Even though I'm not perfect, one thing that has helped me stay on top of healthy eating when life is busy is meal planning.
Balancing food over the course of the day/week, knowing if something needs to be thawed for dinner and what I need to prepare for the next mealtime is really freeing. Since it's all on paper my brain doesn't even have to think about meal preparation amidst the craziness of everyday life!
Even though I've used meal planning intermittently over the years, I always come back to it as an organizational tool that is so good for getting and/or keeping healthy eating on track.
Meal Planning for Beginners
If you've never made a meal plan before, it may seem a daunting task. But it's really quite simple.
1. Collect Recipes
The first thing you need to do is collect some recipes. You may have some old favorites, but new recipes are good too. Flip through your cookbooks and put a post it note on any recipes that seem healthy and yummy. If you find recipes online, bookmark them in your web browser or print them out and keep them into a magazine box or a binder with your cookbooks. This is the equivalent of brainstorming. Hopefully you'll end up with more recipes than you can use.
2. Make a List of Favorite Meals
Next you need to make a list of all the meals you and your family like. Then add a few new recipes you'd like to introduce. This is like a master meal list. Write one list each for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. This way you are not reinventing the wheel every time you sit down to plan. These lists can be stored with your recipes.
3. Plan the Dinners
Then using your calendar (because you can see all of your family activities), plan DINNERS for a week. We have an entire kitchen binder to help you get organized here. If you have many recipes you'd like to try plan a couple weeks worth of dinners. Keep in mind special occasions and ongoing activities. Then transfer the dinners to a weekly plan. Lots of people stop here. I don't…
4. Add Breakfasts and Lunches
Now fill in breakfasts and then lunches on your weekly meal plan. Try to balance each day with carbs, protein and fruits and veggies. I find this step really important as I work at home and we homeschool our kids. This means if I've not written it down – I tend to eat far to many calories or skip a meal all together because I can't think of something quick and easy in the middle of a busy day.
5. Then Snacks
If you or your kids need snacks, fill those in on the plan too. At our house we've always done breakfast, snack (during school), lunch, snack (after reading but before playing) and dinner. These days with a growing teen and two pre-teens in the house there is often a snack after dinner too. (Dean and I need to learn to NOT eat this snack with the kids!)
6. Display the Meal Plan
Post your newly created meal plan in an easy-to-see place, like on the refrigerator door. That way you – and everyone else in the house – can see what comes next without having to ask you again!
Have you spent much time meal planning? Or do you tend to fly by the seat of your pants? (How has that worked for you?!)
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