The one complaint I hear from people in regards to eating healthy meals is this “I simply don’t have the time”; and, although, in some rare cases this is true, lack of time is, generally, due to a lack of preparation.
Planning healthy meals, is just that, an exercise in planning; and the old adage very often rings true “ those who fail to plan, plan to fail”.
The following are my tips for effective meal planning, and by putting even one or two of these tips into action can help bring you one step closer to becoming friends with your kitchen again!
Set Aside Time Each Week to Look Through Recipes
Browse blogs, purchase cookbooks, ask friends and colleagues for links to recipes you may like, which fit into what you want to achieve. Although perusing beautifully photographed cookbooks and blogs may seem like an indulgent waste of time, I promise you that this is the first step in effective meal planning.
Check the Weather Forecast
This may seem weird, but imagine you plan a week of cooling salads, the mercury dips suddenly and all you want it soup. You know yourself and your family better than anyone, so you know what you feel like eating when the weather is hot, or when it’s sweltering outside; plan your meals according to the weather, or at the very least, have a contingency plan in case the weather changes and the meal you have planned no longer feels suitable.
Start a Meal Calendar
Just as the week’s work and social obligations getting marked in a calendar, the week’s meals should be treated with the same respect. For those with kids in the house, this also makes for easier meal times- no complaints, because they KNEW it was coming. This is also serves as a visual reminder for you, in regards to what final prep needs to be done that particular day or the day before to make meal time go more smoothly.
Set Aside One Day to Grocery Shop and One Day to Prep
This can be the same day if you like, but there is no avoiding a prep day. By setting aside one dedicated shopping day per week, you can ensure that you are ready to hit the market by being prepared- you know the weather, what food to eat on which days etc.
There is no avoiding the prep day; meal planning is all about preparation and planning, so set aside 2-3 hours on said prep day and do all the tasks that can be done ahead of time. Par boil pasta, cook quinoa, make the dressing, marinate the meat, peel and chop the vegetables- you get the idea; do all the tasks that feel tedious in the week, so that when it comes time to make dinner, all the time you need is 20-30 minutes and VOILA dinner!
Makes List and Don’t Shop Hungry
These are fairly common meal planning tips, but they always bear repeating. ALWAYS shop with a list. The grocery store is designed to entice you into buying things you don’t need; if you have a list and you buy only what’s on the list, you win!
But a list only works if you aren’t hungry. There’s a reason why when you enter most grocery stores via the baked goods section- ah the smell; and no list, no matter how well put together, can calm belly growls when you’re hungry and they’re conveniently sampling cinnamon buns. Shop after a decent meal to ensure that your hunger doesn’t lead to ill advised, and sure to be regretted, food purchases.
Plan For Leftovers
Make enough of your meals to ensure that lunch is taken care of for the next day; salmon with quinoa pilaf makes for a lovely salmon salad for lunch the following day. Always make more than you think you will eat and watch as your colleagues envy your healthy lunch creations!
Lastly, Keep a Well Stocked Pantry and A Refrigerator that is Clean
Knowing what you have in your pantry is essential; if you have beans, quinoa, pasta, nuts, seeds and the like to boost your meals, you’re golden. Always have a running tally of what is in your pantry; whether you have a list on your phone that you add to, or a pad of paper, keep a list- this avoids having 4 half opened boxes of quinoa pasta.
And one of the most important tips is to keep your fridge clean. In North America, the amount of food we toss out per year is STAGGERING, and this translates into throwing money away. Before shopping and making a list, clean out your fridge, see what you can carry over into next week’s meal. And operate your kitchen like a restaurant would. When you bring home new food items, put them behind the old ones, so you use the old ones first- FIFO, first in first out.
Meal planning with efficacy comes down to just that, planning; not even the best chef or home cook in the world gets away with not planning. Do your budget, your health and your sanity a HUGE favour and follow the aforementioned tips for cooking success!
Quinoa Pasta with Tomato, Spinach and Parmesan Cheese
½ box quinoa pasta, par boiled
½ BPA Free can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 tbsp coconut/olive oil
1 cup fresh spinach
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
Boil a pot of salted water, once boiling add the par boiled pasta and cook for 2 minutes, to finish cooking the pasta.
Meanwhile in a pan on medium high heat, melt the coconut/olive oil mixture; add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes, until the liquid begins to evaporate. Add the spinach and toss to wilt about 1 minute, season with salt and pepper. Using tongs, remove the pasta from the water and place directly in the pan with tomatoes and spinach- the starchy water will allow the sauce to adhere to the pasta.
Remove from heat and garnish with grated Parmesan. A complete meal in less than 15 minutes.