Meal planning goes a long way! It frees you up if you are wracking your brain every day on your way home from work about what you’re going to fix for dinner. Are you running from soccer practice to piano lessons after school and don’t have time to make a home cooked meal? Or do you hate cooking and rely on the drive through or order takeout to save time but know your health and your family’s health is being compromised?
Life is busy but I believe food should be prioritized as family health care. The foods you choose to eat really do impact your body’s ability to repair, recover, grow, protect and function optimally. The nutrients in food determine the quality of your cells. Cells are always dying off and being replaced. If you eat poorly, your cells will be compromised and weak. If you choose to eat high nutrient dense foods, whole foods, mostly plants, your cells will improve their integrity and perform better. Your health will improve.
So then, food is important! And planning makes home cooking doable. Home cooked meals will help you save money, lower stress and improve your health. It looks a little different for each person or family. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Make a list of your favorite meals, ask family members to participate.
- Determine how much time and where in your schedule you have time to prep some things ahead of time. (Can you chop veggies in the morning to use for dinner? Can you load the slow cooker before work? Do you have two hours on Sunday to roast a sheet pan meal, cook a pot of rice and make a soup?)
- Get the kids involved, they are more inclined to eat what they help choose and prepare.
- Always keep certain ingredients on hand for a go-to meal in case things don’t go as planned. (My go-to meals are: black bean & sweet potato quesadilla and broccoli coconut soup, I always try to have those ingredients.)
- Use a weekly or monthly calendar to plan out what meals to have on which night and generate a grocery list for the recipes. Make a list and stick to it, less impulse buying means better choices.(There are online templates you can print & there are grocery list apps for your phone, choose what works for you.)
- Starting slow with one or two meals per week might be helpful until you get into the hang of it.
- For a healthy start with breakfast, think about making a large batch of regular or baked oatmeal, chia pudding or smoothie bags. Oats are easy to warm up quickly, chia pudding goes into a bowl and add fruit and nuts to it, or dump contents of smoothie bag (fruit, greens, protein) into a blender and add plant milk or water.
- For lunches, make enough dinner to have leftovers for lunch or think about layering ingredients into jars to make different salads in jars or even burrito in jars, ready to grab and take to work or school.
- When you’re in the kitchen prepping food, turn on some music, an audio book or listen to podcasts, it helps to keep you going.
- If you’re really short on time , take advantage of fresh ingredients that are already chopped, either packaged or in the salad bar at most grocery stores. Having frozen peas, corn, squash, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower rice and grains can make tossing dinner on the table quick. Have canned beans, tomatoes and fish for convenience and quick turnaround. Meal delivery services can be helpful as well, for those short on time, but they will not save money.
- Make a quick dressing or sauce each week to have for salads, roasted veggies or grain bowls. (I think dressings are one of the worst things on the grocery shelves, they have so many additives for shelf life and the oils used become rancid.)
- Meal bowls like THIS ONE are easy to put together from ingredients you’ve prepared ahead of time or from frozen. (Combine a grain or starchy vegetable + raw or sauteed greens + plant protein + non starchy vegetable + herbs, spices + condiment dressing)
Providing nourishing home cooked meals are more nutritious than restaurant and convenience foods because you are in charge of the ingredients. Most restaurants and convenience foods have high salt, sugar and fat /oil. Your meals don’t have to be fancy, but you can definitely express your creative side with the colors, flavors and textures you choose.
It does take time to plan, but after a long day, knowing what to have for dinner, reduces stress and brings mindfulness to the act of nourishing yourself and those you love.
Meal planning will get easier with tools and practice and I’m confident that if you take a little time to plan, you will see great rewards in your health. Food is the best medicine!