Make meal planning work for you
It doesn't have to be intimidating!
As a registered dietitian I work with people to improve their health. The topic of meal planning is often a primary focus, which is understandable since preparing meals and snacks is a vital part of health improvement. Our culture has grown heavily dependent on convenience foods which tend to have more sodium, fat and simple sugars then we need.
Here's the good news: with a little planning, you can make meals and snacks that are convenient for your busy lifestyle. Check out these tips:
- Be realistic: Do you like to cook? Do you like cooking but currently don’t cook? Do you enjoy eating out? Do you like grocery shopping? Often, we put more pressure on ourselves to be Betty Crocker in the kitchen. This is an unrealistic expectation and can be a barrier to actually cooking more. If you don't like to cook, start by working on the current meals you are eating.
If you are eating out daily, start educating yourself on better portions (rule of thumb, portions are at least double when dining out, learn to take half home for lunch that next day). Or if you have frozen pizza for dinner, make a goal to eat a slice or two less and add a side salad to this meal to help with better balance.
- Use convenience to your benefit: The food industry knows that consumers are trying to be healthier eaters. Therefore, if you look for it, you can see food choices that are healthy and convenient at the same time.
Consider the pre-cut vegetables and fruits in the produce section, pre-cut and individually wrapped meats, frozen meals that are balanced with at least three food groups (the five food groups are protein, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables).
- Planning must happen: As the name indicates for meal planning, you have to plan on some level. This will look different for each person. Maybe tonight you ask the members of your household, "What do we want for dinner tomorrow?" rather than figuring it out at the last minute.
If you like planning for the week, try asking yourself these questions: Which days will you cook? When will you go grocery shopping? What can family members help with? Theme dinners can help reduce having to come up with ideas every week.
Examples: Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, Slow-cooker Wednesday, Leftover Thursday, Pizza Friday, Grilling Saturday, and Home Cooking Sunday.
- Think balance: Don't forget, food is fuel for our body, it's what keeps us alive and aids in good health. When you are having a meal, you should plan for at least three of the five food groups at a meal. A snack should be one to two food groups. If you need more information about the food groups, visit www.myplate.gov
Remember, meal planning is a process and will take time. Be patient with yourself. If some of the tips sound good but you still find it hard to implement, consider meeting with a registered dietitian to help the process!