Insider Tips for Meal Planning

Are you trying to eat better, but find yourself in the fast food line (again!)?  I hear you.  I have a family of 8 to cook for and it can be a struggle.  If I don’t plan ahead, then it’s not going to happen.  All the good intentions of eating better will not yield results if you don’t eat more at home.  I promise you that it can be done.  It just takes a little planning.  

Here are my top tips for avoiding take-out and fast food:

1. Plan ahead. Once a week take some time to plan out your menu.  It can be as elaborate or simple as you want it.  Personally, I just plan our dinners, but some of you might find it helpful to plan lunch and/or breakfast as well.  As you jot down your menu, take a look at your calendar so you can see what nights you need quick dinners and what nights you have more time to cook.  At our house, Monday night is slow-cooker night and the weekend is when we typically prepare more time-consuming meals or try new recipes.

2. Share the responsibilities with your family members. There was a year when my teens and pre-teen all took a night to cook.  It was their responsibility to plan the meal, add the foods to the grocery order, and then prepare the meal.  We did that for about a year and then wanted a change.  But it really helped this busy mama out!  I still use their help often if I’m not going to be home around dinner-prep time.  It’s a win-win because it helps me out and it teaches them important life-skills.

3. Don’t feel like your meals need to be gourmet or ultra-healthy.  Here are some of our favorites: spaghetti, tacos, pizza, breakfast casserole, taco soup, and grilled cheese.  All of those meals can be nutritious and family-friendly. Here is how:

  • Spaghetti: whole wheat pasta, jarred marinara sauce, and lean ground beef.  Serve fresh fruit and microwaved vegetables on the side.
  • Tacos: use lean ground beef, tomatoes, lettuce, avocados, cheddar cheese, and light sour cream.  Serve seasoned black beans (from the can) and canned pineapple on the side.
  • Pizza: use whole wheat crusts from the grocery store, ham or Canadian bacon, turkey pepperoni, marinara sauce, mushrooms, peppers, and mozzarella cheese.  Serve a salad on the side.

Remember, most meals can be rounded out by using lean meats, low-fat dairy, and adding fruit and vegetables to the side.  We almost always have canned fruit on the dinner table.

4. Always have a Plan B.  Keep a few staples on hand so when you run out of time or energy to cook, you can still eat at home and skip the fast food.  For example:  canned turkey chili over rice or potatoes; sandwiches on whole wheat bread with fresh vegetables and Sun Chips; breakfast tacos and fruit.

5. Make wise use of leftovers. There’s a concept called, “Cook once, eat twice”, coined by the Beef Council.  The idea is to use the ingredients for your main dish in another recipe later in the week.  This saves time by having to cook less and money by not throwing away leftovers.  For example, cook a pork roast one night and use is to make sandwiches or soup another night.  Or you can make double the food and freeze the leftovers for another night.

6. Use grocery pick up. Read this article to learn more. It’s a life-saver for me. I rarely have to step foot in the grocery store and it helps because I add to the list all week long. Whenever I run out of an ingredient I immediately add it to the “cart” on the app. I can have my family members add to it throughout the week as well. They love adding their favorite foods and having some input in the grocery shopping. (I review what everyone has added before purchasing, though.) Then I schedule pick-up for a time that is convenient for me.

The bottom line: to stick to your diet it takes is a little planning ahead and the right the tools.  Remember, if I can do it—you can too!

For more help with planning your diet, check out my Custom Jumpstart Program.

Do you plan your meals ahead of time?  What works for you?