What’s for Dinner? Tips for Healthy Meal Planning
In this busy world of work and family obligations, social events, and long commutes, dinner can often slide into stressful last-minute decisions.
Add in the symptoms of ADHD, and trying to eat healthy meals without resorting frequently to takeout, eating out, or convenience foods can be a real challenge. Many restaurant and pre-made meals can strain the wallet as well as the waistline. Not only can they be more expensive, but premade and restaurant meals can come in too large portions with more salt and fat than you want in your food. Impulsivity can also contribute to snacking and over-eating. People may even be so overwhelmed that they skip meals.
Here are some strategies to help make dinner planning more manageable:
Know what healthy meals look like
You might remember the Food Pyramid or the four food groups—milk, meats, fruits and vegetables, and grains. However, in 2011, the United States Department of Agriculture replaced the pyramid with a new symbol, the plate, to help consumers understand healthy eating better. Choose My Plate helps you visualize your meals using a plate:
- Fruits and non-starchy vegetables take up half of your plate.
- Grains and starches, such as potatoes take up a little more than one-quarter.
- Meats and protein-rich foods take up the other quarter.
- Add the equivalent of one cup of milk or other calcium-rich drinks or foods.
Shuffle your family’s favorite dinners
Put your favorite dinners on index cards that you can shuffle like a deck of cards. Include the side dishes that normally appear with the main dish (such as chicken, rice and vegetables or spaghetti, breadsticks and salad). You can also add menu cards that say “take-out,” “pizza and salad” or the name of a favorite restaurant. You can mix in a few new recipes you want to try.
When planning dinners for the week, randomly pull a menu card for each dinner you expect to have at home. The cards you pull become the dinners you’ll have for the week.
Cook once, eat twice
Another time-saving strategy is to cook enough food for two meals. Plan to cook the dish one night, and you can reheat the leftovers later in the week. If you wait one night between the two meals, it won’t feel so much like leftovers.
Your pantry and freezer are your friends
Consider the ingredients your menu cards have in common and that you use often. Those ingredients can become your pantry staples. In many families, they can include rice, pasta, pancake batter, canned vegetables, soups, beans, and an assortment of herbs and spices. Add things to your pantry that appear often on the menu cards and you’ll have the basic ingredients on hand. Keeping frequently used ingredients in the freezer such as chicken drumsticks, shrimp, peas, and corn can also help in your meal planning.
Grocery shop with a list
After you figure out what you’re cooking for the week, check your pantry for what you already have on hand. Then check what ingredients you need to buy for the menus you’ve planned. Add any pantry staples to your list that you need to replenish. Shop with your grocery list and plan just one run to the grocery store. When you shop with a list, you can shorten the amount of time and the number of choices you’ll have at the store. Another tip is to make sure you eat before you go grocery shopping to reduce the likelihood of impulse buys. Don’t shop hungry.
If possible, prep meals on the weekend
If you have the time on the weekend or another day off, do some of your dinner prep ahead. Fruits and vegetables can be cleaned and chopped; soups and stews can be made and refrigerated or frozen; and baking can be done ahead. Having ingredients prepped and ready to go in the pot or the frying pan makes dinner come together quickly on those busy weeknights. Many grocery stores sell packages of prewashed and precut vegetables to reduce preparation time. If you’re only cooking for one person, visit the salad bar at the grocery store for a variety of ingredients that are ready to cook.
Are you looking for a prewritten meal plans or easy recipes to help you get started? Many cooking website and blogs have meal plans you can use. Some cooking websites will give you recipe suggestions based on the favorite foods you enter. For meal plans, you can try Million Hearts for quick and heart-healthy meal plans.