Just a few years ago my meal planning mainly meant stocking up on frozen "meals" as breakfasts and lunches. After a LOT of practice, I can now say that I am at meal planner level: expert. If the thought of meal planning seems overwhelming, no worries. Keep reading for some tips to becoming a successful meal planner yourself.
Most busy clients I work with are actually very intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to what a healthy diet and lifestyle looks like. The challenge is to make it happen in their hectic and over-committed lives. If you are like most busy people who are also very driven, you can turn this into your asset to help you implement healthy dietary changes.
For busy folks, planning smart is key to eating smart. If you make healthy choices available to you when you need them, chances are you will make better decisions. Here are a few tips to help you plan better so you can eat better and feel better:
Plan for the week ahead – plan out your meals for the upcoming week on the weekend, and do all your grocery shopping in one trip (which will save you time too!) If possible, set aside a couple of hours during the weekend to prep your meals – e.g. you can chop some veggies, or even cook the entire dish and put it in the fridge or freezer. You can even get your kids to help out, and make it a family ritual. Kids will have fun and they are more likely to eat the meals that they take part in preparing.
“Cook once eat twice (or more!)” – when it comes to healthy eating, nothing beats home-cooked meals made from scratch (a whole foods based diet). Having to scramble for dinner every evening can be challenging, and “Cook Once Eat Twice” can help you save time and headache. You can prepare more than one meal worth of food so you have leftovers for one more meal. You can also cook a big batch of grains and use them in different combination. For a meat option, grill a bunch of chicken breasts to keep on hand to shred for tacos or for quick casseroles.
Stock your fridge, pantry and desk drawer at work with healthy snacks – make sure you have some healthy snack alternatives handy so you don’t go for the vending machine which is usually stocked with less desirable options. If a fridge is available at work, try some hummus with celery sticks, carrots or broccoli. If you are always on the go, a handful of nuts with dried fruit or an apple with nut butter (available in single-use packets) can be great pick-me-ups. Keep in mind that fresh whole food is always better than processed foods – there are many “bars” on the market with “health claims” – however, most of them contain sugar, additives or processed food products that are less than desirable. If you have to turn to packaged foods, always read the labels to make smart choices.
Instead of getting caught with nothing for dinner, stock a few healthy frozen options so you don’t dial the greasy pizza place. Make a point to pair frozen meals and fresh veggies (even if it's just celery or carrot sticks with dips). My favorite thing to do is make a big batch of soup over the weekend and divide into individual containers and freeze.
Team up with a few other families or friends - each prepare one dish in a big batch, and then trade dishes - you will walk away with a week's worth of dinner!
I hope you enjoyed these tips and tricks for planning smart to eat smart! Stay tuned for the next post of the "Healthy Eating for Busy People" series. I'll be talking about how your beverage choices affect your health.