Meal planning shouldn't be another task to check off your to do list! Here are some easy, fun ways to make meal prep enjoyable and healthy!
Finding time to plan meals, knowing which foods to select while grocery shopping and enjoying that food are some daily challenges of anyone who wants to maintain or lose weight and feel energized. Many of my clients have busy schedules with full-time jobs, children, aging parents and responsibilities. My goal is to help make nutrition simple and fun for them!
Here are some solutions to the most popular meal planning challenges.
Problem #1: Healthy meals take too long to make.
Solution: Use precut vegetables and other healthy convenience foods. Look for fresh onions, celery, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms sold in the produce aisle. Also use pre-marinated lean meats, rotisserie-cooked chicken breasts, quartered marinated artichokes, preminced garlic and ginger, and canned beans, canned fish, and shredded reduced-fat cheese to save prep time.
Problem #2: We make separate meals for the kids.
Solution: Prepare 1 meal but flavor it 2 different ways. For instance, on pasta night, make a complex, bold-tasting sauce for the adults, but heat up jarred spaghetti sauce for the kids. When making casseroles, divide the mixture in half, flavor each half differently, then pour into opposite sides of the casserole dish and mark them with toothpicks so you'll know which is which.
Problem #3: We eat out and order takeout often.
Solution: Limit eating out or takeout meals to once or at most twice a week. Instead of creamy or fried food, order dishes that are baked, broiled, grilled, or steamed. Ask for sauces and dressing to be served on the side. If your meal does not come with enough vegetables, ask for an extra serving. Share your food or ask to package up half of it to take home before it gets served.
Problem #4: Many of our healthy meals taste bland.
Solution: Tape a chart of herbs/spices and their matched foods inside your cupboard for easy reference. For example, thyme goes well with chicken and mushrooms and rosemary with lean beef. Add flavor with sun-dried tomatoes, hot pepper sauce, balsamic vinegar, and salsa or lemon juice for an extra boost.
Problem #5: We eat a lot of ready-made or frozen meals.
Solution: Read the nutrition labels of prepared foods carefully: the so-called healthy versions may just be smaller portions of the regular meals. You can make them more nutritious by adding extra vegetables. Always drain canned vegetables, which can be full of sodium. Rinse them well and cook them in fresh water so they aren't as salty.
Problem #6: Healthy foods cost more.
Solution: Healthy eating can be healthy for your wallet too! You can actually save money when you substitute fresh vegetables and fruits for meats, processed or prepared foods, and sugary or salty snacks that are more expensive. Places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods now offer lower pricing on many items. Shopping at local food co-ops or farmers markets can also be beneficial for your budget.
Cooking and eating at home saves money too! If you go out to eat for lunch 5 days a week at $10 per meal for an entire year that is $2,600! You can bring your lunch to work and save a ton of money.
Also, check out SparkPeople.com or this Budget-Friendly Recipe Page from the American Diabetes Association: http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/log-in/recipes-for-healthy-living.html where you can find dozens of easy-to-make, low cost healthy recipes. The website describes calorie, fat, carbohydrate content and tells you how much each meal costs to make.
Problem #7: I don't want to give up my favorite foods and the foods I grew up with.
Solution: You don't have to. All you have to do is adjust how much and when you eat your favorite foods, based on their effect on your blood sugar. There are even websites and bloggers who have found low-calorie ways to turn your favorite treats into healthier options, such as Hungry Girl and the Salad Swap app available on the iPhone. There are ways to enjoy your favorite foods!
Problem #8: Changing my eating habits could take the pleasure out of eating.
Solution: Most people find that as they eat healthy foods, they develop a taste for them. From time to time you may still crave snack foods, and it's okay to have them occasionally. But over time, you will start to choose healthy foods because you truly prefer them, especially when you realize how much better you feel when you eat them.
Problem #9: Following a meal plan is too much work.
Solution: You may think it's work at first, but as it becomes your regular pattern, it will get easier. When you don't follow your meal plan, you may feel tired or lack energy. If you skip meals, your blood sugar levels may drop and you may experience symptoms of hunger and/or low blood sugar. Taking the time to follow your meal plan will help you balance your blood sugar and will ultimately help you feel better.
Problem #10: I had a bad experience last time I tried dieting.
Solution: Meal planning and dieting are very different. Dieting is something you do for a short time to drop extra pounds. Meal planning is a way of life. You never have to diet! Focus on realistic, healthy eating rather than avoiding foods and counting every calorie.
No matter what your previous misconceptions about meal planning were, these solutions can help you and your family eat healthy for 2018 and beyond!