The importance of meal planning for teleworkers

Meal planning has been proposed as a potential tool to offset time scarcity and therefore encourage home meal preparation that has been associated with an improved diet quality 12. Although any type of meal preparation needs some kind of planning, there is no one correct method, as it can differ based on food preferences, cooking abilities, time schedules, and personal goals 13

Meal planning offers a number of advantages that are useful to those teleworking as well 13. It can help save money and it can be highly affordable, especially during periods of economic crisis. It can also be helpful with weight control since it is up to you to decide the ingredients and portion size. Moreover, it can decrease stress as you avoid last minute decisions about what to eat, or rushed preparation. Last but not least, it can contribute to an overall more nutritionally balanced diet with fresh and seasonal options.

Meal planning while teleworking: tips and recommendations

Planning your meals can help you get organised and save time and money. Meal planning is a great way to improve your food preferences, choose healthy and nutritious options and avoid wasting food. Some simple tips and recommendations follow:

  • Find out what you already have. Have a look at your fridge, cabinets, and refrigerator. You can save money by using what you already have in planned meals. Also, food products will not expire before using them
  • Writing down your weekly meals could be helpful. Spend some minutes to think and plan out what you would like to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. By writing down your weekly meals you could easily make a grocery list. With the weekly schedule you are not deciding at the last minute what to make, you ensure you have the required ingredients beforehand, and you save both time and money. Keep that list and add items on that as they run out.
  • You could define a specific day of the week to create that food shopping list and go to the grocery store or the local supermarket.
  • Consider the factor ‘‘time’’ when you choose what meals you would like to prepare, especially when you are short on time. Recipes that take longer could be a great family activity and/or they could be prepared during days off.
  • Your goal could be to choose one day a week to do most of the cooking (and then freeze and refrigerate the food cooked), or try a new recipe. Plan to cook enough portions so that there will be leftovers to use later. Make larger meals and freeze them so that, on busy days, you can just heat and serve.
  • Drinks can be equal to lunch or dinner regarding their calorie-content and they also provide nutrients. Home-made smoothies and other relevant creamy beverages could be a solution as ‘meal-replacement’ for those busy days when there is no time to even have a proper lunch break.
Strategies to curb unhealthy snacking habits

Snacks have been related to both weight gain and maintaining weight, and with a lower or higher diet quality as well. Even though snacks could be a regular and important part of a healthy diet, they could also lead to health problems. The difference between these two cases is snacking behaviour: what you snack on, why you snack, snacking frequency, and how snacks fit into your overall dietary plan.

The types of foods that people prefer for snacking vary, but these are often processed junk foods that are high in sugar and fat. Here are some strategies to curb unhealthy snacking:

  • Meal planning, as discussed earlier, applies to snacks and could help limit unhealthy and unnecessary snacking.
  • If you snack frequently, try to determine if you are truly hungry or eating just because of an emotion (e.g., excited, bored, stressed, tired, angry, etc.).

  • If you realise you are eating due to an emotion, chapter 5.5 (Recognizing Emotional Eating Triggers: Emotional Eating vs Actual Hunger) will seem very handy to you.
  • If you are indeed hungry, decide what snack options will satisfy you or refer to your weekly/daily plan that also includes snacks. Studies have shown that snacking on whole foods containing protein, fibre, and whole grains (e.g., nuts, yoghurt) enhances satisfaction, instead of snacking on e.g., only 1 fruit.
  • It is also important to pause before making a snack choice to consider what will truly satisfy you: if you decide on a banana when you really want salty popcorn or a creamy yoghurt, you may feel unsatisfied and want more. If you do not have a specific craving but are intending to quiet hunger, choose a snack that is high in fibre and water that will fill your stomach quickly and make you feel sated.
  • A snack portion should be enough to satisfy but not so much that it interferes with your appetite for the main meals or adds too many calories. A general rule of the thumb is that each snack contains about 150-250 calories. This is equivalent to an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a string cheese with 6 whole grain crackers.
Setting realistic goals and tracking progress: SMART

Goal setting is a key intervention for those looking to make behavioural changes, such as changes in eating habits 14. Visualising what we need to do to reach our goals may make it more likely that we will succeed. Goals are a form of motivation, they provide direction and a sense of personal fulfilment and they also help tracking progress. 

The acronym SMART is a goal setting technique that can be used as guidance through the goal-setting process, and it is the most common way to set goals nowadays 14. Setting SMART nutrition goals has been found to be helpful in assisting people in making positive and long-term lifestyle changes. 

The acronym SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable-Attainable, Relevant, Timely 14

Specific → Get as specific as possible about your goals

If you want to improve your health, specify what exactly you want to change, e.g., do you want to lose weight, do you want to quit smoking? The goal “I want to eat healthy” is a broad statement that does not pinpoint anything specific.

Measurable Ensure that the goal is measurable.

If you want to work out, for how many minutes will you exercise and how many times a week? If you want to lose weight, how many kilograms do you want to lose?

Achievable-Atteinable Ensure you can reasonably reach your goals.

If you commit to going to the gym daily, how realistic is this goal given your daily and weekly schedule? What would be a more attainable goal? If you want to start eating more fruits, is it achievable to set a goal of 3 fruits a day if now you are eating none?

Relevant Ensure that the goal is relevant to your situation.

Why do you set that goal? Is it relevant to a change you want to make? Why do you want to make that change? How will this change improve your life? E.g., if you want to lose weight and you set a goal of reducing your screen time, are these related, and if yes, how?

Timely Define a specific timeline for the goal (days, weeks, months or a defined date, etc.). Proximal, rather than distal, goals are preferred.

When do you want to reach the goal? Setting a goal of losing 3 kilograms in the next month may feel less overwhelming than a goal of losing 30kg in the next year.

Recognizing Emotional Eating Triggers: Emotional Eating vs Actual Hunger

While hunger is a natural physiological response signalling the body’s need for nourishment, emotional eating often arises from psychological triggers rather than genuine physical needs.  Emotional eating, often linked to anxiety, overeating, and weight gain, involves consuming food as a response to emotions rather than the body’s actual need for nourishment. This behaviour typically emerges when distractions like driving, working, or screen time take precedence during meals, leading to mindless or unconscious consumption 1,2

Recognising emotional eating triggers and distinguishing between emotional hunger and actual physical hunger is the initial step towards nurturing healthier relationships with food. This process involves increasing awareness of emotional cues that prompt eating and learning to address these emotions using alternative coping mechanisms rather than resorting to food for comfort 3,4.

Signs of Emotional Eating

  • Sudden Cravings: Craving specific comfort foods unrelated to physical hunger.
  • Mindless Eating: Eating inattentively or consuming larger portions.
  • Emotional Triggers: Seeking food as a response to emotional stress, loneliness, or anxiety.
  • Rapid Eating: Eating quickly without paying attention to satiety cues.
  • Guilt or Shame: Feeling guilty after eating, especially when not hungry 2,4,5

Strategies for Managing Emotional Eating

  • Mindfulness and Awareness: Recognize emotional triggers and develop mindfulness practices to assess true hunger.
  • Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Find alternative ways to manage emotions such as exercise, hobbies, or seeking support from friends and family.
  • Balanced Eating Routine: Establish regular mealtimes and include a variety of nutritious foods to maintain a balanced diet 2,6




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