Meal Planning Reduces Dinnertime Stress and Makes It Easier to Eat Healthy
If figuring out what you're going to have for dinner every night causes more stress than you want, you need to come up with a plan. Meal planning may sound like a daunting task, but once you start, you'll see that it not only takes the guesswork out of dinner time, but also helps with grocery shopping and food budgeting.
Stock the Fridge and Pantry
Like meal planning, eating healthy isn't complicated. Stick to the basics. A healthy diet should be filled with more whole foods and less processed foods, that means more grains and veggies and less boxed mac and cheese. Stock your kitchen with rice, whole-grain pasta, potatoes, fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, beans, cheese, eggs, meats, nuts, nut butters, herbs and spices to set a good foundation for healthy eating and meal planning.
Meal planning not only keeps you sane at dinnertime, but also helps you save money. When starting a weekly meal plan, first see what you already have in the kitchen. This gives you inspiration for meal ideas and prevents you from double buying. Maybe you have tortillas in the cupboard, which might lead to fajitas, burritos and tacos for a Mexican-themed week of healthy meals, for example.
Look Through the Circulars
Like your kitchen, your grocery store's weekly sales flyer is also a source of inspiration for meals. For a healthier menu, stick with the whole food sections of the flyer, such as produce, meats, grains and milk. Maybe broccoli is on sale, which might lead to beef and broccoli stir fry or roasted chicken with broccoli.
Sit Down and Plan
Once you've taken stock of what you have in your kitchen and perused through the grocery store circular, sit down and write out your menu. Keep in mind that leftovers from one day can easily be added to another day's meal. For example, Monday's chili could be used to make chili-topped potatoes for Tuesday. Once you've completed your first week, note which days seemed easier than others and which meals your family looked forward to or seemed reluctant to eat. Keep a folder for your menus and favorite recipes to help create future menus. Have your kids help with meal planning by searching online for yummy recipes they want to try.
Jill Corleone is a registered dietitian and health coach who has been writing and sharing her love of food, nutrition and health with anyone who'll listen for almost 20 years. Her work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Diabetes Self-Management and Working Mother.