Meal planning is a very important element of healthy eating. But it’s also one of the elements that many people struggle with. In my time as a dietitian at The Resort, I’ve seen many guests succeed at creating a healthy lifestyle once they return home. What the majority of these guests have in common is their determination to make meal planning a regular part of their lives.
One tip that some of these guests have shared with me is that they pick one day of the week, when they have some free time, in which to plan out a weekly menu or meal schedule. Many have involved their children, spouses or partners in this process, which is a great way to include the whole family in healthy eating. On this one day of the week set aside for menu planning, they will brainstorm different meal ideas, including nights when they know they will be dining out. They will then write down the menu for the week and create a grocery list based on the menu. Grocery shopping for the week also occurs on this menu planning day, and even some food preparation is undertaken, like making a big pot of soup for freezing, cutting up fruits and vegetables, portioning out snacks like bags of almonds, and cooking chicken breasts for salads throughout the week. Often, these guests will keep a weekly menu posted on their refrigerator, which assists them in sticking to the plan.
I recently came across a great article that discussed 10 steps to ease into menu planning (click the link). I thought I would share the 10 steps listed in the article, as some of you might find them helpful.
10 Steps to Ease into Menu Planning:
- Think about how many new meal ideas you are realistically willing to try for the coming week.
- Create a list of some of your often-prepared meals. Making a few favorite dishes that you are comfortable with (the “stand-bys”) and a few that are new will help keep you from getting overwhelmed.
- Take inventory of your kitchen–identify perishable food items that should be used first.
- Look for healthy recipes and/or meal ideas in magazines, online, in cookbooks, or search your own recipe collection.
- Keep in mind how many new meal ideas you are willing to prepare this week, which stand-by meals you intend to have, and what food items you already have on hand–select between one and five healthy meal ideas that sound good to you.
- If you want leftovers for lunch or multiple dinners, plan that into your menu. Grilling some chicken breasts? Throw on a few more for sandwiches and salads. Making a casserole or soup? Double the recipe and freeze half for next week.
- Plug your new meal ideas and stand-bys into a calendar. Try to match meals up with your weekly schedule. For example, you could make a big batch of soup on a lazy Sunday afternoon and save the quick fix salad and sandwich for the night you know you have to work late.
- Make a detailed shopping list of needed items grouped by the layout of your grocery store. It makes your trip much less stressful if you don’t have to backtrack through the store because you forgot something.
- As you put away the groceries, prep fruits, vegetables and other snacks for the coming week. For example, pack individual bags of whole grain crackers to take with you to work, or wash and cut up broccoli to have ready for a quick snack when you get home.
- Post your menu planning calendar on the refrigerator door. Refer to it during the coming week as you prepare meals.
Weekly meal planning is a great way to stick to a healthy eating plan. If you are currently struggling with creating a structure for meal planning, try following some of the tips listed above and see if it helps.
Rachel Andrew MPH, RD, CD