5 Tips for Healthy Meal Planning
Arguably THE most important thing you can do to eat healthy is to plan. When you have a plan – or are at least prepared – it is easy to live a healthy lifestyle. A good plan is one that takes your individual lifestyle into account and equips you for success.
Imagine – it’s 5 pm, you just got home for the day, you’re hungry, your family is hungry, and you have no idea what’s for dinner. What’s worse – you don’t have groceries. Now what? Having a plan saves you from not having an answer that very question.
Planning can feel challenging when you first start. It may even feel overwhelming. But once you get into a routine, I’m confident you will realize how much time and energy it saves you. Here are my suggestions for how to start:
Set Aside Time
Dedicate some time to sit down and think through your schedule. It is usually easiest for people to do this over the weekend but find a time that is right for you. Consider the days or week ahead and any events that may impact your meal prep timing. Do you have any late meetings that keep you at work longer? Are you taking a child to a practice that will get you home later? Start to look ahead and think about what real life is going to look like.
As you look at your schedule for the week, begin to pull together dinner menus based on these lifestyle factors. Always keep “real life” in mind when meal planning. You won’t have the time to make a recipe that requires 45 minutes if you get home late. Be sure to think through breakfast and lunch too. Once you have a good idea of what your week looks like, sit down and make your grocery list.
Head to the Grocery Store
By the time you go to the store, you should have a detailed list in hand that sets you up for success. Be sure it includes plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. If you are at the store and notice that something you buy often is on sale, double up. This will keep you better prepared and save on grocery costs. A well-stocked freezer and pantry is essential to healthy eating.
Prepping is the icing on the cake. If you have the time, go ahead and do some of the prep work. Chop up fruits and vegetables and set them aside. These make for great snacks and also saves time during meal prep. Portion out and meals and snacks, if possible. If you can create a “grab and go” system, things are so much easier.
Make Everything Available
If you have a place at work where you can keep lunches and snacks, I recommend that you do. Similarly, I encourage people to keep nonperishable portioned snacks in their purse, briefcase, or car. Taking these extra steps can make such a difference.
The goal (and benefit) of meal planning is to always have healthy options available to you. A meal plan does not have to be rigid – it is designed to equip you for whatever life throws your way. And always keep in mind, meal assembly can be equally as healthy. Some store-bought rotisserie chicken on top of a bagged salad is all we can pull off some nights and that is OK!
Sarah Marjoram, MS, RDN, LD
A Registered Dietitian supporting nutrition businesses with impactful content and marketing strategy.