry for when you don’t make it to the store.

Each person will have different preferences, so do whatever you feel comfortable doing. Just remember what you did last week, so you don’t do the exact same thing again day after day, week after week.

Whatever you write down doesn’t have to look as pretty as the table above. Write it on a napkin if you want. If this seems like too much, start with one or two days, then gradually plan for the rest of the week. Embrace flexibility—even if you make a plan, it isn’t stamped in concrete. If your week changes your nutrition plan may need to change as well.

Once you develop your plan, write out a grocery list or use your favorite mobile app to organize your list. To make shopping easier, frequent the same grocery store. You may not realize how much time you waste shopping in different stores. Even shopping at a different location of the same grocery chain will involve more time. Once you know your store, you know exactly where things are. Another way to save time is to make your grocery list in the order you walk around the store or order groceries online for pickup or delivery if your store offers the option.


  • Health and Nutrition


  • Meal Planning