How often have you picked up the kids in the evening and let them talk you into the local drive-through, because it was easier than going home and trying to figure out what to serve for dinner? Or talked yourself into it after a long day at work?
If this ever happens to you, even occasionally, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
We live in what seem to be frantic times, and there’s always something else that needs our attention.
But there is a solution to the last-minute fast-food decision. It’s called meal planning.
Now I know not everyone is ultra-organized. I’m certainly not either!
But there are some great reasons to plan your meals in advance instead of just standing in front of an open freezer, wondering what you can throw together. (Remember those “mystery meals” from your youth? Or was that last week…?)
Why Should You Try to Plan Your Meals?
First, meal planning helps you save money. It’s much cheaper to eat grocery-bought food than fast food. Grocery-bought food may seem more expensive when you buy it, but most of the time what you get can be used for multiple meals or feed more people than fast food.
Second, you get to eat REAL FOOD, not processed chemicals! Do ya think your body might like that a bit more? You bet it does! And it will definitely show in how you feel as well as in your fitness endeavors. When you fill the pantry with real food snacks and meals, you and your whole family reap the benefits. These include: eating fewer chemical additives (which adversely affect us in so many ways); eating more vitamins and minerals (which not only builds your immune system and helps you fight germs and illness, but also helps your children’s bones and organs grow well); feeling healthier; BEING healthier; and being less likely to gain weight.
Yes, fresh food has a shorter shelf life, but you’ll waste less food when you plan exactly how you’re going to use it all. This isn’t just the main meals; it also includes leftovers and snacks. This is the best way to avoid finding unexpected science experiments in the back of the fridge!
If you’ve ever wondered, “What are we going to eat for dinner tonight?” at 4 pm, or even at 7 pm, you’ll realize how much unnecessary stress you’re putting on yourself. It takes up a lot of mental energy to try to think on the fly. It’s a lot less stressful if you already have the meals planned in advance, and know exactly what you’re going to serve each night.
Planning in advance also definitely saves a lot of time, as well as stress. And it gives you a chance to make sure there is plenty of variety in the foods you serve and provide throughout the day. If you’ve got a crockpot, you just throw it all in when you leave for work to come home to a meal ready to go. Plus you can use leftovers for another dinner later in the week or as lunch for the next day or two.
How To Go About Meal Planning?
OK, so those are all the compelling reasons to plan your meals. How do you actually do it? Here are some steps you can take right away:
- First things first, start with a weekly template for the types of meals you’ll make. For instance, each week you can do 1 stir-fry, 1 salad, 1 slow cooker meal, 1 soup, 1 seafood meal, 1 Mexican, and 1 grilled. Or something like that, that your family will eat. That helps you narrow down your choices.
- Plan your recipes in advance, one day a week. Look through your pantry and fridge to see what you already have (and what will last for a few more days), and what you need to buy. Make a comprehensive shopping list.
- Tip: Organize your list by aisle, if you are very familiar with that store. It saves a lot of time wandering around looking for just the right ingredient.
- Tip: Plan recipes around seasonal veggies and fruit because it will be cheaper at the store, fresher, and less expensive than the rest of the year.
- Tip: Reduce prep time by getting pre-chopped veggies and pre-cooked meats.
- Build up a go-to resource of at least 20 family-favorite recipes. Use at least 4 of them each week, rotating so you don’t use each one more than once every few weeks, and add in a couple of new recipes the other days.
- Tip: Get your kids to find recipes online that they’d like to try, and encourage them to help you in the kitchen, in an age-appropriate way.
- Plan to eat leftovers for lunch and maybe another dinner. This means making a little (or a lot) more when you first cook the meal. Just think of all the time you’re saving for the rest of the week.
- Tip: Make some meals ahead, say, on the weekend, with a double recipe.
- Tip: If you know you or someone else in your family will be taking leftovers to school or work, after making more than you need for dinner, pack leftovers in portion-sized containers and put them in the freezer.
Other Helpful Tips
- Yes, eating more healthy food is a little more expensive upfront. But as I said earlier, you can usually make it last for a couple meals. It’s also higher quality, so it will fuel your body much more than hitting up fast food. But here are some additional tips for to help out and keep some variety.
- Stretch your meat by putting it in a stir-fry or casserole where you can include a lot more veggies. Your plate should generally contain more veggies anyways. You can also change up the spices you use to change up the flavor of something. For instance, instead of curry, try cumin and other Mexican-style flavors.
I hope this has given you at least a few great ideas you can try that will make meal planning easier, cheaper, and healthier for you and your family. Just remember, it might be a little tough once you start, but as you get the hang of it, it’s gonna get easier and easier to implement.
About the Author:
Hi, I’m Josh Davidson, owner of Personal Training Institute of Fort Wayne. I have been involved in health and fitness for over 7 years. You can learn more about my staff and I as well as what we do by calling 260-338-2022 or visiting our website at www.ptifw.com.