image of a pork loin stuffed with sausage and dried cherries

Meal Plan Magic: Save Time, Money, Food and Your Health

If you were building a deck, you wouldn’t just go to the lumber store and randomly throw supplies in your cart. Without a plan, you’d likely end up with one funky-looking lounging space.

Yet, every week, this is how (some) people grocery shop. Tossing fruits and vegetables, meats, frozen foods, breads and packaged products into their basket, knowing full well some of that hopefully-purchased produce will be spoiling by the end of the week.

There’s a better way, according to Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She shared her thoughts about meal planning – and why you should start – on the most recent episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica. Listen to the full episode here.

While the idea of planning a full menu one week at a time might sound daunting, Derocha insists it will simplify your life and benefit you in many ways.

“I promise you in the long run, you save time. You save money,” she said. “It puts you in the driver’s seat for your health.”

Here’s her process for delivering up fresh, healthy meals every night of the week:

  • On one of your days off during the week, take stock of what you have in your pantry and fridge. What do you need to use up before it goes bad?
  • Next, look at your schedule for the week. Do you have a work dinner to attend? Do the kids have a sports practice? This will help you determine how many meals you’ll need to cook and how many need to be quick to accommodate a busy schedule.
  • Looking at what you have on hand and the types of meals you know you’ll need to make, find recipes that consider your family’s tastes and eating style. (Hint: You’ll find many healthy recipes developed by Derocha on AHealthierMichigan.org.) She enjoys theme nights such as meatless Mondays and taco Tuesdays – find what works for your family and mix up the theme with variations on your standard recipes.
  • Take leftovers into account when planning your week. There’s nothing wrong with eating Wednesday night’s dinner for Thursday lunch. Derocha sometimes intentionally makes extra taco meat so she can whip up her famous taco pie later in the week. Making double or triple batches of soups, sauces, stews and chili is a great way to get ahead when it comes to meal planning. Eat what you want and then freeze the rest for a future week.
  • If you have time, complete some of the food prep on the weekend. Cut up fruits and veggies, make marinades for meats, and work ahead on the recipes you’ll be making. You’ll come home to a healthy, homemade dinner that you just need to cook, saving your healthy eating intentions on those long, tiring work days.

By spending a little time upfront, you’re more likely to use up all the food you buy, which saves you money and helps you avoid food waste. You won’t be going to the store every day, so you’ll save time. You’ll also be eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding excess sodium and preservatives in frozen and processed food, which will greatly improve your health.

For more meal planning hacks and tips, tune in to the full podcast today.

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Photo credit: A Healthier Michigan

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