Does it seem overwhelming to think about cooking an entire week of meals in one day? Don’t worry; meal planning doesn’t have to be scary or intimidating. It can even save you money!
Most of us are busy, filling our days with work, school, family, friends and activities. Often that leaves little room for a healthy diet that is well thought out. But a little planning goes a long way.
“Organization is a big part of meal planning,” said Natalie Klawonn, M.D., of Carilion Clinic’s Obesity Medicine department. “On your quietest day of the week, do your planning and shopping.”
The idea of meal planning is to work ahead to make sure you have good, healthy choices available for meals and snacks throughout the week.
“Your best bet is to shop on the outside edge of the grocery store,” said Dr. Klawonn. “Go for things that have come off the farm, because convenience food will almost always be high in carbs and calories.”
Preparing meals in advance not only makes it easier to eat well all week, it is much cheaper than stopping to pick up fast food or eat at a restaurant.
Here are some easy steps to follow if you want to try out meal planning:
Step 1: Plan it out
Make a list to plan what you’ll eat for the next few days, or even all week. If you need ideas for recipes, search Pinterest or Google for 30-minute, low-carb recipes. Or check out CarilionClinic.org/recipes; there are tons of quick and easy recipes to choose from.
Step 2: Go shopping
Eating more fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and eliminating processed foods like chips, crackers, potatoes and pasta, will help you and your family maintain your health. Stay away from aisles at the grocery store that don't have items from your shopping list.
Step 3: Cook for the week
When you get home, make enough that you’ll have meals to eat for several days in a row. Remember that meals don’t have to be complicated to be healthy! Most meals can be prepared in about 30 minutes.
Step 4: Pack and go
You can store meals in individually-sized containers if you want to be able to grab them quickly, like for lunches while at work. For larger meals that will be eaten at home, you can refrigerate or even freeze larger quantities.
If taking on meal planning seems like too much for you, start small. Consider cooking extra at a particular meal so you’ll have leftovers to quickly reheat for lunch or dinner another day.
Cooking at home is one of the best steps to a healthier lifestyle. And when we’re busy, planning ahead can make things a lot easier.