By: Marleigh Brown, Nutrition Science Student, Texas Tech University
Revised by: Jennifer Leheska, PhD, RD, LD
Each week has 7, 24 hour-long days which equals 168 total hours. How much of this time do we invest towards a healthy lifestyle? Just consider a 40+ hour work week, family and volunteer responsibilities, long commutes, and much more, and there is little time left at the end of each day. If something is going to get done, it needs to be on the schedule! Therefore, we are wise to plan time to eat and what to eat, to maintain health. A recent studya found that meal planning was associated with a healthier diet and less obesity in French adults. Lack of planning likely results in skipped meals, non-nutrient rich food consumption, and less variety in foods consumed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statisticsb, Americans typically spend about 68 minutes eating and drinking on a weekday and 34 minutes in food preparation and cleanup. This minimal time spent in preparation and cleanup may indicate eating more prepackaged foods, along with dining out. Eating is essential to life and what we eat is essential to health. Therefore, investing a few minutes in planning when and what to eat will be positive for health. The following are three things to consider in planning:
- Your Schedule
- Family favorites
Which nights will you be home with time to cook? Which nights will you be going in many directions? A realistic meal plan is based on available time. Slow-cooker meals are great for busy nights, so your meal is ready when you arrive home. Cooking extra on the weekend is another solution. Finally, always keep a tray of washed, pre-cut veggies and fruit in the fridge that can be added to any meal or snack.
If you like it, you will eat it! Planning family favorites will create excitement and satisfaction around the dinner table. Add a theme such as Mixed Up Monday, Taco Tuesday or Italian Night! This provides a starting point and allows you to base menus on sale items which will lead to variety of entrees from week to week. Implementing traditions in your meal plan gives you something to look forward to yet allows for quicker planning.
To start planning, simply use pencil and paper to sketch out two family favorite meals to prepare per week and when and where you will prepare them. Additionally, set a time to go grocery shopping. You may eventually consider an online menu planning platform in which you can store recipes and generate a grocery list, but the key to success is to start small and create a new habit before getting too technical. Just planning two meals each week will result in health benefits.
Eating healthy is much easier and more enjoyable when we spend a little time planning in advance to make it happen. It is not necessary to do it all at once, just start small and grow from there.