As you know, yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which meant that the university was closed and I had a day off! It was so nice to just have a day to myself.
This past week the meeting topic at my Weight Watchers meeting was about planning. I have to be honest and confess that I have not been very good at planning since November! I am so good at planning, but recently I have not made time to do the planning that I know I need to do at the beginning of each month. I am hoping that after this meeting I will be more motivated to get back on track with my planning. Not only does it help me eat healthy, but it also helps my budget!
Here is the meeting summary from Saturday, January 14, 2012.
Planning Healthy Meals
We are all busy. Whether you work full-time, attend college, care for a loved one, run a household or all of the above. You don’t always have time to make nutritious meals. Like many people who want to eat healthy on a budget, you probably rely on those handy frozen entrees to fill the gap. After all, they seem like a bargain compared to going out for lunch every day. But wait, with some planning you can make nutritious lunches and dinners and save money to boot.
Below are some benefits of planning ahead, meal wise:
1. Saves Money. Armed with a plan and a list, you only need to make one trip to the store each week, thus eliminating the opportunities for impulse purchases. You also save money by taking advantage of weekly sales to tailor your menu, avoiding duplicate purchases, and reducing the urge to order take-out.
2. Saves Time. You have to spend about 30 minutes to plan a week’s worth of meals. When you plan your meals, you can efficiently shop for groceries using your list, and you only have to shop once a week. You can spend dinner time preparing and enjoying your meal, instead of standing in front of the refrigerator waiting for a dinner idea to magically pop into your head.
3. Helps You Eat Healthier. By planning three meals a day, seven days a week, you can avoid visiting the drive-thru in the morning, abstain from lunch hour vending machine frenzy, and resist the temptation to order from a pricey take-out dinner menu.
4. Helps Reduce Your Stress. No more worries about what to have for dinner; you now have a plan. You’ll know when to pull food out of the freezer, avoid the mad rush through the grocery store at six o’clock, and most importantly, reduce the amount of money you spend.
Here are some great techniques to help you get started:
*Make a Master List of 10-20 Meals
Ask everyone in your family for a list of their favorite meals. Prioritize the list, highlighting foods that you can quickly prepare and meals that don’t require too many ingredients. Organize this list by category, including beef, chicken, crock-pot dishes, fish, vegetarian meals, side dishes, and soups.
Gather the recipes and keep everything in a handy notebook or store them on your computer for easy access. You will refer to this list often when you plan your meals.
*Write Your Meal Plan on Paper
You can use a blank calendar or even just use a piece of notebook paper. List the days of the week down the left side to log your meals, and use the right side of the paper to make your grocery list. You can then easily bring your plan with you to the grocery store.
*Plan for All Three Meals
When I don’t plan for breakfast and lunch along with dinner, I am more likely to skip meals or visit the drive-thru. You can make quick and easy breakfast foods and with some careful planning you can still head out the door on time in the morning. You can also use leftovers from the previous night’s dinner to prepare lunches. Make an extra serving or several extra servings at dinner time to pack for the next day’s brown bag lunch.
*Review Your Family Calendar
Are you working late this week? Do you have plans to visit the in-laws for Saturday night dinner? Do your kids have a soccer game or a Girl Scout meeting during the week? Take all of these scheduling issues into consideration when planning your meals. Once you know your family’s schedule, you can plan accordingly. For example, eat leftovers for those late nights at the office, take the night off from cooking when you visit your in-laws, and prepare a crock-pot meal for soccer night.
*Plan Your Menu around What You Already Have on Hand
To get started; you need to organize your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer. Group the food in your pantry by category, including baking ingredients, canned goods, condiments, coffee and tea, pasta and rice, sauces, and snacks. Clean your freezer and refrigerator and throw out any expired food.
*Make a Double Batch of Your Favorite Meals
One for dinner and one for the freezer. The more home-cooked, prepared food that you have stored in your freezer, the less stress you feel when planning your menu. For instance, if you plan to have grilled chicken one night, grill a few extra chicken breasts and shred them after they have cooled. The cooked chicken stores well in the freezer and you can use it for a chili recipe, quesadillas, salads, and soups.
*Plan Your Meals around Your Grocery Store’s Sales Circular
Most grocery stores run their weekly sales circular on Sundays. The Sunday paper costs around $2 and by planning menus around the sales, the paper more than pays for itself.
Once you’ve organized the food in your home, and thrown away anything that’s expired, take inventory of what you have on hand. Plan meals around the food you already have. In addition to reducing your grocery bill, this helps to eliminate duplicate purchases.
Take it week by week at first, and before you know it, you’ll never have to break out into a cold sweat again when someone in the house charges through the front door and asks, “What’s for dinner?”