This month marks the start of my new series – Making Healthy Eating a Reality. Working with families has taught me that many people know what healthy eating is. The challenge comes in implementing that knowledge on a daily basis.
Oftentimes the challenges to eating healthy seem overwhelming. We are short on time, our kids are involved in numerous activities after school and in the evening, and we have our own obligations from work to church and on and on. Although we know healthy eating is important, somehow during the week it seems to lose its importance.
A key step to eating healthy is meal planning. You may be thinking, “I don’t have time to sit down and plan.” If you give it a chance, you’ll soon learn it actually saves time (and money!) throughout the week. It may take you 20 minutes to plan your meals for the week, but you’ll save more than that amount of time by the end of the week.
So, let’s get started. I’m going to share how I meal plan every week. The first thing I do is grab my meal planning sheet and a pencil (the eraser comes in handy). Then, I take a quick look through the refrigerator and pantry and jot down the food that needs to get eaten that week (i.e. the fresh broccoli I bought that looked good at the store and is now a few days away from being tossed out). I just write this in the free space at the top right or bottom of my meal planning sheet.
Next, I sit down at the table and go through our schedules for the week – jotting down nights I know we will be rushing about and will need a quick dinner. I also pull out any recipes I’ve been wanting to try.
Now, I’m all set to plan our meals. I typically plan just four to five dinners for the week – not all seven. It seems that obligations pop up during the week so this allows for some flexibility and there are always leftovers that need to be eaten. We also always have ingredients in the pantry to make pasta with vegetables so I have a back-up meal whenever needed.
As I start to plan my four to five dinners, I look at the list of food I need to use and plan meals using up those items. We, like most families, have some meals we eat frequently (i.e. bean burritos, various pasta dishes, and burgers/veggie burgers) so planning a few meals without recipes isn’t too hard. Glancing at the notes regarding our schedules ensures I don’t plan a meal that takes 30 min. to make when we’ll only be home for 30 min. Planning doesn’t mean your meals have to be elaborate – I often plan to have a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread on busy nights. Nutritionally, this easily beats a fast food meal. If I feel like it, I’ll plan to try a new recipe on a night I’ll have time to actually enjoy the experience.
Once my dinners are planned, I review them to make sure I have well-balanced meals and that each dinner includes at least one vegetable. Nearly all Americans fall short of the recommended 2 ½ cups a day. When I’m happy with the plan, I write our grocery list and head to the store confident I’m doing my best to ensure my family eats healthy.
What about planning breakfast?
My breakfast is usually one of three things: a bowl of cereal with skim milk and fruit, hot oatmeal made with skim milk and fruit, or whole wheat toast with peanut butter and an apple. After checking our pantry, I add any items we need to our grocery list. I don’t specifically plan breakfast for each day of the week – I see what I feel like in the morning.
What about planning lunch?
Similar to breakfast, my lunch consists of either a sandwich or a healthy frozen dinner and carrot sticks, a piece of fruit, and non-fat yogurt. I don’t plan each and every day, I just make sure we have these items on hand.
Do you want to save even more money?
Many families plan meals for the week using items listed in their grocery store’s weekly ads. This can definitely save you money, especially when certain types of meat, poultry or fish are on sale.
Does your life look similar from week to week?
The great thing is that I reuse my meal plans. My life doesn’t really change all that much from week to week so I take out an old sheet, make a few minor changes, and reuse that meal plan. That saves even more time and I’m all set for the week!
Coming next month…learn more about Freezer Cooking as you make Healthy Eating a Reality!