Healthy Meal Planning 101
One of the number one goals set every year is an improved diet – healthy eating. Everyday we are bombarded with easy options to fuel our hunger, but usually this does not lead to the healthiest choices. If you are looking to eat healthier, I would love to help you organize your way to a healthier diet! So what is healthy eating? I personally believe in a well-balanced diet, with simple, natural ingredients. There are many different types of diet and preferences, and each body has different needs, but it’s no secret that whole, natural foods are better for your health.
Whether you are a vegetarian, lactose intolerant, paleo, or eat everything, you’ll need to find what works best for you. You can find more information on specific nutritional requirements on the CDC’s Nutrition For Everyone site. But today, I want to talk about planning those healthy meals, whatever it is you are eating.
Let’s get started! I’d like to review two ways you can plan your own healthy menus, yourself or by using already prepared resources. First, a few general tips to get you started:
- Pick one day of the week (I like Sundays), to plan and prep your meals for the week. Use a calendar, journal or app (see suggestions below) to plan and track your meals. Plan snacks as well – snacking is where most people hurt because they are looking for a quick fix for hunger pains.
- Recycle your menus and recipes, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel each week!
- Share ingredients between several recipes to make your grocery list shorter and your produce go further.
- Cook what you can in bulk, eat dinner leftovers for lunch the next day, or freeze entrees for easy dinners on the quick. I love to cook egg scrambles for breakfast ahead of time – so I have enough for the week without worry. You can find a lot of great recipes for egg cups here. My favorite use kale, garlic and red onion!
- Choose certain nights for themes – this makes it more fun! When you have fun with it, planning doesn’t become as much of a chore.
- Plan ahead for eating out. Just because you are going out doesn’t mean you can’t be in control. Many restaurants post menus with nutritional values online. Look ahead of time and plan a few options you can eat and how that fits into your food intake that specific day.
Great! Now let’s look at the two ways to organize your meals.
If you plan your meals yourself you can incorporate more of your favorite foods! This will take more time and research if you are comfortable cooking, but as Moriah will tell you, there are plenty of places to find great recipes like Pinterest, Eatingwell.com, or in ‘old fashioned’ cookbooks. There are also resources available to help you keep track of your planning and recipes. Try one of these free services:
- Paprika Recipe Manager
- Cooking Light Meal Planner
- Pepperplate Recipe Manager
- Plan to Eat Recipe List and Manager
- Cook Smarts Meal Plan Newsletter (Free and Fee Service)
If you planning yourself seems overwhelming, or you just don’t simply have the time there are a lot of great already prepared resources out there, free or for purchase. This saves you time and can also be a more targeted approach to nutrition. Try one of these services:
- Whole Foods: 5 types of 7 day meal plans
- eMeals: 20 + plans to choose from, includes grocery lists
- Eating Well: meal plans based on caloric value
- The Fresh 20: 20 ingredients, 20 minute meals (Fee based)
- Relish: meals under 30 minutes (Fee based)
Another great service I’ve recently tried is a meal preparation and delivery service called Blue Apron. There are many similar services out there, the Greatist has a nice list of healthy meal delivery companies, if you are interested in researching this further. I was a little hesitant at first, because honestly I love food shopping and planning my own recipes, but I’ve had a lot of fun with my first delivery. Services like this are a great option to save time, get started cooking with easy step-by-step directions, and ensure you have local, fresh ingredients.
What meal planning method do you use? What works with your lifestyle? Let me know in the comments below!