When you want to eat better for your health, you know meal planning is important. Putting your goals for smart eating into written plans, reinforces your commitment to your goals and makes shopping easier because you know exactly what to buy (which also saves money and reduces food waste, yay!). Now that we recognize these benefits, why is it SO HARD to plan meals? Well if you tune into social media and watch rock star meal preppers cook three proteins and make five different meals, package them into 14 adorable, labeled, neatly stacked containers for the week, you say, “Wow! Now all I need is five hours to dedicate to this.” Or “Who wants to eat the same chicken every day for lunch?”
Life is busy and smart eating can be confusing, so meal planning can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out and choose some of these strategies to get yourself on a better path for planning smart food choices that promote your healthy lifestyle:
Spend 5-10 minutes on a specific day of the week to look at your calendar:
- How many meals you could eat at home?
- Think “Meatless Monday”, “Healthified Taco Tuesday”, “Crockpot Wednesday”, “Leftover Thursday”, and use your favorite recipe sites or books for ideas. Develop a master rotation list from this. No need to recreate the wheel!
- Have some “no cook” options available.
- Keep it simple – a nutrient dense meal doesn’t need to be elaborate.
- Choose seasonal foods – they are what are fresh, typically less expensive, prevent boredom.
- Develop a master grocery list of items you need weekly, then each week add the ingredients for the meals. Or use an online or local grocery store site for this and leave the shopping and even the delivering to them. Save time!
- Double (or triple) the recipe(s) cooked on the weekend for meals or lunches later in the week.
If planning meals for the week feels overwhelming:
- Plan 2-3 days at a time.
- Or pick one or two food groups to plan to eat more of such as fruits and veggies or high fiber options such as beans, lentils, whole-grains, or sweet potatoes.
- No matter where you are eating, plan to build half your plate with veggies or fruit and veggies.
- Or choose to focus on planning one meal really well each week and build your skills from there.
- Start the day with a healthy choice, this will set the tone for the day and prevent you from overeating the next meal. Find a grab and go option for busy mornings. Choose a balance of carbs and protein.
- Plan to limit the amount of added sugars; these lack nutrients and can set you up for poor choices.
- Begin to plan to take your lunch to work 1-2 days a week. Start by packing leftovers from dinner, making an extra lunch for yourself when you pack for your kids or taking a smart frozen meal that you can boost up with some additions such as fruit, yogurt and/or extra servings of veggies.
- Plan balanced snacks to bring daily or to have available at work and at home.
Determine smart convenience options:
- Make a list of smart eating choices (with specific food selections) that are close to work and home.
- Many restaurants or grocery stores have options to purchase prepared protein by the pound. Think smoked or roasted turkey, rotisserie chicken, grilled chicken, or grilled salmon.
- Use smart pre-prepared meals and food products, such as frozen entrees, precut vegetables, no added salt canned and frozen veggies and other foods, to help save time and make the meal plan feel less daunting.
Keep in mind, planning for smart eating choices does get easier over time. There are many ways to cook quickly and eat smart. Finding the best strategies that fit your personal goals and lifestyle and practicing those is worth it to achieving long-term good health. The more often you practice small changes in your eating, the better results with start adding up – bite by bite!
Are you interested in speaking with a dietitian? Schedule a televisit appointment with dietitian Melanie Wilder by clicking here or calling (972)599-9600.