by Allison Wood and fellow dietitians at Nourished Routes, LLC
If you’re currently meal planning, there’s no denying that it can take up a chunk of your time. Especially if you’re trying to implement new, healthier eating habits through preparing more food at home. There is an even greater difficulty for some looking for spare time in an already busy schedule to begin to grocery shop, meal prep, and perform kitchen cleanup if you’re at all used to getting fast food or takeout. The allure of healthy eating is lost when you’re tired, hungry, or the least bit lazy. So before you get to the point of breaking up with your diet, and maybe you have been there before, try some pointers on how to continue meal planning efficiently.
1) Plan 3 to 4 Days Ahead
However, you organize your week’s schedule, set aside time to meal plan twice per week. Sitting down for just 30 minutes twice per week rather than just once per week might sound counterintuitive, but that is not usually the case. Planning once per week leaves you with more meals to plan all at once, when your schedule usually changes throughout the course of the week. Changes in plans over a week’s time, as you may know, can leave you with loads of food waste from meals you didn’t get around to making. If this happens to you regularly, you might begin feeling that your meal planning efforts are a waste of your time, not to mention food and money. Reviewing your food and meal plan again later on in the week helps you to stay on top of your fridge and panty supply. You will find that you no longer have to accept meal plans as impossible to follow, overly strict, and a waste of time, money, and food, but that you’re just planning for a more realistic number of meals.
2) Take Stock
It might sound like a no-brainer to peek into your pantry and fridge before heading out to the grocery store so that you don’t over-buy and waste food. That’s obvious. But next time you take stock, view it as your current meal plan, and that you’re searching for its missing pieces. This is not only faster, but it’s fun and helps creativity in the kitchen while preventing food waste! If you’ve never heard of this quick technique, you’ll first want to find anything that you can eat right away, as is. Once you know of the ready-to-eat foods you have, incorporate them into your plan as snacks or components of meals that take little to no preparation. What’s left in your food supply, however much or little that is, is used to inspire your recipes for the upcoming days. You might find the items you need to freeze or properly store some items if your meal plan can’t account for them before they turn, or that you need to get creative for a few odds and ends you have to use up. If you still cannot use up food before the expiration date and need ideas on preventing waste, ask your friends or coworkers if they can take anything off your hands for you, or consider finding
a food bank that would take your donation as food or composting! Regardless of what you have in your cupboards, viewing the process of taking stock as though you’re looking at your current meal, and sorting through potentially wasted food if not passed on to other hands, and revealing a puzzles’ missing pieces, you might have never considered it as a tool used for improving the speed of this process.
3) Know Your Schedule and Plan Accordingly
It might be obvious that it’s important to review any plans you have before heading out to the grocery store, or it might not be! Nonetheless, if you don’t currently use a planner or method for keeping track of your schedule, you might want to start using one just for planning your meals.
Nobody plans to buy food for dinner that they’re not going to eat; but when you grab food with a friend over eating what you had planned to make in the fridge, you’re doing just that. Coordinating your work and life plans is a useful tip for smart and fast meal planning! By simply looking at your schedule for the next 3-4 days out, you’ll quickly be aware of meals you can skip planning for, and incidentally shed some light on saboteurs to your health goals! Eating out too frequently, forgetting to eat leaner for meals on days you
plan to indulge and grab ice-cream with the kids. If meal planning is relatively a new habit for you, you might participate in a bible study or do volunteer work that you don’t need to keep track of. That said, if you regularly have food there, consider them to be a part of your menu, and therefore contributors to your health goals. You may find that any extra consideration helps you stay more accountable to your goals.
4) Leftovers Are Time-Savers
Any meals that you make once and eat twice (or more), is a fantastic meal to plan to for efficiency! It’s a dish that scratches cooking and recipe planning off your to-do, so it’s very useful in any tight schedule! Some great bulk, and healthy recipes to use are chilis, soups, and casseroles! If you just have one recipe that you know you want to make, searching for variety in your meal plan can take up a lot of time when you factor in all of the ingredients you’ll need to shop for and prepare, and use before all of it goes bad. Ditch the hassles of variety and just make one dish for 2-4 days. Leftovers also help to cut down on unhealthy eating if you have a problem with dipping into any undesired snack foods or treats that you keep in the house. You can also turn to these meals if you are unable to cook, thus helping you to not order takeout.
5) Play the Hits
When you’re meal planning, it is a simple time-saver to plan your frequently eating, yet favorite healthy dishes over and over again! If overnight oats or lunchtime salads are meals that you love, put them in your meal plan right away and move on! If you’re used to eating out frequently, you might not be used to a certain limited level of variety your eating, but in order to save time and be satisfied in your healthy eating habits, you might want to consider limiting your variety to what you know and like. Then grow your “go-to” meal list so that over time, as you gain confidence in your meal planning abilities and are ready to incorporate more variety in your ingredients and cooking, you have a great self-made cook-book to cherish, and utilize in a pinch!
6) Ask for Recipe Ideas
Ask for that awesome chocolate tahini ball recipe your friend made for lunch and use it in your meal plan. Reaching out to your friends and family for recipes helps you to keep in touch and plan your meals very quickly! You’ll be growing your collection of favorite recipes and building a support system to keep you accountable to your health goals while making meal planning easier for you.
7) Buy a Cookbook
There’s no better way to treat your meal-planning routine and cut time than to buy a new cookbook. You’ll use ingredients you’ve never heard of and learn cooking techniques you’ve always wanted to try! Work through one recipe per day or week, and voila! You’re a pro in the kitchen, and you have a fun meal plan to try out!