Meal Planning to Promote a Well-Nourished Week
For many of us, weeknights are often action-packed with family, sports, and extra-curricular and volunteer activities. Personally, it is very common that I am not home until 7-8pm and by that time, I am not only exhausted but I am also famished and have a tendency to eat anything in sight. Surviving on foods that were often cooked quickly with poor nutrient content and lacking certain macronutrients only made be feel tired and unsatisfied. My body and mind were in survival mode and this only contributed to stress and ineffectiveness in my various roles in life.
I decided that I had to undermine this survival mode my body and mind had been accustomed to. This involved creating meals composed of whole foods to provide nourishment and changing patterns to encourage healthy eating behaviors. As a result, my Sundays have been adopted as my day to cook meals and bake treats that will provide me with nourishment throughout the week. I am still adapting to this new routine of spending at least 3 hours every Sunday preparing for the week to come, however, I find I am a much happier, productive and well-nourished individual if I am able to plan ahead.
Any other reasons why meal planning could be helpful? The body thrives on routine. Anytime we have irregular eating habits (i.e. skipping breakfast, returning home late and overeating), sleep habits, and so forth our body considers this a source of stress and responds with the “stress response”. This can affect our mental acuity, blood sugar levels, immune function and can make it very difficult to lose weight. Meal planning promotes regular meals and can make it easier to eat at regular intervals.
Although meal planning is ideal for the busy individual or family, remember that HOW you eat is just as important as WHAT you eat. This means that, despite having a tight schedule, you should try to sit down while eating and enjoy the taste and smell of the meal you have helped to prepare.
Below are some tips that may be helpful for you and your family in creating healthy meals for the week.
- Choose one day when you are not working that you will devote a couple of hours to in order to plan and cook/bake meals for the week to come. I have found that 3 hours is often enough to cook a few meals (each with 3-4 servings each) and also bake one recipe. When I create meal plans for patients, it often involves one day where most of the cooking/baking happens.
- Ensure you have portable glass containers that you are able to place meals into for the week. You can then transport these to work/school and also freeze them for later.
- Look through recipe books/online resources and plan those meals that you will make for the week. Make an ingredient list and ensure that you check you kitchen shelves before buying. I have found in many cases that I have many if not most of the ingredients at the back of my fridge or pantry shelves and just forgot they were there.
- Find recipes and do the grocery shopping on a different day then when you are cooking. You could search for recipes on a break from work rather than going for coffee one day per week. Grocery shopping on a quiet weeknight after work while the kids are at the extracurricular activities might be more pleasant than navigating the aisles on a busy weekend.
- Create a diversity of meals. It is not fun to consume the same foods or flavors for an entire week. It becomes boring! I often make a variety of meals so that eating never becomes mundane or not enjoyable. For instance, this week I made split pea dahl with green peas/ red rice, vegetarian sushi, bison meatballs with vegetable baked potato.
- Running out of ideas for meals. Ask friends for their favourites or check back here regularly for recipes.
- Another way to increase the diversity of your meals and reduce the workload is to create food groups with your family or friends. Here is how it works. Each member of the group agrees to make one meal with enough servings for themselves and everyone else in the group. You then exchange this on one set day and you then have a diversity of meals prepared for the rest of the week!
- Ensure you freeze meals for later. You may not always need them all in that week, but you and your family will have a selection of meals at later dates. Ensure food is cooled before placing in the freezer, however, do not allow it to sit on the counter for long periods of time. Keeping an inventory of what is actually in your freezer can be helpful.
- Repeat recipes that you and your family love!
- Ensure everyone in the family is aware of the meals that are available for the week so that they do not go to waste. Consider a notebook, whiteboard, chalkboard where you can list the meals.
- Consider cooking with other friends, family and including the kids in the process. This can make it a little more enjoyable and possibly entertaining!
- What does a well-rounded meal look like? I like to use the Harvard Eating Plate as a visual for what our meals should be composed of. I usually encourage half of the plate being composed of just vegetables rather than both fruits and vegetables.
If you have any other helpful tips, please feel free to share!