It’s sometimes difficult to feed our families healthy, nourishing foods when it seems like the calendar is filled with late meetings, baseball practices, gymnastics classes and more. Planning ahead is one of the easiest ways to curb the fast-food habit and make sure your family is eating well.
Meal planning may seem overwhelming at first. But I’ve found that spending a little time preparing for the week ahead saves me a lot of time and stress in the end (and we’re eating fewer chicken nuggets).
Research backs up my experiences, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends meal planning as one of the best ways to help families improve their food choices.
Get Started with a Weekly Calendar
If your life is anything like mine, no two weeks look the same. So the first thing I do each week is open my calendar and figure out where we have to be and when – and how that will affect our mealtime.
Do I need foods we can take with us? Should I prepare something that can cook on its own during the day or try to plan a 15-minute meal?
So you’ll need a weekly calendar to get started, but it can be as simple as a piece of paper. I have a dry-erase calendar that hangs on the fridge. It keeps me on track, and also lets everyone in the family know what’s planned.
Next, Determine Recipes and Meals You Want to Use
Jumping in with a bunch of new recipes may be tempting, but if you have picky kids (or a picky spouse), you’re probably better off only adding one or two new recipes each week and using tried-and-true favorites for the rest of your evenings.
Stick to steamed veggies and salads for sides, or look for one-pot meals, at least until you’re accustomed to meal planning. Juggling more than one recipe while also trying to help the kids with math homework can lead to some interesting mistakes in the kitchen. Trust me on this one.
When you’re ready for new recipes or a little inspiration, try searching for recipes that feature seasonal produce and items on sale.
Establish a Routine and Keep It
Choose a time when you can focus on planning the week’s menus, and do your best to keep that time consistent each week. Grocery shopping at the same time each week also helps. Some stores let you order online and pick up at the store without ever getting out of your car.
Once you have everything in place, find some time to prep in advance. Cut up any meats, and wash and slice vegetables. Portion other ingredients, if you have time. Every little bit helps when you’re in a hurry.
I give myself permission to make last-minute changes if our schedule changes, but I try to keep this to a minimum. If not, we end up with a refrigerator full of brown vegetables, ice cream for dinner at 9 p.m. and a back seat full of french fries.
Do What Works for You
The best strategy for meal planning is the one that fits your lifestyle. Try a few, and before long you’ll find the method that works for you and your family.
Don’t forget that prepping for meals and planning ahead is not only about nutrition, but about making things easier on you. There’s no right or wrong way to meal plan; but with some smart thinking and action, you can make the process work.
Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.