Making small changes in the way we eat and live can make a big difference in our health. Eating a well-balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods is important to our overall health, but it doesn’t just happen by chance. If we leave it up to chance, hunger often gets the best of us. We find ourselves pulling into the drive thru, again. Last month I started making a greater effort to plan out my family’s meals ahead of time, mostly because I knew we could do better and save money at the same time. Both my husband and I are Registered Dietitians, so we know what foods are best for our bodies. Unfortunately, knowing doesn’t always translate into doing. If we fail to plan for meals and snacks, we too have found it easy to give into convenience. My take on meal planning started simple because I wanted to make it work for us. I started with only a few meals each week and I think that was the right approach.
Every family operates differently. Find a planning method that works for you and your family. Even if you can only plan one or two meals, that can offer significant savings over time. Eating out one less night a week can save a family $1300 over a year’s time and I’m sure we can all find a place to spend that! Here’s how I started:
- Plan the Menu: I started by writing out the names of main dishes on a sticky note. For some reason, it felt like less of a commitment if I could move it around, hence the sticky note. If I needed a recipe to make it, I wrote the page number down too, so I could find it easily when it came time to get cooking. After choosing the main dish (usually a protein source), I thought about how I could balance out the meal. What vegetable could I serve with it? Do I need to add a grain? Fruit?
- Create the Grocery List: I checked my cupboards, refrigerator, and freezer first to see what I already had on hand.
- Shop Wisely: Remember your list, and stick to it. Straying from your list is tempting, but it leads to extra spending and typically it’s on items that aren’t as healthy. Avoid shopping when you’re hungry, because this too will lead to increased spending.
- Cook: Divide and conquer. Involve your family in the meal preparation if they are old enough. If you have preschool-age children and you’re not sure what they can help with, check out this helpful guide from Meals Matter: http://www.mealsmatter.org/images/articles/preschool_flyer.pdf
- EAT! This is the best part. Enjoy the delicious food and time with your family to talk about your day. Let mealtimes be about the good things and save arguments for another time.
- Safely Save Leftovers: Be sure to immediately refrigerate or freeze any leftovers you want to save after you have finished eating. No food should be left out for more than 2 hours. Leftovers can easily be incorporated into your meal plan. Cook once, eat twice.
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