By Holly R. Layer – Contributing Writer
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
One of the biggest challenges to eating real, healthy food is a busy schedule. Unfortunately, we’re all busier than ever, and the healthy food in your fridge isn’t going to prep itself. If you’re hitting the drive-thru more often than you should, perhaps it’s time for you to embrace the art of meal planning.
Basically, meal planning is simply preparing your meals ahead of time, once a week. It can be as many meals as you want, as basic or as gourmet as you want. For example, if you work full-time outside the home, it might be helpful to prepare your breakfast, lunch, a snack and even some dinners. For others, it might just be packing all your lunches, or prepping all your dinners.
When I went back to school, I found I was spending almost an hour each night packing my breakfast, lunch and snacks for the next day. I finally started meal planning, and it’s relieved so much stress and given me back so much time. Instead of spending an hour each night, I spend a couple hours on a Sunday afternoon doing everything once. I still do it, even though I’m home more now.
First, meal planning begins with the PLAN. Plan out your meals. This could look like two egg muffins, toast and an orange for breakfast; a large salad for lunch; an apple and a cheese stick for a snack; and chili with salad and cornbread for dinner. Do that for every day. It’s helpful to repeat or alternate meals, to keep it simple. For example, you could have the same breakfast and snack every day, and alternate lunches. Consider using leftovers as part of your meal plan, as well. Be sure to ask yourself if the meal you’re planning matches where you’re going to eat it – you don’t want to get stuck eating cold lasagna in your car because you don’t have a microwave.
Next, decide what day works best for you to spend about three hours in the kitchen. Ideally, that would be Sunday afternoon or evening, if your meals are designed for Monday through Friday. Be sure to have gone to the grocery store and start with a clean kitchen with clean tools and lots of containers.
Finally, start with the recipe that takes the longest to prepare. Using the example above, get your egg muffins in the oven and the chili cooking on the stove first, and then gather your apples and cheese sticks together in the fridge for easy access. Wash your salad ingredients and chop veggies for the week and put in containers for lunches. Make sure you also have enough salad for dinner, as well. Once the egg muffins are done, pop in the cornbread. Peel all your oranges and put them in containers or baggies. Be sure to follow food safety rules and keep cold things in the fridge for as long as possible before taking them out, and chill items quickly.
Meal planning will relieve stress, save you time and money, and ensure you eat the healthy food you buy each week. Your meals can be as basic (simply assembling items like yogurts, fruit, veggies, nuts) or as gourmet (muffins, soups, stir-frys) as you’d like.
Now, eating healthy food is as easy opening the fridge each morning!
Holly R. Layer is a registered dietitian who lives in East Aurora. She provides nutritional counseling to students at SUNY Buffalo State, and teaches cycle and fitness classes at the Southtowns YMCA. She loves running, reading, fine stationery, colorful kitchen gadgets and ALL things food-related. An avid cook and baker, you can find her in the kitchen most days whipping up something yummy. Too bad her husband, Andrew (an East Aurora native) is the pickiest man alive! In addition to writing for the Refresh Buffalo Blog, you can find her at thefrozenpineapple.com.