In continuing the theme from my previous post on Eating Healthfully, I’m posting 5 more TIPS for HEALTHFUL MEAL PLANNING, especially for other busy Moms Who Work.
TIP 4: SET ASIDE SPECIFIC TIME FOR PLANNING
For me, planning time is in the quiet of Saturday morning before everyone else is up. I usually will do my grocery shopping for the week on Saturday or Sunday morning.
The actual planning process will take some time as you start getting used to the idea of meal planning, so make sure you don’t quit just because it seems to take an hour or so at first. It WILL get easier and faster as you start building up a cache of standby recipes you can recycle over the month. Just find a *mostly* regular time that works for you – plan on an hour as you begin – and try to stick with it as best as your schedule allows.
As an example, when I first started this, I would sit with all my “Eating Clean” cookbooks and flip through pages looking for ideas. Then, as we started trying our new clean meals, I quickly learned what ones were well liked, what ones were okay, and what ones we didn’t want to eat again. I now have about 15 core meals that I rotate every other week, with a few new ones each week thrown in. In addition, I find my grocery list is a bit shorter because I now keep on hand most of the new “clean” staples needed for most of these recipes.
TIP 5: USE TOOLS THAT FIT YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL STYLE
I discovered, quite by accident while passing by the clearance rack at Target, a great “meal planning” magnetic whiteboard/grocery list combo that sadly is no longer available. I am searching out suitable replacements and will post here, but so far no luck. This works for me because it’s fits comfortably on my fridge and leaves plenty of room for lunch/dinner and “notes” for all 7 days.
For some, it may make more sense to track on your computer, or a notepad, or paper wall calendar. You could design a form on your computer and print out a new one every week. It doesn’t matter WHAT you use, it just matters that you find a tool that you’re most comfortable with so you’ll USE it.
TIP 6: SPLIT UP PREP WORK ACROSS THE WEEK
This has helped me tremendously. Some advocate doing all your cooking for the week on Sunday. While I do a fair amount of prep and cooking on Sunday (usually in the morning, after I’ve done the shopping), I like to spend some time relaxing too. So to make this work, I will often split up prep across the week.
For example, later this week I’ve planned for a hearty veggie and meat chili. My recipe requires a head of roasted garlic, which I roasted last night at the same time I roasted some sweet potatoes (to be mashed for dinner tonight – more pre-prep). Now tonight, as I am preparing dinner (a simple dinner of pan seared center-cut pork chops with the mashed sweet potatoes and some roasted brussels sprouts), I will also prep the vegetables needed for the chili, and if I have time, even make the chili tonight. In either case, I will either have the chili ready to go for tomorrow night or all the vegetable prep done so it will come together very quickly tomorrow.
None of this would work, however, if I hadn’t planned our meals out for the week (or at least, the work week). See how this all comes together? It’s the only way I’ve found, short of hiring a personal live-in chef, to ensure that you can have healthy, home-cooked meals with a minimum of stress and frustration.
TIP 7: PLAN FOR LEFTOVERS
Whenever you can, purchase as many small, single-serving size food storage containers as your cabinets will hold. I like containers that hold 10-13 ounces, which are small enough for a single serving of lots of things, but still provide room for expansion in the freezer.
Using the chili mentioned above as an example, I will be making a batch that serves 8-10. There are three of us, which means that there will be at least 4 -5 extra servings of chili leftover. Once dinner is finished I will immediately portion out the leftovers into the individual serving sizes, label the contents and date with an Avery Removable label and stick in the freezer. Instant, no-hassle lunch.
This also works with component ingredients, too. For example, I have a recipe for a stuffed pork tenderloin that requires cooked broccoli. If I plan right, I can save some leftover cooked broccoli from a earlier dinner for my pork stuffing later in the week.
TIP 8: KEEP EMERGENCY SNACKS ON HAND
All the planning in the world can sometimes be for naught if life throws you a curveball or two, although hopefully you’ve built in some backup and flexibility to handle those inevitabilities. Just in case, however, I always like to keep one of the drawers in my office desk stocked with some emergency snacks, including a small container of natural almond or peanut butter, a box of Ry-Vita crackers, a selection of teas, and a small zipper bag or two of raw unsalted almonds or cashews. Dried fruit is also great to keep on hand and lasts well. I also always keep emergency almonds in my purse, and they have come in handy more than once. The Almond Board has cute almond tins for next to nothing that keep your emergency snack fresh.
If you are committed to eating clean, healthful meals, you need to commit to the time to make it work. It’s too easy to slip back into takeout convenience. Plan for your eating clean success and your body will be grateful.