By Julia Kim, NBC-HWC, CBS
We’ve all been there. It’s 5 pm and you have no dinner plan. Everyone is hungry and asking “what’s for dinner” as you stare into the fridge. You are faced with uncertainty. Do you try to throw something together or call your husband, again, and ask him to pick something up on the way home?
If you are faced with this dilemma nightly, then maybe it’s time to try something new. Meal planning can help you eat healthier, waste less food, and save time and money. Most importantly, it can help you eliminate some of the stress centered on meal times.
If meal planning seems too complicated, too time consuming or you just aren’t sure where to begin, I’ve put together some steps to help you get started.
Step 1: It all starts with a plan.
As a wellness coach at Workplace Options, I work with individuals looking to make life changes. Meal planning can be helpful to anyone wanting to eat healthier or manage their time more effectively. As with any new habit, it’s the habit forming part of meal planning that is the real challenge.
First, identify why you want to make this change. What is your overall goal? Once you have set a goal, you can break it down into manageable steps. For example, if you would ultimately like to have five nights of meals planned for the week, start small with a few nights a week and work up to your ideal.
Step 2: Pick an organizational system that will work for you.
Despite the numerous websites that claim to have the answer, remember, there is no perfect meal planning system. Basically, you need to identify what meals you want to make, determine what ingredients you have on hand and create a list of what you need to buy. Find a method to organize this information in a way that works best for you. That might be a white board, calendar, spreadsheet, piece of paper or app on your phone. There really is no right or wrong way here.
Step 3: Choose realistic meals that work for you.
Deciding what to cook depends on many factors including:
- How many people are you cooking for?
- Do you like to cook?
- How much time, realistically, do you have to cook?
- Do you have tried-and-true recipes that are committed to memory?
- Are there some new things that you have been wanting to try?
Take all of these factors into consideration when you are planning out your meals. If you hate cooking and only have twenty minutes to prepare a meal, then a complicated recipe is only going to frustrate you.
If you need some ideas on what to cook, search the internet for some new and interesting recipes. If you are cooking for a group, focus on those sites that specialize in large quantity recipes. Other sites focus on cooking for picky children, and others for people with certain food allergies. Check out the USDA site What’s Cooking for healthy recipes, including low-budget healthy meals. Try to make meal preparation fun by planning theme nights, such as taco Tuesday or pizza night. And see if you can get your entire family involved.
If time is an issue, you can make things easy for yourself with shortcuts like using premade broths when making soup, jar sauce and frozen pizza dough for pizza night, precut frozen vegetables for stir fries, etc… You can also double up on meals and use leftovers to create new meals. Bulk cook things like rice and quinoa, which stay fresh in the refrigerator for four to six days. Make extra protein such as roasting two chickens at once, using one for today’s meal and the other for things like stir fry and soup. Utilize a slow cooker for meals that are ready when you get home from work.
Step 4: Have a back-up plan.
There are always going to be those days that are less than perfect. Maybe you have to work late or all of your kids have activities at the same time. For those times, it’s helpful to have a backup plan. Have some premade, quick and easy frozen meal options available. Or on less stressful days when you find yourself with some extra time, make and freeze some popular, easy-to-make recipes in bulk like lasagna, a casserole or chicken pie. Then you’ll have enough on hand for one planned meal and some extra options at the ready for those busy nights.
Workplace Options helps employees balance their work, family and personal needs to become healthier, happier and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class employee support, effectiveness and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from dependent care and stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. To learn more visit www.workplaceoptions.com.