Now that people seem to be more concerned with healthy diets and exercise, meal planning for healthy options is becoming an important dietary tool, as I mentioned in my last post.
Planning meals means much more than just making a grocery list. To ensure that your diet is both nutritious and delicious, it should include mapping meals and snack choices for up to a month (at least, a week at a time).
Although this may seem like a chore, there are simple Apps available for smart phones and planners that are downloadable and free on the Internet to make meal planning much easier. If you are technically challenged, as I am, you can do it the old-fashioned way with a pencil and piece of paper. That is all it takes to begin regular meal planning and to start making healthy food choices for you and your family.
In addition to facilitating healthier eating in general, planned meals and snacking options are especially helpful to anyone who needs to reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, manage diabetes or lose weight.
Even if your family is healthy and no one is struggling with disease or health issues, meal planning is perfect for providing children and teens with nutritious snack options that will support their rapid growth and active lives. Many children will choose healthy snacks if they are available at all times.
A refrigerator filled with caffeinated, sugary sodas and fatty foods makes it far too easy for the family to choose only those foods. A refrigerator filled with fresh fruits and vegetables makes it more difficult to seek out those “bad snacking options.”
Clean Out Your Pantry and Refrigerator
The first step to meal planning for healthy options is to do a complete inventory of your pantry and refrigerator and remove items that are past their expiration date, wilted, or unappetizing to create space for nutritious alternatives. Once those have been removed, start eliminating all snacks filled with sugar, fats, and additives – this includes cookies, candy, sodas, bottled juice, potato chips, etc.
With that first step you have started down the road to healthier bodies for everyone. Removing the bad food options makes it more difficult to slip back into unhealthy eating habits. If those foods are not available, you and the family cannot eat them.
Find and Use Healthy Recipes
Second step . . . search the Internet for recipes, cookbooks, and websites that offer nutritious meals. You will be astounded at how many healthy versions there are of well-loved recipes available for download or included in cookbooks. Check out my book, The Healthy Diet Cookbook as a place to start.
Begin collecting healthy recipes that appeal to you and that you think your family will enjoy. Use those recipes to plan your meals and snacks. The larger your collection, the more choices you have to feed your family well. Also make adaptations to your family favorites. A few small changes to recipes like spaghetti, meatloaf, and beef stroganoff can turn them into much healthier dishes.
Make It Easy on Yourself
In the beginning choose recipes that are easy to prepare and use ingredients you know the family likes. You can move out of the family’s comfort zone on occasion because trying new foods can be great fun; but, for your basic meal planning stay with tried and true recipes that have been changed slightly to healthier versions.
Begin to stock your pantry and refrigerator with healthy ingredients that you will enjoy . . . and remember to double up on the fruit and vegetables (organic, if at all possible).
Almost any type of fruit can make a wonderful snack, especially for those in the family with a sweet-tooth. Fresh oranges, melons, and crisp, juicy apples are great snacks that keep well in the refrigerator. Melons topped with plain Greek yogurt and a little local honey or sliced apples with chunks of real cheddar cheese are great after school snacks (and also good packed in your lunch for a mid-morning treat).
Vegetables like carrots and celery are perfect for a crunch snack and they also store well for up to a week in the fridge – serve with hummus or almond butter to add a little protein.
The most important thing to remember about keeping fruit and vegetables for snacks is to make them easy to eat by cutting them up into bite-sized servings.
Grapes are best when removed from their vines and washed thoroughly. After washing, dry them completely and put them into containers or baggies. Voila! You have snacks that are perfect for days when family members need to grab and go. Cherries and grapes are also delicious when frozen – especially for hot and tired children when they come home from school.
For protein, buy lean, grain fed, free range beef if you can, and limit the amount of red meat in your meals. Focus more on poultry, fish and eggs. Lentils are another good source of protein to work into your meals.
Meal Planning Eases Your Budget
When you plan meals in advance, you know the exact quantity of each item to purchase, so budgeting is easier. Meal plans are perfect for the bargain shopper because they give you time to select foods that are on sale and in season. You can also clip coupons to add to your savings. Coupons for fruits and vegetables may be difficult to find, so concentrate on the meat sales to save money on your weekly shopping budget.
As I mentioned earlier, selecting a software program or App to help with your meal planning is an excellent time-saver (if you are into technology). These work particularly well for people with careers AND families. With busy schedules and multiple obligations they tend to be the worst at preparing and eating healthy meals. Using a smart phone or computer to help choose nutritious dinners is the perfect way to incorporate a time-saver with a health-saver!
Find a Good Meal Planning APP
Some Apps allow the user to select certain foods and then offer meals that can be created with those foods. This type of planning helps when you are pressed for time, especially for weekday dinner preparation. If you make lunches for your children to take to school, these programs can help with a large selection of healthy lunch options, as well.
Once again, I want to emphasize how planning meals and snacks in advance will be helpful for busy mothers and fathers. Without planning, you put yourself in the position of coming home from work and being forced to scramble to find the ingredients for a healthy dinner. This can be frustrating and stressful for the entire family and may result with the decision to order pizza just to fill the empty tummies.
Having the right ingredients on-hand so you can prepare quick and easy, nutritious meals is the perfect way to change your diet and the diet of your entire family.
Meal planning for healthy options is the ideal tool for busy families. Children can even be included in the planning process. Have fun with it and encourage them to find new foods that everyone may enjoy. It is a great way to get them interested in healthy eating and to build good habits for life.