Meal planning is a vital part of healthy eating, or just eating in general, really. There are so many benefits to planning meals ahead of time. Let me count the ways…
- Saves time – When you have a plan for what’s for dinner, you don’t have to waste time debating or discussing. When we don’t plan, my husband and I are so indecisive – we can easily spend 30 minutes or even longer just debating what to eat. Then when we finally decide and realize we have to cook it, we are just so exhausted it seems we might as well go out to dinner. With meal planning, whichever of us arrives home first can start on the dinner prep, so we aren’t cranky or ravenous when it comes time to eat. We can actually enjoy our meal (another benefit!).
- Saves money – You buy what’s on your shopping list and use what’s in your fridge/pantry/freezer when you are planning meals. It can cut down on impulse buys – or at least those impulse buys going to waste. For example, when I saw homegrown asparagus in stores, I bought it even though it wasn’t on my list. I just swapped it for another veggie we had planned on that week.
- Saves calories – This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the saving time thing. Like I said, when we don’t have a plan, we are prone to becoming ravenous, which doesn’t do us or our waistlines any favors. We’re more likely to grab something to snack on when we’re trying to decide what to make for dinner after a long day at work, which leads to overeating.
(Meal planning could be a great way to restart some of those New Year’s Resolutions that may have fallen by the wayside… *wink wink*)
Related: Set Goals to Succeed in 2016
When I have the time for good meal planning, I like to get creative and test out new recipes and side-dish combinations. But, when I don’t have the time, I have a cheat. The hubby and I came up with our most commonly used proteins, starches, and vegetables, and put them in a rotation. To keep from repeating the same combos every week, we used seven different proteins, six different starches, and eight different vegetables. This list makes it easy just to plug and chug (as long as we make sure to keep the ingredients on hand).
Related: Heart-Healthy Proteins
Here’s an example week of our plug and chug menus:
Monday – Beef, whole wheat dinner roll, broccoli
Tuesday – Beans, tortillas, tomatoes/salsa + “taco veggies”
Wednesday – Pork, potatoes, cauliflower
Thursday – Chicken, brown rice, zucchini
Friday – Turkey, corn, salad
While this method is simple to execute, it still leaves a lot of room for creativity in the kitchen. We won’t use the same preparation methods or seasonings each time we have the same protein or vegetable. This keeps the variety up, which is important, especially when trying to eat healthfully.
Of course not all of our meals are three distinct items. We still plan nights where we will eat pizza or lasagna or something that’s more of a “combination dish.” But this gets us through when time is short.
Feel free to incorporate eating out as well! Meal planning shouldn’t be restrictive. It should help you get a clearer picture of what, when, and where you’ll be eating. Plus, if you’re eating healthy meals at home six nights a week, a weekly splurge might not be such a big deal.