How do you approach meal planning? Maybe you plan your menus weeks at a time while others may go for the day-by-day or meal-by-meal approach. Meal planning is essential when it comes to making sure you and your family are getting the nutrients you need to maintain or improve your health while staying within your budget.
Can Eating at Home Improve Diet Quality?
Several studies say yes, and it can save you money, too. In a UK study of adults cooking five meals or more per week at home when compared to those cooking 3 times per week were 28% less likely to have overweight BMI and less body fat percentage.1 Another study reported that the more time an individual devoted to food preparation, improved the quality of the diet by including more vegetables and fruits. Adults taking less than 1 hour per day on food preparation was “associated with significantly more money spent on food away from home.2
Tips for Cooking Healthy Meals at Home
Keep Meals Simple
Every meal doesn’t need to be super fancy and complicated. Use MyPlate to help plan your meals – even the simple ones. USDA’s MyPlate provides 8 tips to get your meal planning started:
- See what you already have.
- Write down your meals.
- Write down recipes to try.
- Think about your time.
- Plan to use leftovers.
- Make a grocery list.
- Build your shopping list as you go.
- Buy a mix of fresh, frozen, and shelf-stable items.
Stretch your Recipes
If you have decided to make chili or a soup to warm you up on cold days, one way to stretch the recipe is to add a filler, like brown rice or perhaps in a soup, add beans. This can enhance the nutritional value of the recipe, make the meal and your food dollar stretch. You can find more ways to make both stretch in this resource, Raising Healthy Children: Frugal Shopping Tips for Families. It has tips for everyone!
Spice it Up
It doesn’t mean your meal literally needs to be spicy hot; It’s using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of adding fats and salt for flavor. If you aren’t quite sure how to start using fresh herbs or spices in your meals, this resource, Shopping for Health: Herbs and Spices shares incredibly useful chart listing the herb or spice, its flavor, what it’s best used with and what it pairs well with, too.
Dine in and Celebrate!
During the holidays, it’s time to put your healthy meal planning and preparation strategy into action by dining at home and celebrating with your family. Of course, I encourage you to incorporate healthy more often than just the holidays; however, December marks another special occasion. It’s the birthday of Ellen Swallow Richards, a female chemist and founder of the home economics movement (Family and Consumer Sciences). “Family and Consumer Sciences professionals are on the frontlines solving some of society’s most pressing issues by helping others develop essential skills to live and work in a complex world. From putting nutritious food on the table to knowing the value of a dollar, Family and Consumer Sciences prepares people for real life and build as a foundation for #FCSsuccess” (AAFCS, 2022).
So together, let’s celebrate family, home cooked, healthy meals and Family and Consumer Sciences professionals. It is a perfect time to get back to the dining table and enjoy a healthy meal together. If you are dining alone, call or video chat with a friend or long-distance family member. Make it a dinner date! Good company is the best ingredient. If you aren’t currently dining in with family or friends on a regular basis, why not add this to your weekly plans whether it be virtual, by phone, or in person.
One final quick tip for meal planning is to create your menu using a theme, such as, Mediterranean Monday, taco Tuesday, and slow cooker Wednesday. However you choose to plan and prepare healthy meals for you and your family, keep variety in mind while keeping it simple, add fillers to stretch your recipes and your dollar, and finally, don’t forget the herbs and spices to add flavor without the fat and sodium.
“The best memories are made around the table.”
1Mills, S., Brown, H., Wrieden, W., White, M., & Adams, J. (2017). Frequency of eating home cooked meals and potential benefits for diet and health: cross-sectional analysis of a population-based cohort study. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 14(1), 109. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0567-y
2Monsivais, P., Aggarwal, A., & Drewnowski, A. (2014). Time spent on home food preparation and indicators of healthy eating. American journal of preventive medicine, 47(6), 796–802. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.07.033
Adapted from an original post, Wellness with Wendy e-news (12.2.2020). Author: Wendy Wood Lynch
Image Credit: Canva.com/Education