Happy National Nutrition Month! As a team registered dietitians, you can imagine that we look forward to National Nutrition Month all year long! This year’s theme is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite”, which is bringing nutrition back to the basics.
Meal planning is one of the most basic tools to keep you on track with your health and nutrition goals. We’re diving into the basics of meal planning 101 so you can set yourself up for success!
What is Meal Planning?
Often when you hear the term “meal planning”, you may think elaborate, delicious meals that are cooked and ready to go for three meals a day, seven days a week. However, meal planning does not necessarily mean that you have to have every meal and snack prepped for the week. It simply means that you have a plan in place that will prepare you to eat healthy and ease the stress of preparing meals. You can use meal planning to plan for just lunches for the work week, or a couple of dinners when you know you’ll have a busy week, or breakfast for days you have an early commute.
Another huge advantage to meal planning is that you will actually save time. Think about it. How much time do you spend a week either at the grocery store for multiple trips, preparing meals, cooking the meals, and then cleaning up the meals?
With meal planning, you can free up much of this time during the week by just devoting a couple of hours to planning and preparing for the week. Try choosing one day during the week that works for your schedule to devote a small amount of time to planning and preparing for the week ahead. This added time allows us to spend time with our loved ones, exercising, or doing more things that you love.
We’re getting back to basics and taking you step by step through the meal planning process!
Take time to plan
Taking the time to do some meal planning is essential in the meal planning process. Pick a day that works for your schedule to sit down and map out what you’re going to eat for the week. Remember to be realistic. If you know that you have plans to eat out with friends or family one night that week, plan that into your meal plan so that you can enjoy your night and so you don’t over purchase. If you know that you are in a rush in the mornings, choose a meal that will help you get out the door more quickly like smoothies or oatmeal.
Pro Tip: Be sure to plan meals and snacks that are balanced. When planning meals, aim for ¼ of your plate protein, ¼ of your plate grains or starches, and ½ of the plate non-starchy vegetables. Incorporate fruits along with meals and snacks throughout the day.
Check Your Pantry
Before you rush out the door, be sure to take stock of what you already have in your cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer. Try to plan meals and recipes using items that you already own to make the best use of your current stock. This will also ensure that you aren’t buying more items that you already have as well.
Make a List
Making a grocery list is arguably the most important aspect of meal planning. When we shop without a list or a plan, we tend to purchase things out of impulse. This might cause us to purchase foods we don’t even need, especially if you’re wandering the aisles hungry and craving all kinds of different foods.
To make a grocery list, take a look at the meal plan that you have created. Look at all of the different recipes you plan to make that week and list out the necessary ingredients. Make sure to cross off items that you already have so that you don’t purchase again. Remember to take your list to the store with you!
Do whatever steps you need to do to make sure you’re eating the items that you just purchased and sticking with your plan! Wash, chop, cut, dice, and portion. Chop all of your fruits and vegetables, cook your grains, and wash your greens, and store in airtight containers. If you’re feeling ambitious, go ahead and prepare the entire recipe and portion out into meal containers and store for 3-4 days.
When meal planning, make sure to plan for meals that you will actually enjoy! Find recipes with flavors and ingredients that will make you look forward to your meals. Stock up on spices, herbs, oils, vinegars, and sauces that will liven up your meals. Make this a time to get creative and have some fun in the kitchen. For recipes ideas, take a look at the Let’s Move! collection here.