The idea of meal planning can be overwhelming. When we haven’t done something before, getting started can feel like a chore and the unknown can stop us in our tracks. As a registered dietitian, my job is to help you implement healthy food choices, and meal planning is an integral part of the journey. I use strategies (many I’ve learned from my clients!) to simplify meal planning and make it work for each person’s individual challenges.
Meal planning saves time and money, limits stress, and leads to healthier choices.
You don’t have to meal prep in order to meal plan. For some people, meal prep works and they thrive on it, for others it doesn’t. To plan is to decide and arrange something in advance. Meal planning is asking the question “What’s for dinner” once for the whole week, instead of nightly.
Meal planning takes 3 steps:
1. Deciding what to eat
2. Shopping for groceries
3. Preparing the meal
Here are 5 tips that will get you on the road to becoming a meal planning pro:
1. Cook Once, Eat Three Times: When you take the time to cook, cook extra, like, more than you think you need extra. If you don’t end up using it by the end of the week you can freeze it for later. Roast a bunch of veggies, pop a protein in the slow cooker and a grain or starch in the Instant pot and then complement them with items to make different meals. For example: crockpot salsa chicken can be used for tacos, grain bowls or salad, and soup.
2. Simplify: I’m the self-proclaimed queen of making nutrition simply. We often over complicate nutrition or get too ambitious in the kitchen and then get paralyzed and fall back into making unhealthy choices. You hear it all the time; eat real, whole foods and more plants. There are many ways to eat whole foods that are already prepared to enjoy: like canned beans, frozen vegetables and fruits, pre chopped or shredded vegetables, frozen grains, and canned vegetables (I love roasted peppers, hearts of palm, and artichoke hearts). When choosing canned vegetables and beans, look for “No Added Salt” or “Low Sodium”on the label for the lowest sodium, least processed version. When you are choosing meals simplify it with this equation:
Do you have one food from each category? If so, you did it! You have a well-balanced meal. I teach all of my clients which foods fit into which category and we come up with combinations that they love and that work for their body.
3. Check First: Check the calendar (if you have late or busy nights, plan a meal you can throw together, eat in the car or prep the night before); check the weather (this can impact the foods we are in the mood for. Cold nights call for hot soup!); check the pantry, freezer and fridge (so you don’t forget or buy too much of an ingredient you need).
4. Write it Down: Write down your meals either on a note pad or on your phone. Then, decide what you need to add to your grocery list so you can purchase everything you need for each meal. Once you’ve decided on your meals and completed your shopping, write your meals on a white board or on a paper you can put on the fridge, this way everyone at home knows what’s for dinner. When you write it down you’re more accountable too. When you finish a meal, cross it off the list, because who doesn’t love crossing items off a list!?
5. Be Flexible: Choose one plan B, back pocket meal per week. Meal planning should allow for flexibility, maybe plans change or you’re just not in the mood for a meal you planned 4 days ago. Here are a few of my go to, under 10 mins to put together (faster than a drive through!), meal ideas for when plans change or you want another option:
1. Eggs, tomato slices, avocado slices, sauerkraut, fruit
2. Bean Tacos-canned beans, whole grain tortillas, bagged shredded cabbage, prepared salsa
3. Zucchini noodles (sauté in 2 mins), shrimp (sauté in 3 mins), cherry tomatoes (sauté with shrimp), sprinkle parmesan cheese
4. Pea shoots or other greens, cherry tomatoes, sautéed chicken and simple Aioli (mix mayo, lemon and garlic)
5. Stir fry-thin sliced protein or tofu and frozen veggies served over rice or quinoa (love the frozen ones from Trader Joe’s); drizzle with sauce of choice. I love tahini mixed with a splash of OJ and maple syrup
For more meal planning tips and tricks or to get personalized meal ideas, Christianna sees clients 1 on 1 for nutrition counseling in her office in Wayland. She accepts most major insurances (Tufts, Harvard Pilgrim, BCBS, Aetna, Cigna, and United). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-561-5920.