7 Tips for Healthy Meal Planning

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Debi Silber, MS, RD, WHC, the Mojo Coach

Think healthy meal planning needs to be difficult and time consuming? Use even a few of these tips and enjoy the extra time you’ll discover as a result.

  1. Use a slow cooker: These are a busy person’s dream. Simply set everything up in the morning and enjoy a warm, home cooked meal when you’re through with your busy day. Slow cookers are also a great way to cook less expensive, lower fat cuts of meat without drying them out. 
  2. Overcook: I don’t mean keeping something in the oven for too long. I mean make different versions using the same main ingredient. For example, let’s say you’re cooking chicken cutlets. How about buying a family-sized package, which costs less per pound than a smaller package? Then cook the cutlets all at once, but in a variety of ways. You can prepare some with BBQ sauce, season some for baking, use some for stir fry and grill some to use in sandwiches and salads. They’ll all be cooked and ready to use as you need them throughout the week.
  3. Double a recipe: As long as you’ll be cleaning those pots and pans, make more than one meal. Simply double or triple the recipe, label and freeze for later use.
  4. Have breakfast for dinner: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not enjoy it more than once a day? Breakfast can include a goldmine of healthy foods: high fiber cereals, whole grain pancake or waffles, fresh fruit smoothies, low fat milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs and much more. A quick omelet or frittata can be a great way to use leftover vegetables and pull together a fresh new meal for the cost of a few eggs.
  5. Keep a running food shopping list: By keeping a running list in your kitchen, you’ll find it easy to keep healthy foods on hand. As you’re running low, simply jot them down to be replaced during your next trip to the supermarket. Keeping a running list is also a handy way of writing down healthy, delicious ingredients you’ll discover when reading magazines, watching TV or when a healthy meal idea comes to mind. By sticking to your list you’ll also avoid many of the high sugar, high fat, highly processed “impulse buys” you may normally purchase if you didn’t bring a list along. Working from a list is also a great way to make sure that you use any coupons you have. Compare your list to your stash of coupons before you go shopping and mark coupon items on the list so you remember to turn the coupons in at checkout. You can also make alterations to your list based on the requirements of the coupons (for example, making sure to get the right size or brand).
  6. Use some supermarket savvyness: When food shopping, keep things quick, easy and healthy with precut, prewashed vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grain breads, nuts, beans and quick cooking lean protein. Frozen vegetables are also great to keep on hand as well as frozen entrees such as Healthy Choice, Weight Watchers or Lean Cuisine. Take the chance to stock up on those items when they go on sale, as they keep for a long time. Add a salad or cooked vegetable to round out the meal and make it more filling and satisfying.
  7. Menu planning, food delivery and food preparation services: There are so many great options available to made meal planning quick and easy.

    • Online menu planning services offer easy weekly or monthly menu ideas based on your tastes, preferences, restrictions and budget. They also provide printable shopping lists to easily get what you need to prepare each delicious meal.
    • Depending upon where you live, grocery delivery services may be available. Ordering your groceries and scheduling delivery times are only a click away. This may seem like an extravagance, but by ordering online, you avoid any chance of in-store impulse purchases and can see the running total of your order and make adjustments as you go. Investigate the options at your local stores, or just use Amazon to stock up on non-perishables. Not only is this option a huge time saver but for those with busy lifestyles, this service can be priceless!
    • Another service designed to save time while still promoting the idea of a home-cooked meal has been becoming increasingly popular. Some look like comfortable, professional kitchens where the customer is able to simply walk in and “assemble” the meal using fresh, premeasured ingredients and all that’s left to do is go home and pop it in the oven for the recommended amount of time. One of the best features of these services (Super Suppers and Dream Dinners are two of the larger chains), is that you can alter the ingredients to fit your family. Put in extra vegetables or less salt to make the dishes fit your family! If the self-assembly option sounds like it would take too long, many of these chains offer entrees that are preassembled, so all you have to do is put it in your oven.
    • Meal delivery services (and no, I don't mean pizza!) are another option where according to your tastes, restrictions and preferences meals and snacks can be packaged and delivered right to your door. Nothing is quicker and easier than a meal that's already prepared, portioned and ready to eat!
Healthy meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult or time consuming at all. It can be quick, easy and delicious with just a little bit of creativity and the willingness to do things just a little differently.

