National Nutrition Month: Meal Planning & Prep

Planning and preparing your meals and snacks ahead of time is a game changer for your health, and your wallet! Meal planning creates structure and routine.  This helps you to avoid making unhealthy choices when you are really hungry, like after a long day at work or if your children have sports games to attend. If you have a plan in place for a healthy meal or snack, you will be much more likely to stick with it.  Meal planning can also save you money by helping you make sure you use up all of that fresh produce you bought, repurpose leftovers, and avoid waste in general.

Meal Planning

  • Start by using a notebook or blank calendar for a week, two weeks, or month-whatever time frame you usually like to go grocery shopping. Be sure to take the time to do this before you go grocery shopping! Fill in meals and snacks with whatever recipes or meal ideas you like.
  • If you make chicken for dinner on a Monday and there will be leftovers, plan to use up those leftovers either for lunches or for another dinner meal later that week.  Be sure to plan meals that use up items you already have on hand to help save your food budget and prevent them from being wasted.  Not sure what to do with the leftovers? Use for easy soups, salads, or sandwiches.
  • Not feeling very creative with your meals? Feel like you’re stuck in a rut making the same dinners all the time? Use new recipes for inspiration! Search for new recipes in magazines, cook books, or on the internet. Try out one or two new recipes a week to keep things exciting.
  • Keep things simple to help save you time. Build meals around seasonal produce for best flavor and value.  Use sales flyers to help create meals around foods that are on sale.
  • Once your meals and snacks are planned, go ahead and make your grocery list.  You might be surprised that it is much shorter than usual! If you’re short on time, organize your list by departments in the grocery store.

Meal Preparation 

Preparing meals or ingredients ahead of time can make eating healthy a breeze.  As with meal planning it does take a little time but can make a huge difference.  Below are a few different ways you can try meal prepping. Some may work better for you than others, or even combinations of a few methods may work best.  Give them a try to save you time and keep your meals healthy.

  • Make-ahead meals: Cook complete meals in advance to be reheated at mealtimes.  Soups, sauces, and casseroles are examples.  This will save the most time for fast weeknight dinners.
  • Batch cooking/freezing: Batch cooking is preparing multiple batches of a recipe to be portioned out and frozen for meals in the weeks to come. For example, doubling a chili recipe or steaming extra rice to freeze and use in the next three to six months.  Buying foods in bulk help save money too!
  • Individually portioned meals: Those with specific health goals or looking for the convenience of grab-and-go meals may choose to prepare foods and portion them into individual servings. Examples are overnight oats portioned into single-serving containers, and mason jar salads.
  • Ready-to-cook ingredients: If you prefer to cook meals right before serving, prepping ingredients like chopping onion and peppers in advance for chili can cut down on kitchen time.