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It's 5pm: Do you know what dinner will be? 

Ack! Does the mere mention of meal planning, make you groan? I can tell you that lack of meal planning is, hands down, the number one challenge faced by most of my clients. Whether they come to me to lose weight, to learn to eat healthier, or to heal a health issue, the answer is almost always, better planning of what, when and how they are eating. 

Meal planning is SO important! It is the map that ensures you and your family are eating a well-balanced diet while keeping you from going insane from the stress of actually doing so. Meal planning will save you time, money, and bring you greater health and a happier family environment. No more running into the kitchen at 5pm and hastily throwing together whatever you have. No more guilt at resorting to take-out or processed food yet again. 

I am here to show you today that meal planning is much simpler than you think it is. You can do this! 

Meal Planning 101 

Step One: Make a list of every dinner you know your family will eat. Think lowest common denominator here – something every single person will eat at least a part of. There may be a time for complicated gourmet meals, but if you have kids and are short on time, you want to think SIMPLE. Make as long a list as you can with every meal possibility you think will work. This will be your Master Meal Planning List and you will return to it each week and choose your week's meals from it. No sense in re-inventing the wheel each week. You will be surprised at how long this list really is. 

Here are some of my family's favorite meals to get your creative juices flowing: 

  • Tacos with Lentil Taco "Meat" Filling (recipe below): We put bowls of fillings on the table and every person customizes his own taco: lentil taco meat, shredded cheese, chopped lettuce, tomatoes, onions, peppers, black olives, guacamole, sour cream, etc. Twenty-five minutes in the kitchen, less if kids help with the chopping. This is a great meal for the gluten sensitive folks too as taco shells are made of corn. 

  • Whole Grain Pasta with sauce: Primavera, Marinara, Pesto, Mushroom, Bolognese with ground turkey instead of beef, Olive Oil, Garlic and Parsley, or even Peanut Sauce! Again, less than 30 minutes to the table. If you are avoiding gluten, you can use any of the many new wheat-free pastas on the market. My kids love the Black Rice Noodles by HaSade because they are black and therefore, awesome. 

  • Soup, Salad, and Whole Grain Bread: Make a nutritious, filling soup, such as Black Bean, Mushroom Barley, Tomato White Bean, Lentil, Minestrone, Split Pea, Onion, the list is endless. Soups take longer to cook, but don't require much attending to. They just simmer along merrily on their own while you make the salad or even a homemade vinaigrette. Jaws will drop. Bellies will be full. 

  • Stir Fry with Brown Rice: Infinitely customizable, stir-fry’s can contain, meat, chicken, tofu or just veggies. Stir fry in an egg, add the rice and you've got fried rice. No fancy skills or seasoning needed, just a few splashes of soy sauce and lots of garlic. Use your food processor to speed up vegetable chopping time, or use frozen veggies, even faster. 

  • Pizza. Yes homemade pizza is well within your reach. When you make it at home, you can make a wholegrain crust, use less or even no cheese, and heap with all your favorite vegetables.(recipe below) The only time-consuming part of pizza prep is dough rising time: one hour in which you can chop and assemble the toppings plus make that side salad or steamed vegetables. 

    food collage

Step Two: Sit down with your calendar and decide what dinner you will make which night this week. Write it down in your calendar, or in a blank template. (free downloadable template below) Be realistic. If you are super busy, don't plan a time-intensive meal. Keep it simple! I can't say that enough. 

Step Three: Make a shopping list of everything you will need for the entire week. 

Step Four: Go shopping! You will find that having a meal plan and sticking to simple meals will drastically cut your food bill. Plus you will actually use all that produce you optimistically buy and never get to. No more last minute mid-week trips to the store or scrapped meal plans because you are missing one key ingredient! 

Step Five: Cook! Invite the kids and spouse to help. One of our jobs as parents is to make sure our kids can feed themselves well when they are grown and on their own. If you teach them that dinner comes from the motorcylced delivery man, then that is how they will eat dinner as adults. Think carefully about that one. 

Step Six: Be OK with not getting it perfect. Even Martha Stewart went to jail people. Despite how perfectly your neighbor looks like she has it all together, nobody gets it all right all the time. Sometimes you will make something delicious and other times you will make something possibly yucky. Keep your sense of humor. Persevere and be patient with yourself. You can learn this. You can do this. Let go of Perfection and invite in Experimentation. 

Whatever you cook, prepare and serve it with love in your heart and it will nourish, no matter if it's a little burned on the edges. 

Recipe for Lentil Taco Meat is HERE. http://triumphwellness.com/tempting-and-tasty-taco-salad/ 

Recipe for Whole Grain Pizza is HERE. http://triumphwellness.com/pizza-pizza/ 

Recipe for our Favorite Carrot Red Pepper Soup is HERE. http://triumphwellness.com/carrot-and-roasted-red-pepper-soup/ 

A free Blank Meal Planning Template for you to use is HERE. http://triumphwellness.com/free-stuff/free-meal-planning-template/ 

If you need a more help with your family meals, picky eaters or family members with special health needs, intolerances, or mixed vegetarian- meat-eating household, check out my Healthy Family Program HERE. http://triumphwellness.com/about-triumph-wellness/healthy-family-program/ 

Emily Segal is a Board-Certified Nutrition Counselor. She is the owner of Triumph Wellness, a private nutritional counseling practice in Kfar Saba. To read more about Emily's services and to enjoy more of her delectable blog full of recipes, humor, and healthy motivation, visit www.TriumphWellness.com.




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Comments

Yael says:
2011-12-07
Thanks for the tips. My debate with meal planning is variety. My kids could have eggs or macaroni and cheese every night. We go meatless usually 3/5 nights a week. Are there any suggestions about how many times a week to serve eggs, or fish? Are two egg suppers a week too much??
Emily says:
2012-01-23
Hi Yael, sorry I didn't see your comment before now. Not sure if you'll get this answer. I think 2 egg suppers a week is fine. Kids tend to like repetition and familiarity and that's OK. You can start adding new side dishes to the egg meals and see how that goes.