Sunday, February 27, 2011

Meal Planning

Natalie and I were talking the other day about how to get more fruits and veggies in our diets. In all my time as a personal trainer, either counseling with individual clients, or teaching nutrition education courses, I have found it is nearly impossible to eat healthy without a plan. There are too many distractions and easier options to temp us throughout our day if we don't have a solid menu plan in place. So today I thought we could talk a little bit about menu planning, and how to add more fruits and veggies to your meals.

First, here are a few menu planning documents for your viewing pleasure:

Dinner planner
All Meal Planner

I find that if I don't plan out my weekly menus, every night I am stuck in front of the fridge, thinking....what should I make for dinner? When I finally come up with a plan, I am usually missing a key ingredient. Meaning we have quesadillas for dinner. Again. So the first step in meal planning is coming up with a list of 7 (ish) meals for the week. Maybe I should back up......I actually keep a master list of all the dinners we like, and I just add to it as I find new, yummy recipes. I pull out my trusty list, or I scour my favorite blogs for new recipes. Then I write down my list for the week. Keep these lists filed away. Once you have 5 or 6 of them you can just start to rotate through. It's a huge time saver. Here's a few of my meals from last week for demo purposes:

Chicken Tortilla Soup (Jarrie's recipe. Sooooo yummy)
Sloppy Joes
Fruit Shakes for breakfast

Now that your list is made, on to step 2--making them more healthy. I think it's pretty easy to eat fruit, so we are going to focus on veggies. Lots of people get stuck with side dishes to get their veggies in. Every night they have a green salad or a pile of broccoli. This is all fine and dandy, but can get pretty old. So....we have to get a little creative. Here's some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

Let's take my Sloppy Joes as our first example. Usually this is just meat, some sort of ketchup mixture, and a bun. Not particularly healthy. But the kids love them. We have to figure out a way to add more veggies, or at least make them as healthy as possible. Easiest option--go for the whole grain bun. But we can even do better than that. Zucchini is a veggie that pretty much takes on the taste of everything around it. Whenever I am using ground beef, I take out 1/4 - 1/2 lb and replace it with shredded zucchini. No one ever knows the difference. I also chop up a green pepper and throw it in the mix. YUMMY. Add a fruit of some sort on the side, and you have a delicious, healthy meal.

Moving on to the soup. We actually start out really good on this one--tomato base, chicken breast. Both healthy. could I add more veggies to this meal? I substituted a little bit of the tomato sauce for a can of diced tomatoes. Then I also added a can of corn. (You could also do black beans). Rusty and I added slices of avocado to the top. Now we have a 3 veggie meal!

Last example--Fruit shakes. How could we possibly get a veggie in here? Have you ever tried throwing in a handful of spinach? Or a 1/2 an avocado? Or even a few carrots? These all blend perfectly into smoothies and other than the odd color from the spinach, you will never taste a difference.

Get the idea? Go though your list and see where you can add fruits or veggies to your family's favorite meals.

With your menu plan in hand, you are ready to make the grocery list. Simply go though your list and write down any ingredients you will need to make your meal. To cut down on costs, I usually try to make 1 meal/week from ingredients I already have on hand. Most people also find that when they menu plan they spend less money, and they use more of the produce that they buy before it goes bad.

The other up side to meal planning is it is much less likely that you will run through a fast food drive-through on your way home from soccer or ballet because you know you have a healthy meal just waiting to be prepared at home.

I won't lie--it's a lot of work in the beginning. Coming up with a master meal plan, figuring out how to make your meals more healthy--all these things take time. BUT, it totally pays off in the end. You only have to do these things 1 time and you reap the benefits for years. If you have a favorite recipe and don't quite know how to make it more healthy, visit Cooking Light. They have lightened versions of almost any recipe you could ask for.

So, who has questions?


  1. Thanks Tara! this is great advice! (we made Jarrie's soup a few weeks ago and everybody loved it!)

  2. I too have a similar system for meal planning. I make my lists of meals, write the ingredients on my shopping list, etc. I like the tips about finding ways to add veggies. Also, the master list and the rotating lists are great ideas. I usually only do this for dinners, but I think I'll start adding some breakfast and lunch plans as well. Thanks sister.