Many factors may come between you and healthy eating, but menu planning is a fabulous way of assuring you have all the tools and ingredients to have healthy meals prepared and ready once dinner time arrives.
The most common problems encountered that cause us to eat unhealthy, bland meals are:
- Lack of time for food shopping and preparation
- Lack of organization
- Lack of motivation and interest in cooking
- Lack of creativity: often due to lack of time, the same meals are repeated over and over, and because we are routinely preparing them, we know how and seldom fear complaints!!
No matter what your lifestyle is, the tips below will help you save time and money, and more importantly help you eat healthier. All this in a stress-free way! What else can we ask for?
1. Get inspired! Eating is one of life’s simple pleasures and eating healthy meals, contrary to many beliefs does not have to contradict this. There are millions of healthy recipes out thereawaiting discovery! Several approaches are available, such as surfing the internet, organizing a healthy potluck recipe exchange, going to the library or bookstore and browsing the cookbooks, taking a cooking class, or talking about your project to people who share the same interest. Also, why not get the rest of the household involved and receive their input?
2. Make a recipe repertoire of:
- 10 easy, 20 minutes-or-less recipes
- Recipes that have been successful in the past
- New recipes that you and/or other household members would like to try
Find the method that best suits your repertoire. For example, you can choose to have a folder with printed, plastic-covered recipes, index cards, or a favorites tab on your internet browser with links to your recipes. Only you know what works best for you!
3. Make a meal schedule that fits your weekly routine, write it out and post it in your kitchen. One of the biggest challenges of getting dinner on the table is knowing what to make. The meal schedule allows for consistency and relieves the anxiety of last minute improvisation. This plan should be tailored to your household’s weekly activity schedule recognizing that some nights will allow less time than others. Two types of schedules seem to work best for my clients:
The first one is a 2 or 3 week seasonal meal schedule. This means that every season a new fixed schedule is created, during which recipes remain the same and are repeated every 14 or 21 days.
The second is a 1-week theme-night schedule. Example: Mondays are fish nights, Tuesdays are soups or stews, Wednesdays a bean dish, Thursdays are a 20-minute or less recipe, Fridays are chicken. This last type of schedule leaves room for creativity and spontaneity, yet narrows the focus while allowing room for variety. If you feel limited to a certain dish every 14 days, this type of schedule is for you.
4. Smart grocery shopping:
- Choose a day for shopping that immediately precedes your weekly meal schedule.
- Make a weekly grocery list: keep a list of items you buy frequently and simply circle and indicate quantity for the week
- See article on healthy grocery shopping.
5. Dedicate time every week for food preparation and block that time off in your agenda.
6. Make it fun and make it a team effort! If your kids made it, they will eat it! Show them that this is a rewarding activity that will, more importantly, help you get the food out on the table earlier! If you are the one that does most of the cooking, find things that your spouse likes to do (i.e. barbecuing, peeling veggies while watching TV, a favorite dish…) and dedicate a night for him/her to cook or help.
7. Stay flexible. If you divert from the plan one night, it is not a big deal; simply go back to your meal plan the next day.
Creating an individualised meal plan takes a bit of time every week, but you will find that ultimately it will help you save time and relieve stress. By allotting time for recipe brainstorming and cooking, these activities become a creative and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. Most importantly, it will help you to eat healthy. As they say: ‘those who fail to plan, plan to fail!’
Happy meal planning!