Tips and Tricks for Meal Planning

Do you want to improve your nutrition?  Save time and money?  Perhaps shed a few unwanted pounds?

Meal planning is your answer!  You’ll be able to improve your nutrition, save time and money along with slashing calories by planning ahead and preparing your own meals.  When you cook, you’re in control of portion sizes and ingredients.  Eating out at any restaurant can lead to weight gain.  One recent study showed that the average entrée at non-chain restaurants contain about 1,200 calories.  This is due to the large volume of hidden calorie dense ingredients like cream and butter and the inappropriately large portion sizes. Plates have increased from 1980 to 2000 from 10 inches to 12 inches, and people tend to eat more when their plates are larger.

Weekly meal planning takes some effort in the beginning, but it does get easier once you get into a routine.  Start by making a game plan for the week. This includes planning home cooked meals and choosing smarter when eating out.

At home, choose meals that you can quickly and easily prepare (and clean up). Remember, the freezer is your friend. Cooking at home can be an opportunity for family members to spend time together and to be part of a process that improves the health and wellbeing of all involved.

·      Try to cook dinner at least three times a week. 

·      Add more vegetables at every meal. 

o   Incorporate a fresh smoothie into your weekly routine.

o   Add fresh or frozen vegetables like spinach or kale. 

o   Upgrade prepared or frozen entrees by adding more vegetables or toss roasted vegetables with your pasta or quinoa. 

o   Make a big batch of grilled vegetables at the start of the week to incorporate into any meal. 

·      Batch cook. Batch cooking allows you to make several servings of one meal that can easily be frozen in single serving sizes for a later date.  For example, when you are cooking rice or bean- why not cook the entire bag and freeze or store leftovers in the refrigerator for future meals?  No extra set up, equipment, or clean up necessary. You can also make a large batch of a green smoothie, portion it out into individual mason jars and have it ready for you in the refrigerator for the next 1-2 days.

·      Try ‘brown-bagging it’ throughout the week.  You will save hundreds of calories, time, and money during the day by bringing your lunch with you.  Make it simple by packing up home-cooked dinner leftovers for the next day.  Consider keeping a small refrigerator in your office or transport your lunch in cooler lunch bag.

When eating out, plan ahead and make smart choices.

·      Review the online menu ahead of time and plan what you’ll order. 

·      Consider having a light snack beforehand so you’re less tempted by the unhealthy options

·      Keep portion sizes in check. If the meal served is too large, determine the appropriate portion size for you, be mindful to not eat more than that,  and take the rest home.

·      Always order first. If you take the lead and order the healthy option you’ll be less influenced by those ordering unhealthy choices. Who knows?  You may inspire others to do the same.  

Here are 10-tips to help you get dinner on the table at least a few nights out of the week. Whether you are new to meal planning or a pro, these tips can make things a little easier to reach your goal.

·      Start small.  It takes time to build up to a few nights of homemade dinners per week. It is better to underestimate the number of meals you’ll have time to prepare than waste food that you didn’t have time to cook.

·      Spend time each week looking at recipes.  This may feel like an indulgence, but let yourself do it.  Flip through magazines, browse blogs, and open a few cookbooks with sticky notes handy to place as markers.  You can find inspiration and get a few cooking tips along the way.  

·      Stock your fridge with a few ingredients that go well together.  Mix and match these ingredients and use them for weeknight meals, filling the gaps with pantry staples.  Feel free to get creative-just make sure that you have a few ideas before using them together.

·      Make a couple of theme nights.  Assign a theme to dinner at least one night each week.  Think taco Tuesdays or breakfast-for-dinner theme on Fridays.  You can rotate theme nights, subtract or add as you see fit.

·      Take 1-2 days out of the week to prep ingredients. Prep food as soon as you get back from the store.  Chop veggies and roast to have on hand during the week.  Make a big batch of quinoa.  Marinate a quick-cooking protein ahead of time.  All you need to do is drain, cook, and serve with your favorite veggies and a starch.

·      Plan for leftovers.  Try to cook enough so you have leftovers to use as lunch during the week.

·      The freezer is your friend.  Make a double batch of recipes and freeze extras for weeks when you don’t have time to spend at the stove.  Don’t forget to label it.

·      Build a base shopping list.  If you are cooking regularly you will end up buying the same ingredients week after week.  Simplify everything by making a master list of recurring items then supplement with seasonal ingredients.

·      Ask your family or partner what they like to eat.  This can be a way to get inspired and try something new.  You can also recruit family members to help with shopping, food preparation, and cleanup.

·      Keep a meal journal, start a calendar or make a spreadsheet.  Try to find a way to track your grocery list and your fridge inventory.  This will help to streamline your weekly shopping.

In today’s busy world, we are on the go from dawn to dusk, but if you take a few minutes to plan your meals, you are sure to end up improving your nutrition and keeping your body fueled to make it through your day!