There are financial and health benefits of planning and cooking meals at home. Take care of the ones you love, including yourself and your time!
Making the Leap
It’s easy to push the thought aside saying, “I don’t have time; It’s too much work. What if I change my mind that day? What if my family doesn’t like what I picked?” Meal planning can help with your food budget and help keep an eye on what you and your family eats each day. Having a plan in place means less last-minute fast food runs, convenience foods, to go orders, or restaurant meals which can all bust your budget and health goals. In the long run you can get into a groove where “What’s for dinner?” is one less thing to think about every day. Start with one meal…. Dinner.
OK, Let’s Do This
What meals are already staples or favorites in your home now?
Thinking of what meals you and your family already like is a great way to start. You already know the ingredients and how to prepare the meal. This is the easiest start to meal planning even if you start out with two planned meals per week and increase the number of meals as time, and your comfortability, goes on. This is a great way to ease into the process.
Take stock of what you already have.
Look in your pantry, fridge, and freezer and get rid of anything that’s expired - Start with a clean slate. Think of what storage you have in your home for dry goods, freezer, and fridge items so you know how often you might have to shop and how many days ahead you can plan and be able to store the food. You might be able to “go shopping” in your own home to kick off ideas on what meals to make.
Pick a day during the week as your planning day.
Any day that works for you is your day, but keep in mind the time needed to get the groceries. One suggestion is to do it on the day when your grocery store publishes their online flier for sales that start the next day or week. You can see what is on sale as a head start on deciding what to make for the next week or stock up on sale items you know are staples in your meals.
Healthy Main, Healthy Side, Healthy Yum.
Reduce feeling overwhelmed by simply thinking of what to include to meet these three categories. Look at each meal as three parts:
Get others involved – This work is not all on your shoulders!
- Healthy Main: Protein (the main item)
- Healthy Side: Fruit or Veggie
- Healthy Yum: Starch or Grain (Admit it – the carb side is delicious)
Whether your home includes your family or roommates, if they are eating, they will have an opinion. You might even get some new ideas by asking for help on what to make. Include the kids so that they learn by example how to plan and see what goes into making healthy meal options. You can have people in your home take their turn in choosing a meal entirely, which naturally creates buy-in on what you’re eating since they had a part in planning it. This is especially helpful with kids, and you can include them in the planning and cooking process!
Get inspired – Go local.
Since the start of the pandemic, local farmers have gone straight to the consumers by selling produce in a mixed box available for drive-thru pick up at great prices. As local farmers are looking for ways to make sure their harvest doesn’t go to waste, you can start cooking more seasonally based on what you get in one of the boxes. It’s a great opportunity to support local business, stay green by eating what’s in season, and perhaps introduce new produce into your meals. Worried about fresh produce spoiling before you use it? Fresh vegetables and fruit can be cleaned, cut, and frozen for later!
Publish the menu.
Write out what’s for dinner that week and post it in a place where it’s a reminder for you that you have a plan. There is comfort in knowing it’s one less thing to think about each day when you see the menu (your plan!) in place. It also helps with accountability, so we don’t make convenient or unhealthy choices at the last minute. It’s hard to change the plan when the plan is in writing AND groceries were already purchased!
Plan for the meals you won’t make.
There are times we just want to get takeout pizza (especially towards the end of a work week). Give yourself a break and add these to your plans ahead of time. Meal planning is not just about cooking every single meal – every single night. Meal planning is also budgeting for when you want a break and let someone else do the cooking. Knowing these choices in advance also helps with healthier choices, because you’ll know when you’re choosing to eat out.
Behind the Curtain – What’s an Example Meal Plan?
Here is a one-week sample of dinners planned ahead of time. Notice that they are not difficult and may even look a little boring, but that’s where your family’s preferences can shine though – spice it up! When you get into a groove, you may find that a few of these can become weekly standards with some variation. For example, this week is chicken tacos but next week might be ground turkey tacos.
Feed your body and keep it moving.
- Monday - Grilled marinated flank steak, sliced strawberries, corn on the cob, dinner roll
- Tuesday - Slow cooker chicken soft tacos (with fixings), sliced watermelon
- Wednesday - Baked chicken cutlets, zucchini noodles with marinara sauce, sauteed spinach and garlic
- Thursday - Grilled pork tenderloin, steak fries, steamed green beans
- Friday - Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, fries, fruit
- Saturday - Air fryer chicken wings, rice, steamed carrots
- Sunday - Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, sauteed squash
Knowing what you’re planning to eat, whether it’s at home or that planned take-out meal, will help you keep an eye on when to boost your activity.
Incorporating a healthier attitude by proactively planning your meals is also thinking of your big, healthy picture: What can several small choices do in the long run? Keep your activity in balance with a wellness app like EVŌ that gives you a realistic, goal-driven plan customized for you including health content from Mayo Clinic and motivating EVŌ competitions and prizes – all free for you! Learn More about EVŌ.
Whether you’re new to your health journey or already a workout warrior, find your rhythm and see if maybe now is a good time to start making a habit out of meal planning. Most of all, make sure to take time to enjoy the meals together. Our work and school lives have bled into the daily home life and family time. Enjoy the time together over a shared meal – Bon Appétit!
Written by EVŌ, Contributing Author
February 1, 2021