By Contributing Author: Sharon A. See
Being a health coach, I talk to a lot of people about healthy eating. The most common reason I hear from people who find it challenging to eat healthy is a lack of time. I’ve come to learn, that this is really more of a planning issue than a lack of time issue. We all have the same twenty-four hours in the day. What we choose to do with them makes the difference.
I think we can all agree most things in life go better with some planning and forethought. The same is true for healthy eating and cooking. Do you know that by 4:00 pm on any given day, most families have no idea what they are having for dinner? That’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t know about you, but if I were to leave meal planning for the end of a long day when I’m hungry and tired, I’m not going make the best choices.
So, in this week's article, I've picked three strategies to share with you. I use these and others with clients who feel they are time challenged when it comes to cooking healthy meals at home.
Create Your Weekly Meal Plan
This first step may not be what you think. This is different than and comes before menu planning. This is…
about sitting down with your and/or your family’s calendar and looking at when and how you will address each meal time. Take a good look five to seven days out and figure out how many nights you will be eating dinner at home. Also, take a look at breakfast and lunches. Do you bring your lunch to work? Do your children take lunch to school or camp?
This information will be the foundation of your menu planning. Before you can plan a menu you need to know how many meals you need to plan. Let’s say you find that you need five at home dinner meals and breakfasts plus lunches for you to bring to work each day. This will be the foundation for the next steps.
Before you get into the finer points of the menu, let's dive a little deeper into the planning. Take another look at your calendar and see where you can block off time for meal prep at the beginning of the week. For me, this is usually on a Sunday. I'll block off a couple of hours to do some cooking of items that will keep for several days, will be good as leftovers, or can be modified or added to so as to yield more than one meal. I’m big on seasonal cooking, so this time of year I make good use of fresh items from the farmers market. In the colder months, I make lots of soups, stews and casserole type dishes using heartier root crops and dark leafy greens.
Knowing how much time you can devote to meal prep and cooking in advance will help you to choose the right recipes when planning your meals. Are you going to have time to prepare a Julia Child gourmet feast, a Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meal or something in between? Also, take into consideration the time you will have each day to devote to getting a healthy meal on the table. Even though you are doing some of the prep work in advance, there will still be a few last minute tasks at meal time.
If seasonal cooking is important to you, think about that too when choosing recipes and planning meals. Get to know what’s available at the farmers market at different times of the season. The produce varies greatly week to week from early summer through the fall. I find that cooking with the freshest ingredients—especially in peak season like we are now—can make cooking go a lot faster because often these ingredients can be eaten raw.
Plan Your Menu
This part is going to depend largely upon how much time you have, and the foods you and your family like to eat. I encourage you to try and expand your food repertoire. Most families eat the same foods over and over again. I’d like to challenge you to try one new healthy, unprocessed food each week. Be it a vegetable, a fruit, a healthy grain or a new protein. At the end of six months even if you and your family liked only half of the new foods you tried, you have still incorporated thirteen new foods into your menu. And try the same food more than once, prepared differently.
When considering menu items think about what will make a good left over. Leftovers can fill in gaps in the week where you need a quick meal or a lunch. A chicken dinner is a great example of this. Instead of cooking only what your family will eat at that meal, cook a whole chicken with extra sides. Since this takes a little time for the first meal consider as a Sunday meal, you’ll get several meals from that one effort. You’ll have leftovers the next several days for lunch or a quick meal to heat up another night. Then there’s always chicken salad and chicken soup. Cooking this way is also a great money saver, too.
Don’t forget about breakfast! It’s so important to start your day with a good healthy breakfast. And it doesn’t have to be a big time drain in the morning. A recipe for a warm kale salad with squashes and other veggies in it makes a great base for an egg. I’ll make a double batch on a Sunday and it keeps in the fridge all week. In the morning, pan fry a fresh local egg while heating up a serving of the kale salad in the microwave. Top the kale salad with the egg and you’ll have a five-minute healthy breakfast. Veggies along with a good protein make a great breakfast.
Another tip for saving money is to choose recipes with common ingredients. Stay away from recipes that need exotic ingredients that you will never use again. This can lead to a cabinet full of expensive spices and ingredients that you use only once. Pick recipes that have the same or similar core ingredients so that you can multi-purpose spices, herbs, oils and other kitchen basics. From this, you can create your list of must have pantry items that are always on hand. This helps too when on occasion you find yourself needing to whip up a meal on short notice.
Plan Your Shopping
Now that you have a menu planned it’s time to make a shopping list. Make your list from your menu and recipes. Shopping from a list will save you time and money. No wasted trips to the store or farm market for just one item and less spoilage and wasted foods that you didn't need or use. As you make your list watch for those “one use” ingredients. And if you see an item that you will use often, buy the bigger size. Again, this will save you time and money in the long run.
As you’ve figured out by now, I’m all about having a plan. So, I’m going to suggest that you plan your shopping trips too. Plan only one or two shopping trips each week. If you’ve implemented the other suggestions you will find a rhythm and this will work. You will be amazed at how much time and energy you can free up for other things in your life. Here’s an example of what I mean.
I recently worked with a very busy Mom of three young children who works a full-time job. Her biggest challenge was finding the time to make good healthy meals for herself and her children every night. She was accustomed to stopping at the grocery store several times a week. Through planning like I’ve explained here, we freed up more than four hours each week for her. She’s now into the habit of only two trips to the grocery store per week and one trip to the farmers market. Because she has a list and a plan, she has healthy meals at the ready and has more free time to spend with her children.
About Sharon A. See
I hope you find these suggestions helpful. And if you’d like some customized strategies for you and your family, please reach out to me. Or, if you have farmers’ market or healthy eating related topics you’d like to hear more about or questions you’d like answered, please feel free to let me know. You will find my contact information below.
Sharon A. See
Certified Holistic Health Coach
You can find me and other interesting articles, resources, and recipes on my website atwww.vitalizedwellness.com.
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The Monroe Farmers' Market is open June–October and offers fresh, locally-grown produce, baked goods, prepared foods and hand-crafted specialty foods to Connecticut locals.