March is National Nutrition Month®, and this year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is highlighting the important topic of meal planning with their “Personalize your Plate” theme. Everyone has different backgrounds, resources, and ways of cooking foods. Nutrition and health may look different from person to person depending on your goals, background and tastes. Meal planning can be a helpful tool in creating healthy meals that are personalized for you and your family.
Benefits of Meal Planning
Meal planning means taking some time to decide what you and your family will be eating over the course of a week. Here are some benefits of meal planning:
- It saves time. By meal planning, you will be able to determine how much time cooking will take. Some recipes will even allow you to prep the ingredients the night before.
- It reduces overbuying and waste. Meal planning will allow you to look at how much you need to buy and will help you avoid buying too much and having food waste. Depending on what you are making, meals might become leftovers which can be frozen or eaten for another meal during the week.
- It saves money. Check your kitchen first to determine what you need for your meals that week. By determining how much you need and what you need, this may help save money along the way.
- It reduces stress. Decide on meals and create a grocery list before going to the store so you know what to look for.
Meal Plan with MyPlate
MyPlate can be a helpful tool when figuring out if you have incorporated all elements into your meals. MyPlate was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and has taken the place of the food pyramid.
Recommendations given by MyPlate include making half of your plate fruits and vegetables, incorporating whole grains, varying your protein, moving to low-fat or fatfree dairy products and limiting added sugars, saturated fats and sodium. Using MyPlate can be a good guide to make sure you are incorporating all food groups throughout your day.
Not every plate you make will look evenly distributed like MyPlate is, and that is OK. Mixed dishes like soups, salads, and stews are all foods that can contain the components of MyPlate in a healthy balance.
Meal Planning Tips
Not sure where to start? Here are some tips to get started:
- Keep staple items in your pantry. Keeping frozen and canned fruits and vegetables on hand might be easier than cooking fresh vegetables for every meal. You can always rinse canned fruit and vegetables to lower the sugar or sodium content they were canned with.
- Keep a list on hand of meals you like. It might be daunting to figure out which new meal you want to try. Having a list can make it easier. If you live with others, have each member of the family decide one meal they want that week.
- Find inspiration online. Google and Pinterest are great resources to get inspiration for nutritious recipes. See where you can incorporate fruits and vegetables into your dishes for a fuller meal.
- Prepare ingredients in advance. Some items can be made in advance and used for multiple different meals.
- Adjust when cooking for one. Meal planning might be more difficult for one person, especially when you are not used to eating the same foods every day. Choosing smaller recipes leaves for less leftovers, cooking several vegetables at once will allow you to have extras on hand, and keeping staple foods like chicken or beans available makes for a great protein source in all meals.
Carly Sedlacek is a dietetic intern at ProMedica.