If you are one of the many people who consider meal planning for a healthy family diet to be a chore rather than a delightful life exercise, you may be making the process far more complicated than it needs to be.
To change your approach, start by embracing the idea of food planning as an adventure.
A goal without a plan is just a wishANTOINE de SAINT-EXUPERY
When you have a spare minute or two, check out websites, magazines and newspaper recipe ideas or television cooking shows for new ideas.
Step one: Start a file of recipes you would like to try. You may keep them as paper copies or electronically, or both.
Don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed at any step of the planning process. Introducing one new meal every three weeks is a reasonable start. That translates over the next year to 17 new dishes being served at your dinner table.
Poised for change, your next challenge is to incorporate healthy foods for all family members into your plan while providing variety and embracing seasonal delights on your menu.
You need to make a plan.
Step two: Secure a calendar for the duration of the season you are in (paper version or electronic version). For most people living in a four-season climate, that means winter, spring, summer and fall. You may want to be more precise, as in cold weather, warmer weather, hot weather, summer vacation season, autumn and holiday season.
Think about the natural components of your year and make natural divisions of those times that signal a change of eating patterns.
Decide how long each plan should be within its season. Do you normally dash into the grocery store every four days? That may be long enough to plan in the initial stage. Would week-to-week work better for you, or even two or three weeks?
Normally three weeks is maximum for meal planning. Work in one new recipe and note its ingredients; check what is in season or likely to be offered at a special price, and make a plan. If it is up to three weeks, work in a quick in-between trip to the grocery store to secure more fresh produce or fresh dairy products.
Do you usually eat out once a week? Work that into your plan. Have you supper invitations at the homes of friends or family already in the works? Work those days into your plan as well.
Build your plan around The Eatwell Plate1 prepared by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency. It is a model of how to eat healthy based on eight guidelines for a healthy diet.
Key points are eating lots of fruit and vegetables and fish, cutting down on saturated fat, sugar and salt, and drinking plenty of water. Starchy foods like whole-grain breads and brown rice are also part of their healthy diet.
Step Three: Prepare your grocery list. You may wish to develop a template of your list so for many of your basic essentials, you don’t have to start from a blank sheet of paper each week.
For example, under “fruit and vegetables” you could leave several blanks to incorporate what is in season, or include certain basics like apples and bananas that are always popular in your household.
Step Four: Go shopping when you are not too rushed or tired to look at labels and take the time to find the foods on your list. Never shop when you are hungry; you will be more likely to give in to an impulse to purchase high-fat or sugary foods.
Step Five: Allow sufficient time to store your food properly and do initial preparations when you arrive home. Refrigerate what needs to stay cold; freeze meat that won’t be eaten for more than three days.
Take time to cut up carrots or celery or cucumbers into easily accessible snacks. Arrange a bowl of fresh fruit to tempt snackers and keep them from seeking less healthy alternatives.
Step Six: Enjoy your food as a life adventure. Post your meal plan on the fridge door and encourage others in the family to start meals if they get home before you.
When you cook foods like soups and chilies, make extra-large batches so you can put some in containers and freeze it for meals later. Be sure to label everything, including the date you are freezing it and, if possible, a date when it should be used by for best flavor.
- The Eatwell Plate. Healthy Eating: A Whole Diet Approach. British Nutrition Foundation