Sunday, January 12, 2014

Meal planning 101

In this electronic-filled world we are surrounded by tools to make our lives easier. Can you imagine having to cut ice to keep food from spoiling or cooking over an open flame? Now while I appreciate refrigerators and my oven, they don't exactly plan or cook the meals on the menu.
Many people want to start eating healthier but don't know where to start. One of the easiest places is with meal planning. When I get home late the last thing I want to think about is "what's for dinner". If I lived like that we would live on frozen pizza and pasta... not the healthiest meals. Lucky for me I always have a game plan hanging on my fridge.
Meal planning definitely has its advantages beyond just simplifying your life.
1. It's all about balance. When you plan ahead you can make sure you have a balanced meal (a good source of protein, a complex carbohydrate or starch, and plenty of vegetables). This way there is no "I don't have any vegetables for the table" or only serving 1 or 2 food groups.
2. Food is expensive. Writing thorough grocery lists and meal planning can help you cut down your food budget. Wasted food is like money out the window. You will be planning ahead (hopefully using sale items) and only buy what you need.
3. More whole foods. Being prepared means that you can rely less on convenience food (frozen or boxed items) and take out. Take out portions can be super-sized and are higher in fat, sodium, and sugar than most home cooked meals. Eating less of these means you are eating a higher quality diet.
4. Variety is the spice of life. When you plan meals you are more likely to try new recipes and new foods vs. going for the classic family favorites. You can plan meals to meet other goals (like serving a vegetarian meal twice per week, eating fish once per week, or limiting red meats to twice weekly). I try to incorporate a few new meals and recipes per week to keep my taste buds happy.
How to do it:
If this is your first time you may want to only plan for a few days instead of the whole week or just start with dinner. You can always add breakfast or lunch in later.
1.Pick a day of the week that you have some time to plan and/or grocery shop.
2. Collect any recipes from cookbooks or online that you may use. (Having grocery specials for the next week that can help you save money.)
3. Check the pantry and refrigerator to see what's on hand. If you have leftovers, they can be incorporated into meals or served for lunches.
4. Sit down with a calendar or a template and write in what you want to prepare for each night of the week. If you know a specific night of the week is hectic plan a quick meal. If you have more time you may do some extra prep for the week or some batch cooking*
5. Write a grocery list from your meal plan minus the ingredients you have on hand and you're off.
*Batch cooking is essentially cooking or preparing more food than you need to be stored for later use. I try to include batch cooking in my meal planning to help save time after work. It works especially well for ingredients with long cooking times (whole grains, baked meats etc). This may mean cooking extra rice, chicken, potatoes, to use for a new meal later in the week.
You may want to hold on to previous plans so you can re-use them or use them for recipe inspiration. They can also be helpful if you want to include the family in meal planning.

Happy meal planning! 

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