Meal planning, in simple terms is planning ahead the foods that will be eaten for the next few days
We are in a world that is fast paced, where mummy and daddy are both busy, our household managers also have a lot to deal with in the home and the choice of meals to prepare can become such a hard paper. Amidst hectic weekday schedules, meal prep or meal planning is a great tool to help keep the family on a healthy eating track. Although any type of meal prep requires planning, there is no one correct method, as it can differ based on food preferences, cooking ability, schedules, and personal/family goals. The most I will give in this is a guide and you can take it on from there.
Ever left work late with a growling stomach but little energy to shop and cook? Or even stomachs waiting on you at home? A busy schedule is one of the top reasons why people choose convenient or quick takeout meals, which are often calorie-laden and a contributor to unhealthy eating.
Now, imagine a different scenario where within a few minutes of walking through the door you have a delicious healthy home-cooked dinner for yourself and or family, and perhaps even lunch packed-up for the next day to take with you to work. Amidst hectic weekday schedules, meal prep as many call it or meal planning is such a great tool to help keep us on a healthy eating track. Although any type of meal prep requires planning, there is no one correct method, as it can differ based on food preferences, cooking ability, schedules, and personal/family goals as earlier mentioned.
The benefit of meal planning are immense but I will point the most obvious;
- Save money
- Save time
- Help with weight control, as you decide the ingredients and portions served
- Contribute to an overall more nutritionally balanced diet
- Reduce stress as you avoid last minute decisions about what to eat, or rushed preparation
Beginning to prep the meals here are some of the things to possibly consider
- Discuss with your family what types of foods and favorite meals they like to eat.
- Start a monthly calendar (you can do this on a spreadsheet or just a book) to record your meal ideas, favorite recipe sites, and food shopping lists.
- Collect healthy recipes. Clip recipes from print magazines and newspapers and save in a binder, copy links of recipes onto an online spreadsheet or better yet you can download a recipe app.
- Consider specific meals or foods for different days of the week. Remember Wednesday as Boiled food Day? Some families enjoy the consistency of knowing what to expect, and it can help to ease your meal planning. Examples are Meatless Mondays, Whole Grain Wednesdays, Stir-Fry Fridays, etc.
- Start small: Aim to create enough dinners for 2-3 days of the week.
Having taken these considerations, let us get started;
- Choose a specific day of the week to: 1) plan the menu, whether week by week or for the whole month, and write out your grocery list 2) food shop, 3) do meal prep, or most of your cooking. Some of these days may overlap if you choose, but breaking up these tasks may help keep meal planning manageable.
- As you find favorite ‘prep-able’ meals, or your menus become more familiar and consistent, watch for sales and coupons to stock up on frequently used shelf-stable ingredients like pasta, rice, and other whole grains, peas, beans, jarred sauces, healthy oils, and spices.
- On your meal prep day, focus first on foods that take the longest to cook: proteins like beans and peas, chicken and fish; whole grains like brown rice, dried beans and legumes; and, roasted vegetables.
- Also consider preparing staple foods that everyone in the family enjoys and which you can easily add to a weekday meal or grab for a snack: washed greens for a salad, hardboiled eggs, a bowl of chopped fruit, cooked beans.
- If you prefer not to pre-cook proteins, consider marinating poultry, fish, or even beef on your prep day so that you can quickly pop them into the oven or stir-fry later in the week.
- Multi-task! While foods are baking or bubbling on the stovetop, chop vegetables and fresh fruit, or wash and dry salad greens for later in the week.
- When you cook a recipe, make extra portions for another day or two of meals, or to freeze for a different week. Be sure to date and label what goes in the freezer so you know what you have on hand.
- For lunches, get a head-start and use individual meal containers. Divide cooked food into the containers on prep day.
So you may be wondering how to keep produce and precooked food that is to be frozen fresh and tasting as natural as possible? This segment will answer you?
Refrigeration and freezing are an important step to successful meal planning. However, forgotten food such as produce hiding in a drawer or a stew stored on a back shelf in an opaque container for too long can spoil and lead to food waste. The trick is to label all prepped items with a date so that you can track when to use them by. Rotate stored items so that the oldest foods/meals are kept up front. Store highly perishable items like greens, herbs, and chopped fruits front-and-center at eye-level so you remember to use them.
When it comes to freezing, some foods work better than others. Cooked meals tend to freeze well in airtight containers. Foods with high moisture content, such as salad greens, tomatoes, or watermelon, are not recommended as they tend to become mushy when frozen and thawed. Blanching vegetables for a few minutes before freezing can help. However, if the texture of a frozen food becomes undesirable after thawing, they might still be used in cooked recipes such as soups and stews.
The following are the recommended times for various cooked foods that offer the best flavors, maximum nutrients, and food safety.
Refrigeration at 40°F or lower
1-2 days: Cooked ground poultry or ground beef
3-4 days: Cooked whole meats, fish and poultry; soups and stews
5 days: Cooked beans; hummus
1 week: Hard boiled eggs; chopped vegetables if stored in air-tight container
2 weeks: Soft cheese, opened
5-6 weeks: Hard cheese, opened
Freezing at 0°F or lower
2-3 months: Soups and stews; cooked beans
3-6 months: Cooked or ground meat and poultry
6-8 months: Berries and chopped fruit (banana, apples, pears, plums, mango) stored in a freezer bag
8-12 months: Vegetables, if blanched first for about 3-5 minutes (depending on the vegetable)
Meal planning could be an ultimate tool to offset time scarcity and therefore encourage home meal preparation, which has been linked with an improved diet quality and good health status overall.