Planning meals in advance to help control portions? Avoid these common mistakes.

by Chef Wards

A stroll down the snack aisle is all it takes to notice an interesting trend, and one that crosses over into all of the grocery store aisles. Sabra Classic Hummus Singles. Mini Cottage Cheese Cups. Skinny Pop 100 Calorie Popcorn Packets. 

Grocery store aisle full of snack foods.

It seems that we aren’t quite sure how much is enough when it comes to just about anything. How much sugar, how much salt? Is this the daily recommended amount of protein? Am I eating too much sugar? 

With weight loss and nutrition advice columns available to you in ever-increasing abundance  (each with very different takes on reducing this or increasing this or that food intake), it is no wonder that an entire garden variety of pre-packaged snacks have taken over our shopping lists. According to one study, Americans love to eat quickly but cook the least. It seems we have, collectively, decided to let the food manufacturers tell us what to do. Grab a pre-packed bit of whatever your heart desires, including your guilty-pleasure snack foods, and you can still feel good knowing that you never went overboard. 

The truth is, planning meals in advance helps to control food portions. But if you get too comfortable with the idea of it, you might make common mistakes with your food choices, and all of your hard meal prep work might just fly out the proverbial window. 

Whether you are vegan, managing diabetes, an ardent carnivore, or just wanting to reduce your sodium just a touch, the following tips are sure to help you meal plan effectively. 

Common Meal Planning Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them) 

Weight loss? Reduced sodium intake? Know your goals. 

Portion control isn’t just about what meets the visible eye when you are looking at a plate. After all, all foods are not created nutritionally equal. If you are trying to reduce your sugar intake, you probably know exactly what your daily goals are. If your doctor has been telling you to reduce your sodium or cholesterol, you probably have some very specific guidelines.

Instead of spending your meals wondering if you are on target, why not just go the extra mile to plan out your week to accommodate those specific goals? You will not only feel less stressed, but you are more likely to achieve your milestones. 

If there is one thing I have discovered about diets, it’s that those who are adhering to diets know a lot about them. From keto to caveman to diabetic diets, the type of diets you can choose from are as vast as the needs they serve. Odds are, you have read up on the diet you are working with. Make all of that knowledge work for you when you are meal prepping. 

 Food journals help you plan your meals each week.

Set aside a little bit of time each week to plan your meals. 

At The Austin Artisan, we prepare fresh-cooked meals for an entire clientele with varying food restrictions, not to mention food preferences (I can’t tell you how many people hate tomatoes) takes meal planning to a whole other level. But how much time does it take the average person to plan for and prepare meals for an average week?  

Meal planning helps with portion control.

Luckily, I found Reddit boards and other forums where people discussed this very topic, and it was very enlightening. My very unscientific overview of the question indicates that you will spend about an hour or two doing the meal planning itself and another few hours completing the cooking itself. Many of you shared tips about how to use all four burners on your stove, your oven, and your slow cooker all at the same time to make this process go even faster. As a personal chef who does this for a living, I was impressed!

Save money (and reduce food waste) by planning ahead and in bulk. 

Planning meals in advance helps control portions, but did you know it also helps put a bit of money back in your pocket? The reason is that if you are planning ahead, you can often buy items in bulk. This has a rather substantial trickle effect, from preventing unnecessary trips to the store (a time and a fuel suck) to built-in savings passed on to you when you buy things in larger quantities. This is why buying bulk also makes the planet a little cleaner

Copper cups filled with bulk foods, including dried beans and grains.

Those little tiny pre-packaged items might be great when it comes to portion control, but they might not be so good when it comes to single-use plastics. I’ve chatted about how meal delivery services are better for the planet than meal kit subscriptions before, and I think the same principles apply to pre-planning your meals instead of letting a factory do it for you. 

Read that nutrition label very carefully.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between serving size and portion size. Serving sizes are generally what you see displayed on the label of any food container. But serving sizes are often misleading too. They don’t always translate into portion sizes. My favorite example of this is mayonnaise. If you look at the food label for a standard mayonnaise-based salad dressing bottle, you will probably notice the serving size falls somewhere in the 8 grams of fat range. Eight grams of fat doesn’t seem terrible, does it? 

Food label close-up.

Then you notice the serving size of 2TB. If you only put 2TB of dressing on your salad you are off to a great start. A better indicator of what the teeming masses probably put on their salad dressing might be hinted at in the standard ladle size at a buffet (or those little tin cups they give you on the side of your meal), which vary but probably average around 4TB in size. So you thought that one ladle was the standard serving size, but the serving size doesn’t translate into the actual portions that the average person will use. This illustrates the difference between portion size and serving size. Planning meals in advance helps control portions only if you keep an eye on the serving sizes as well. 

But managing serving sizes can be a bit tricky. After all, you probably don’t measure out two tablespoons of salad dressing every time you squeeze that bottle, do you? Are there any better options? 

Ditch your fine china and make portion control easier with these plates and accessories.

Portion control plates will make you feel like a kid again because they look just like the plates they gave you at school lunch. Only, they are WAY cooler. They have divided sections intended to contain specific food groups. Some are color-coded, others have graphics to indicate what types of foods should be placed within that little cubby. Some literally spell it out for you like this portion control plate. Most of these portion control plates are intended to help you maintain a balanced diet, but you can adapt them to suit your specific dietary needs. Remember to do this in conjunction with your physician or a nutritionist. 

Wood portion control plate.

If you are planning for your week’s upcoming meals, it is best to use portion control containers that you can fill up and place in the fridge for easy storage. I recommend using ones that can go from the refrigerator to the oven to the table with ease, so you don’t have to worry about breaks and cracks. 

In addition to food portion control plates, consider other accessories that will make meal planning easier for you. Magnetic cheat sheets (like this one for keto-diets) that are specific to your dietary needs can be a huge help for quick reference. 

Want Us Take Care Of The Shopping List And The Cooking?

You have many options when it comes to dinnertime (or breakfast or lunch, for that matter). But nothing compares to a home-cooked meal made by a personal chef who had you in mind. The Austin Artisan uses nutritional, healthy foods to create each meal, customized to your specific flavor and dietary preferences. We do the meal prepping for you, so the portion control is already built-in. 

Deliciously prepared meals from The Austin Artisan.

To explore the options, check out The Austin Artisan’s food profile, and let’s see what culinary adventure takes you.

Posted in: Uncategorized