by: Margaret Pauly, MS, RD, LD
Planning, we all do it. We plan our day, our work or school weeks, our weekends and our vacations. Unless you are a completely fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person, you are probably planning something. Yet, when people are asked about meal planning, they say they don’t have time. When they don’t have time, they tend to get overly hungry, even “hangry” (hunger + anger), and then reach for something quick. Quick food – i.e. fast food – is not usually very healthy as it is loaded with excess calories, fat and sodium and it can leave you groggy and unsatisfied.
Planning healthy meals can be easy. Here are five tips to make it so.
1. Take inventory of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Restock it (and purge) if needed.
2. Order online and pick up at the store to save even more time. Have some go-to basics for quick meals:
- Your favorite type of whole wheat or gluten-free pasta — for pasta meals or to add to soup
- Canned tomatoes — for pasta sauce, soup
- Broth in can, carton, or concentrated in a jar — for soup or to add flavor to vegetables and rice
- Canned tuna and salmon — for sandwiches, fish patties or a topping for salad
- Brown rice, whole grain couscous or quinoa — for stir fries, side dish, grain salads
- Canned beans — for hummus, soups, wrap in tortillas for burritos or quesadillas
- Olive oil — for sautéing or salad dressings
- Balsamic or red wine vinegar — for salad dressings or marinades
- Frozen vegetables — just as nutritious as fresh; can find pre-chopped for easy meal prep
- Bagged salad — self explanatory
- Whole wheat or corn tortillas — for burritos, quesadillas or tacos
- Raw nuts — for salad topping or to add to oatmeal; make your own trail mix snack
- Eggs — for omelets, egg salad or stir fries
- Cheese — use small amounts to add extra flavor to your meals
- Peanut butter — because we never grow tired of PB&J
- Whole wheat or gluten-free bread — keep in freezer if you don’t use often
- Garlic powder, onion powder, Mrs. Dash, and other favorite dry, unsalted condiments to add flavor without sodium.
3. Put your meals on your calendar so you will schedule them just like a doctor’s appointment. Don’t let dinner sneak up on you!
4. Cook once, eat twice – for instance, roast a chicken over the weekend and make chicken soup or chicken quesadillas for another night. This is a big time saver!
5. Meal prep — there are many websites that offer meal prepping help. Basically, you will cook a protein (meat, pork, poultry, fish, tofu) and add a whole grain or starchy vegetable and 1-2 non-starchy vegetables. Build your meals from this and package in reusable containers to keep in the refrigerator to grab on the way to work. If you don’t like to eat the same meal every day, this might not be for you.
Be forgiving! If you completely run out of time, don’t sweat it. Do the next best thing and get a big salad from the salad bar at the grocery store and pair it with a thin crust veggie pizza for the whole family. Subscribe to a meal service company such as Blue Apron where the food is in the exact quantities you need – you just prep and cook it. Although it’s pricier than making your own from scratch, there’s no food waste, and it saves time as you don’t need to shop.
Meal planning can be very rewarding in more ways than one. You will eat healthier, feel less hangry, and more likely save money at the end of the month. Then, you can get started planning that next vacation!