I was leading a virtual workshop recently discussing the basics of healthy eating. The workshop is entitled Healthy Eating 101: What you need to know to start eating for overall body wellness. As I do most of my workshops, I start by asking the group to think about what they ate and drank the day before. I give them a few minutes to reflect and write it down. I do this as an exercise for awareness and mindfulness. We often don’t even stop to think about what we are putting into our bodies throughout the day. Once the reflection is complete, I ask “What did you discover by writing it down?” I often hear things like “Too many carbs” or “I started the day by eating a healthy breakfast, but then it all went downhill.” This time, I heard an answer that I inspired this blog - one participant said, “This made me realize that I eat healthier if my meals are planned in advance. If I don’t do that, I’m more likely to make unhealthy choices and be influenced by others.”
Photo by Ella Olsson from Pexels
Discovery! With busy lives and preoccupied minds, planning and advance preparation can be a challenge for most and typically falls lower on the priority list. I’m here to tell you (as most dietitians would) that scheduling time in your week to plan and prepare can make a huge impact on your health. Studies have shown that people who plan and cook at home generally eat smaller portions of food, more fruits and vegetables, and less fast-food.
Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels
It will feel like a chore at times, even for a nutrition professional like myself. When working from home or away, it reduces the decisions that you have to make during the day. Taking time to plan, time to shop, and time to cook and you are taking back control of your diet.
Here are a few tips and tools to make the process a little easier:
- DIY it with a good old pen and paper.
If you’re like me, you might find pleasure in writing out a plan. Use a blank sheet or try a meal planning template like the ones available from Everyday Savvy and follow these simple steps:
- Keep a small library of recipes that your family loves for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that will be your go-to’s to rotate. Plug in new recipes as you find them!
- Pick one day per week to be your planning, shopping, and prep day. If it can’t always be the same day, pick the day that will work best for the week ahead.
- Go through your library and plan out meals for each day.
- Allow room for leftovers. You do not need to cook something new every day.
- Write out your grocery list accounting for what you already have, adding any other snack items needed.
- Aim to go to the grocery store once per week. Twice is the maximum.
- Prep what you can ahead - clean, chop, batch cook, mix ingredients for later cooking, freeze, etc.
Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels
- Try a tool like the Meal Planner Pro
If you like the idea of the DIY, but prefer a digital version then here’s your one-stop-shop for meal planning. The basic site is free. Meal Planner PRO allows you to create a profile for family members and set dietary preferences or restrictions. Then you can “schedule” recipes for every meal of the day, seven days a week. The tool includes recipes to choose from, but you can also add your own or pull in ones from outside sources. It will compile your selected recipes into a printable shopping list. The downside? It might some effort up front to it set up and add your favorites.
- Ready-Made Meal plans
If you just want someone to tell you what to do, a ready-made meal plan might be the thing for you! These are plans that are laid out and all you have to do is follow them. The plan will not be personalized to account for your tastes and preferences. Some come with a grocery list and others don’t so you will have to put that together. Be sure to look at the recipe yield to see how much it makes. If the recipe serves four and you are cooking for two, account for leftovers in your weekly plan. You may need to cut out a recipe or two. Here are a few that I recommend:
- EatingWell Meal Plans
- Five Weeknight Dishes Newsletter from The New York Times
- CookingLight The Prep
Need to brush up on your cooking skills to feel confident about meal planning and prep? The Chopping Block is offering virtual classes to get you in the kitchen and building up that recipe library. A great place to start that will help you pick up your prep speed is the new virtual Knife Skills class. Then try something new like Meatless Mondays!