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1CRAZYDOG 4/3/2021
We do breakfast for dinner and it's a nice change-up. And during the colder weather I love soup for breakfast! Changing it up is good for the body and brain! Report
CD4994568 2/28/2021
Always plan meals at the beginning of the week Report
LEANJEAN6 11/22/2020
I do like Flax seed Report
I scan the ads & shop at overstock stores & local produce stand. Try to follow a routine of rotating main protein for dinner so we can have alternate one at lunch & breakfast. Use crock pot about 2 or 3 times a month. Chili, sloppy Joe's, pot roast or beef stew, some kind of chicken fish. I like having meatloaf for dinner then using leftovers for sandwiches later.
I often cook two or even three meals at once. Start w/same basics - carrots, celery & onion. Then maybe goulash in one pan & soup in another. I serve one that night & the other the next. Freeze leftovers.
My favorite meal is to make double enchilada casserole, bake & serve one & freeze the backup.
If it's taco Tuesday then the remainder has refried beans added for burritos or tostados or taco salad. We eat a lot of Mexican meals.
I do a stir-fry once a week based upon seasonal veggies & vary the protein: shrimp, chicken, beef, etc. Also a brown rice & barley fried rice combo w/ frozen mixed vegetables & scrambled egg.
I buy eggs in the 5 dozen carton & it's not unusual for me to eat 2 or more a day. My cholesterol reading runs around 78. Report
I always double the recipe so I can freeze some for another meal. Report
Great article Report
Thanks Report
Breakfast is the best meal of the day! Report
Breakfast any time of the day is always good with me....yum Report
By far...I love the slow cooker..I just got a Hamilton Beach set and forget, 6 quart size and can hardy wait to try it out. Going look on the site "Slow cooking for a year".
Thanks!!! Report
Great food for thought. I will be using several of these tips Report
By far, my favorite is using the slow cooker. Coming home to a meal already cooking is great. Then it doesn't seem like such a big deal to make a salad or cut up veggies to cook.
Also, we plan out all the meals on sunday. I have always heard "When we fail to plan, we plan to fail." Report
I do all of my planning and cooking on Sunday for the next week. The only thing I have to do is steam some veggies or make a salad and voila I have lunch/dinner. Report
I can have breakfast for dinner... but is it really healthy to eat so many eggs a day? Report
i'm just getting started on this, am terribly unorganized as far as meal planning & grocery lists go, but i do use coupons and shop the sales and am really good at improvising according to what's on sale...but i think my kid's would be happier with a plan!!! Report
I use my crock pot quite often. We buy tons of fruit,& always plan out the menu in advance. I should keep scrubbing list though, thanks Report
Thanks, I will try these. Report
Good info! Report
The one problem I see here is that buying pre-cut produce, using shopping services, etc., also add to your expenses, as if food prices weren't high enough as it is! I also find that when I purchase so-called "ready to eat" produce, I always wash them again by hand myself for my own peace of mind. I cannot help but wonder if some of the food-borne illnesses we hear of are the result of packaging so much produce in sealed plastic bags -- an ideal environment for bacteria and mold to multiply, huh? I also prefer working in my own kitchen where I know for a fact that everything has been properly cleaned and there is no chance of cross-contamination between different kinds of foods. Report
At this stage of my life this isn't an issue but I used my slow cooker a lot when I was working and also did a lot of big batch cooking (still do as cooking for two with some things just doesn't work, but lasagna pulled out of the freezer is a great thing!) Are you familiar with Sam's club's cooking club? This is something that could be done otherwise too but what it is is they have recipes for a weeks worth of meals and shopping lists, you get together with a group of friends, make up the recipes and package in portions for each member to take home for their family. Seems like a great fun thing to do. Report
I work until 5:30 every day, and don't get home until 6. My kids are starving when I walk through the door, so I try to have quick meals during the week. I generally shop Saturday (sometimes Sunday), and I make a family meal on Sunday and Monday nights, pre-planned. I am trying to get more fish in our diet, so I buy fresh fish and either have it Sunday or Monday night. I pan fry it in just Pam, with spices and the skin on (it stays moister I find), and sort of steam it with the cover for 2-4 minutes each side. Make a quick batch of whole wheat noodles to go with it, and a SteamFresh bag of frozen veggies, and I have dinner in less than 20 minutes.

Last Sunday, I made a hearty turkey chickpea chili with whole grain, nutty garlic bread. Monday I asked my husband (who works from home, but can sometimes be encouraged to put together something while he's got his headset on Mute) to chop potatoes, carrots, and onions into the crock pot with some stew beef. He added some Kitchen Bouquet (we didn't have any wine to add for flavor), a bay leaf and some other spices (marjoram, thyme, etc.) and when I arrived home I simply dished up the stew and we ate right away.

Sometimes we have grilled cheese and ham for dinner, or an omelette with cheese, onions, and green peppers. I also keep low-sodium Progresso soups (the ones with no MSG) handy, and the kids like to have those for a quick meal. I buy cans of low-sodium chili and the kids have that on soft, whole wheat buns as a kind of Sloppy Joe.

