Those who are trying to save on groceries, reduce spending on dining out, adopt a healthier lifestyle and save time on cooking will want to use a weekly meal plan for dinner. Creating a healthy eating plan that can be mapped out and prepared in advance takes the guesswork and decision-making out of what to cook every evening, leaving more time for yourself or time with your family at the end of a long and busy day.
Healthy Meal Planning Prep
Know your Ingredients
Before setting out a healthy eating meal plan, it is important to understand what ingredients to use for a healthier diet. According to ChooseMyPlate.gov, fruits (20%) and vegetables (30%) should make up about half of your plate in every meal, in a variety of colours. Lean sources of protein are important, including lean meats, poultry and fish, eggs, nuts and beans, soy and eggs. Grains and whole grains are a wonderful source of fiber and dairy and calcium-rich foods like kale and cabbage should also be included. Avoid processed foods and foods that are high in saturated fats, sodium and sugar.
Create a List of Healthy Meals & Quick Dinner Meals
Create a list of healthy meals and quick dinner meals that the family likes to eat, incorporating old favorites that have been tried and tested and others you have found through researching in your favorite cookbooks or on the internet. It might be a good idea to keep a list of them all in a single notebook that you can refer to.
Working through the list, start by substituting some of the ingredients for heathier alternatives – replacing red meat with chicken, turkey or fish for example, and finding ways in which you can add extra fruits and vegetables.
Consider your week
Think about the upcoming activities and events your family may have over the next week. Work out which days are going to be busier – after-school practice or clubs, parties, homework deadlines, extended meetings. Map out those busy days on your calendar.
From your list, remove the recipes that take a large amount of time or are overly complicated. The goal is to create a set of ideas that are quick and easy to make – it is more likely that you will opt for a less-healthy alternative if you’re faced with a complex and time-consuming meal to prepare at the end of a busy day.
Batch your ingredients and work out shelf life.
Are there recipes on your list that can be made using similar ingredients? Creating a stock of ingredients that can be used in multiple recipes will not only save money (especially when taking advantage of discount or 3 for 2 offers), but will also make shopping far easier. Certain foods can be stored and frozen for a period of time, and this remove the need to shop repeatedly for the same items.
Create an ingredients list before you shop
Avoid over-spending on groceries by creating an accurate list of what you need for the meals ahead. Try to avoid deviating from this list, at least for the first few weeks, as this may risk moving away from the meal plan in times of food boredom. Alternatively, shop online with a specific list – many online supermarket sites allow for grocery lists to be saved and used again in multiple purchases.
Creating Your Healthy Meal Plan for Dinner
- Try to use the recipes that have the most perishable or hardest to freeze ingredients earlier in the week. It doesn’t save money on groceries to throw away items that have gone bad before they could be used.
- Avoid flexibility for the first few weeks. Everyone eats the same meal. In families of fussy-eaters it can become quite stressful when multiple people request different meals. Set a rule that everyone eats the same, or get your family involved in the meal planning and allow them to choose from the list of recipes that you have created.
- Slow cookers are perfect for reducing your prep time and creating a delicious meal with minimum effort. On days that you have identified that are busy, incorporate a slow cooker meal that can be prepared in the morning and will be ready for when you get home.
- Save time by cooking things in advance and storing them in the freezer. A large soup base or casserole of vegetables can be cooked, blitzed and stored in individual containers, then reheated with the addition of fresh ingredients later in the week.
- Leftovers are also a brilliant way to save time on meal planning and preparation – make a little extra for dinner, store your leftovers in the fridge and use them the next day.
- Get creative! Make a note of the recipes that your family enjoyed, and work out variations. Keep a list of all of the recipes that have been successful, and don’t be afraid to add to them over time.
- Don’t be afraid to repeat meals or have the same meal on the same day each week. A routine will help to save time and avoid the “what’s for dinner?” question.
Creating a healthy eating plan may seem like a daunting task, but with some initial planning and preparation it gets easier with practice, and will become more interesting as your experience and knowledge grows. Save time, save money and gain an easier and more productive lifestyle with a healthy eating plan.