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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!