Many of my clients complain about not having enough time to cook, and of course, they feel that it’s easier to pick something up from a local restaurant or fast food joint, than it is to shop for ingredients and prepare a meal when they get home from work. For many busy professionals and busy families, making a weekly, or even monthly plan can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be if you know where to start. Start small by picking a favorite meal type. For example, a slow cooker meal, an oven roast or casserole can provide a good hearty and healthy meal for a family, for one or two nights, and before you know it you’ll be cooking enough for 3 or 4 nights a week. Even one home-cooked meal a week is better than no home-cooked meals.
Here are some tips to get started with a healthy meal plan:
- Plan your meals for the week and note down the ingredients needed so that you can shop for everything once a week, or every other week.
- When you do have some time to cook, prepare several meals at once using similar ingredients. Freeze extra portions for another day, or divide into lunch-sized portions, and don’t forget snacks.
- Keep basics in your pantry so you’re not constantly running out to the store; or worse, giving up and eating out. The Simple Dollar website has a nice list of recommended items for a well-stocked pantry here: Staple Foods You Should Always Have On Hand.
- If you’ve had a particularly busy week and haven’t had the time to shop for ingredients, check your pantry and refrigerator to see if you can create a meal using what you have on hand. A client of mine is very happily using the Paprika Recipe Manager. Right now, I just keep recipe favorites in my Evernote app, but will be looking at recipe apps myself soon.
- Keep healthy snacks in your refrigerator and pantry, such as apples, bananas and pears. When in season, add blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes and plums. Berries can be bagged into portion sizes and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to eat. Be sure to label the containers or baggies. If your refrigerator or freezer is packed, create an inventory list so that you always know what you have before heading to the grocery store.
- Instead of rushing around in the morning, make your lunches for the week, either all at once, or the night before. This will save time in the mornings. Store in individual containers so that you can quickly grab one as you run out of the door for work or school.
- In addition to fresh fruit, other healthy snack ideas include granola, nuts, dried fruit and fruit cups. Hard boiled eggs, applesauce and yogurt are also good options, but may need to be kept in a small cooler bag.
- For recipe ideas, visit websites like Pinterest provide great visuals of meals and snacks you can make at home. You can also fnd recipe apps online by doing a simple search. Mobile apps tend to come and go, so it’s best to do a search when you need one and try to find a popular one that has stood the test of time.
Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study, says, “When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all – even if they are not trying to lose weight,” Source. These are great reasons to try to cook more at home. At least you know what’s in your food when you cook at home.
If your kitchen is cluttered and not in the best condition to prepare meals, do start with decluttering first. Once the countertops are cleared and the cabinets are organized, it will make cooking so much easier and a lot more fun!