One important and helpful tool on the way to a healthier diet is Menu Planning. Initially, it might seem too time consuming to plan your meals in advance, but the benefits are well worth the time spent. In the time it takes waiting for pizza delivery, you could have a full week’s meals planned. No extravagant supplies or special skills are necessary; all you really need is paper and a writing implement. Not only can it help you prepare more nutritionally balanced meals, it can also help you maximize your food dollars as well.
Create a Healthy Plan
- Set aside 15-30 minutes to plan your meals for the upcoming week. Planning in advance can help you to include enough daily servings of vegetables, fruits, beans and healthy grains into your diet.
- Include appealing and healthy snacks into your meal plan. This will help prevent you from hitting the vending machine or local drive-thru when you get a craving for a snack. Seasonal fruits are a low-calorie sweet treat that also supplies you with essential vitamins.
- Look through your favorite recipe book and magazines for new ideas and find a new healthy recipe (or two) to try each week to incorporate into your plan. This can help alleviate boredom if you find yourself eating the “same old thing” as well as introduce you to a potential new favorite.
Your Grocery List
- Prepare your grocery list at the same time as your meal plan. Before you leave check your pantry for often used items that you are low on. Use a magnetic refrigerator list to keep track of items you run out of during the week. Try to include everything you need to limit your trips to the store. Once weekly shopping will help eliminate unhealthy impulse snacks when you find yourself running in for “just one thing.”
- One very important aspect is to stick to your list while in the store. Eating a small meal or snack before shopping can prevent you from buying things that look appealing because you are hungry. If you don’t have to go down a particular isle, skip it. This will keep you from browsing for unnecessary, and possibly less healthier options.
- Be flexible. If you’ve had a particularly trying day, picking up take-out once in a while won’t ruin your healthy diet. Just choose places with healthier options and be sure to stick to your plan the rest of the week.
- Reuse your menu plans by rotating them monthly, seasonally or any other interval that works for you. This can be a big help when you still want to eat healthy, but simply don’t have time to create a new plan. You may find it helpful to keep them in a file with an attached grocery list so that you can just grab it and go.
- If you’d like some help with planning a well-balanced diet, the USDA has a free online planner called MyPyramid. Based on your calorie needs and dietary restrictions, it provides you with a personalized meal plan designed to incorporate all the foods from each category of the food pyramid.
- Enjoy yourself. Menu planning doesn’t have to be serious. It can be as fun, interesting or challenging as you decide to make it.