Early last January Shanta Wilson, “Queen” of Shanta’s Savings Club on Facebook, shared an article about meal planning. I commented back then that I had tried before with no success. She encouraged me to give it another try and I am so glad she did! I made it my year long project not just for my family but for others as well. I created my own Facebook group, Friendly Meal Planning, to share recipes, tips, menu plans, and more! I quickly got into planning one week of suppers at a time and discovered success! Success meant that those nights of my daughters asking what’s for dinner and me not having answer changed to them finding the meal plan to cook up the meals while I was busy doing other tasks! The nights of last minute running to McDonald’s or a pizza place were replaced with healthier more balanced meals at home. We still occasionally plan to go out to eat.
What does eating well look like? I prefer to think back to what we were taught in elementary school health class. I believe healthy eating is about balance NOT giving up food. When you give up food you often crave it even more. It is about eating on a regular schedule with three meals and a couple of small snacks every day. Remember those food groups? Well they are important for balancing our foods throughout the day in a way to get all the nutrients we need. Oh and those food groups come with portion guidelines. I believe in eating food based on serving sizes and stop eating when you feel full even it there is food left on your plate. I would rather waste a little food than deal with the health consequences of forcing yourself to eat too much. Our dinner plates should be filled with 1/2 fruit & vegetables, 1/4 lean protein, and 1/4 whole grains. The USDA makes it sound real easy, but have you looked around at what is readily available to grab? Soda vending machines are everywhere! Along side them are snack vending machines selling great candy, cookies, and chips. And fast food businesses are almost everywhere now. If you don’t plan ahead, you could be enticed to eat a lot of high sugar, high salt, and high fat foods with very little nutrition.
Perhaps you are interested in eating healthy, but think your life is just to busy for it. Planning ahead can actually save you time. There a plenty of ways to take steps towards healthier more balanced eating.
- Keep healthier foods on hand
- Stock your car glove compartment with healthy snack options such as seeds, nuts, and granola bars
- Stock your office with healthy snack options
- Pre-measure snacks such as nuts & vegetables into portion controlled bags
- Cook up hard boiled eggs for an easy grab during the week
- Cook up sweet potatoes on the weekend to pack for week day lunches
- Cook up chicken and roasted vegetables, put in serving size dishes over rice/quinoa for weekday lunches.
- Prepare casseroles on the weekend to heat up during the week
These are just a few ways you can take steps towards healthier eating. At my house I have a cabinet devoted to easy to grab snack & lunch items including tuna packets, crackers, peanut butter, granola bars, nutrigrain bars, and fruit cups.
The final piece to planning ahead is the actual meal plan! The basics of a meal plan is that you write down on a calendar, menu board, or a meal plan printout what you plan to eat for the week or month. Then you use that plan to write up your shopping list and buy the items needed in one trip so you don’t have to make a bunch of last minute runs to the store. While that is the basic idea, there are many aspects that go into meal planning that I won’t go into all of right now. For now here are some tips to consider to improve your meal planning past the basics.
- Create a master list of meals your family most enjoys. This makes it easier to fill in the blanks on your meal plan when you get in a rut for ideas.
- Create a master list of ingredients you have in your house. This is useful for planning meals using what you already have and helps cut down on waste which leads to saving you money.
- Use leftovers from one meal to create another meal. For example leftovers from a chicken dinner can be used to make a delicious sandwich, fajitta, pasta dish, burrito, omelette, or even a stir fry.
- Plan meals using what is on sale and match coupons with sales to save money.
- Organize your kitchen based on each zones purpose. For example a lunch packing zone makes mornings go easier.
- Many leftovers can be frozen in freezer bags so they don’t go bad before you use them. A great method is to label the bags with product and date then lay flat on cookie sheets to freeze. You can freeze single servings for family members to pull out on a busy night to heat.
- Having at least one night a week planned for leftovers helps your family eat up the leftovers before they go bad. I usually pick a night when we are busy or can’t all sit down at the same time to eat.
- Slow Cooker nights are also great for when you have a busy night.
- Theme nights are great and many families look forward to them. Some fun themes are pizza night, taco night, Chinese night, Breakfast for supper night, soup night,new recipe night, etc.
- Creating a binder of your favorite recipes makes them easier to find.
Remember when you start planning ahead, you don’t have to do everything at once initially. You’ll feel more successful finding one or two ways to incorporate these ideas into your life at a time. You can always add more ways as you get good at it. I still find ways to incorporate food planning into my life. Pinterest really has so many ideas! I also keep finding so many great new recipes to try out.
Check out my kitchen maven board for some great tools for your kitchen! It is an affiliate link for which I get some compensation for products people buy off of it. So if you like something please buy it from my maven board to show support for my blog. Thank you.