Tonight, I'm doing tacos with shredded lettuce, low-fat shredded cheese, and salsa. I find that doing a pasta with meat sauce is a quick meal, and I'll add onions and green peppers in the sauce to sneak in more veggies. My kids love it! Report
I do use a shopping service, which has been excellent. I'm not tempted by those end caps on the aisles that have all the sale items, and I'm sure the amount I pay for delivery and a tip would be the amount I would have spent on items I didn't need to have in my house. We also tend to overcook. With our kids away at college, the leftovers have worked out great. Two other great items that I've been trying to use more and more are my crock pot and a food steamer. Food steamer has been excellent for making whole wheat pasta. Dump in the pasta, some water, the sauce and any vegies, meat or cheese; turn it on, walk away and when the bell rings (and the dogs bark because they think it's the doorbell) we have dinner for two, no muss, no fuss. I will definitely check out some of the other ideas here, including the six o'clock scramble. Saving this link, for sure. Report
I start meal preparation as I am unpacking my groceries. I cut up onions to freeze, steam potatoes, hard boil eggs and brown hamberger etc, do tasks that pertain to my meal plan that week. I may even fill the crockpot with what is needed for a meal the next day. All this is possible to do because I have a menu plan and a running grocery store list! Report
Interesting article, but also a lot of ideas that would cost me money, and that is a hard thing in this day and age. BTW one of the companies (Super Suppers) that are doing the "come to our kitchen and cook your meals" has now filed bankruptcy. These are the signs of the times - cutting back, tightening the belt, doing it ourselves.

Would also have liked more of a tie-in with the services that Spark already offers - like Sparkrecipes - and the features that we could use here. JMO. Report
Once a month I do a cook-off with a good friend. She makes a triple batch of spaghetti sauce, splits it with me, and I do the same for her with meatloaf. Works out well for both of us and we get a chance to visit at the same time. Report
Thanks, I use some of them and I'll alter some for future use. Report
I buy frozen diced chicken to make cooking dinner quicker. Just heat in a skillet for 7-9 minutes on medium heat and you're ready to go! Report
I like the overcooking idea! Report
My husband cooks mostly which is why I have a weight problem. I sometimes use a salald plate instead of a dinner plate for dinner. That is my portion control Report
Another idea:

My partner and I were having trouble remembering what we bought at the grocery store - many of our meat & veggie purchases are based on what's on sale any given week. So for $3 we bought a small (erasable) whiteboard with the days of the week printed on it and we stuck it to the fridge with magnets. Now when we put the groceries away we plan meals for the week - and it's always there on the fridge.

[This also helps get him involved with the weekly planning & cooking. :-) ] Report
thanks for the tips i am gonna try them Report
I love cooking in the slow cooker. My fiancee and I eat so much better and healthier since we started using it all the time. No more eating out because the food it already done when we get home and are too tired/lazy to cook! Report
Mostly great tips - more so on the prep side than the shopping side, in my opinion - I would agree about the expense, though: lose the precut/prewash and take time on the w/e to do your own. DEFinitely lose the frozen processed meals - ugh!!! Buy whole, close to the source ingredients (produce, legumes, whole grains) and you'll save a ton. Report
Great! Report
It seems like these ideas assume everyone has an unlimited amount of money, as many of them are the most expensive items or services. More economical ideas please. Report
If I don't make out menu'\s before I shop I waste money and time. There will always be something I forgot. Soon, that will no longer be a problem. We are moving to a retirement community where all three meals a day will be provided for us. Halleluah! Report
Great Ideas.....already using some of them :-) making single servings to freeze of some recipes for a quick meals -- THANK YOU! Report
the crockpot idea works real well. I use mine often. But I would watch how many frozen dinners you eat as they are loaded in salt. Report
Great ideas will try some and some i already do thanks Report
Great info. Will try to adapt
I love the concept but a good bit of these tips (i.e. the pre cut/washed veggies and buying everything online to have delivered to your home, etc) is way too expensive. I suppose if everyone had unlimited income and budgets for their groceries this would in fact work, however in my case it isn't economically feasible. I do make a shopping list and do my best to stick to it. Report
These are all great ideas. Keeping a running grocery list is a habit I find to be quite helpful. Because I try to maintain a well stocked pantry, I will immediately jot down items on my list whenever they reach my pre-established "replenish level". That way I don't take the chance of forgetting about it when I go shopping and end up running out of it (of course, that one item would be the one I would need to complete a recipe). Report
One thing that struck me about these ideas is that you need a lot of freezer space, which I currently don't have. :-\ Report
I'm only 1 person in my household but I have a spagetti recipe that I made up that my family loves. I use tomatoes and tomato sauce and spices and either ground round or ground turkey and and I cook for an hour. When its done I put it in containers that hold enough for 1 and leave 1 for my supper that night. Then I just put it in the freezer and warm it up when I'm ready for it. Usually I have enough for 4 servings and I have it maybe once every other week or once a week depending on if I feel like eating it that quick. All I cook is the spagetti. One pan to wash and I recycle the cans. Report
I often cook meals so that we have left overs to eat later or freeze. There is only 2 of us, so it works very well. Report
Great thanks !!! Report
I do a meal planner and get a shopping list, then I shop once a week and when I get home I have meals and everything for them. I use e-mealz.com great little service and saves me money as I stick to my list. Report