Meal Planning Tips to Reach Your Health Goals
A simple search for “meal planning tips” on your favorite social media app will lead to no shortage of information on how to plan, prep, and pack meals for the week ahead. With all of this information available, it is understandable that you may find it’s hard to know which meal-planning method is right for you.
Meal planning, or the process of preparing food or meals in advance, can help you reach your nutrition and health goals. Taking the extra time to prepare your grocery list and think through your meals for the week can help you to eat healthy, homemade foods, and as a bonus, it can also help you budget your money for the week ahead and improve your financial health. Meal planning is also a good strategy If you find yourself unsure what you want to make for meals or struggle to eat a balanced diet.
Here are 5 tips to get you started and into the habit of planning healthy, nutritious meals.
Review what you already have on hand.
Before creating a grocery list, see what you already have in stock to avoid repurchasing. This is especially helpful if you have perishables like fruits or vegetables that are close to expiring. Plan on using these early in your meal plan week to make sure they are put to good use and to avoid wasting food. Also remember to check expiration dates on your dry and canned goods as well as your spices and condiments.
Look at your schedule for the days ahead.Your day-to-day activities can greatly impact your meal plan. If you go into work, for example, think about the best options for meals that you can pack in a lunchbox or reheat if a microwave if one is available in your office. If you are planning for a busy evening, having leftovers or another quick meal to prepare on hand will help you get nutritious food with minimal time commitment. A little extra prep work, such as chopping vegetables, at the beginning of your week will make it easier for you to make healthy choices as the days go on.
Make your meal plan and grocery list.
Now that you know what ingredients you already have available and what your upcoming schedule looks like, you can start to think through your meal options. In addition to planning healthy meals, don’t forget to include balanced snacks to help keep you full throughout the day. As you write out your menu, think through your nutritional needs. Resources like MyPlate can help you understand what a healthy caloric intake looks like for your unique characteristics, including age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. It also makes recommendations for maintaining a well-rounded diet through fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy and grains. Each person is unique though, and you may have conditions or allergies that impact your food intake. Talk to your primary care doctor or advanced practice provider* (APP) about what a nutritious diet looks like for you.
Stay flexible with meals.
Whether you need to run a surprise errand and stop at a fast-food restaurant or decide to go out for a meal with friends and family, you can still be prepared to make healthy choices. Many restaurants share their menu and nutritional information on their website for you to view ahead of time. Use this information to help make the best choice for a healthy meal, and remember a salad is not always the most nutritious answer!
Have fun cooking!Meal planning is a great way to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen and expand your palate. Instead of seeing this preparation work as an obligation, look at it as a creative outlet that fuels your body and mind. Consider having your family join you in planning and creating meals. Look for recipes to try out online or borrow a cookbook from the library. If time is short, you may also consider looking at meal delivery services.
As you work toward your health goals, a nutritious diet can serve as a foundation for success. Talk to your primary care doctor or APP if you have any questions about what foods and portions will work best for you.
*An advanced practice provider is defined as a nurse practitioner or physician assistant.