Tips to Make Healthy Meal Planning Easier
One of the hardest parts of cooking is deciding what to cook! When we set aside a few minutes each week to meal plan, we save time in the kitchen and eat healthier. I want to offer you some tips to help you make your meal planning a success.
Set aside time
Take the first step by setting aside a time each week for meal planning. Write it on your calendar or make a running reminder in your phone so you will keep this appointment with yourself! Block out 10-15 minutes of your week. Yep, just 10-15 minutes a week will do!
Preplanned choices are usually healthier choices
By meal planning each week, you are more likely to eat healthier. Because you have made your choices for most of the week, you already put in the hard work to have better-eating habits. Meal planning is associated with healthy weight and healthier diets. It is even shown to increase variety in the diet.
We all need a little help
No matter your level in the kitchen, sometimes we all just need a little extra help deciding what to cook. Half the battle is deciding what to cook! And we all need help deciding what to cook. I wish I had a nickel for every time my mother said to me, “Just tell me what to cook, and I am happy to cook it!” And she is a retired home economics teacher with years of experience in the kitchen. My best friend says the same thing, “Please just tell me what to cook, I don’t mind cooking.” And she is brand new to cooking.
Avoid last-minute decisions
When we skip meal planning, we often have to make last-minute decisions on what to eat. This frequently results in poor dietary choices or convenience food. If you’re like me you don’t want to make last-minute decisions with your health!
4 Simple Steps to Meal Planning
1. CHOOSE YOUR INGREDIENTS
Keep planning simple by incorporating the same ingredients in many recipes. To begin planning, pick 3-4 ingredients to get your brain waves flowing. By deciding on these ingredients, it gives you something to base your meals around each week.
2. DESIGN YOUR MEALS
Ask yourself these questions:
- Can I make a soup from these ingredients or leftovers?
- Can I keep it uncomplicated and use any of these ingredients as a one ingredient simple side dish?
- Can I create a salad from 2 or 3 of these ingredients?
- Am I out of recipe ideas? Do a quick Google search of 2 ingredients you have chosen for the week and see how many recipe ideas pop up.
3. PLAN YOUR DAYS
Plan the order in which you will cook and eat each meal.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What ingredient am I using in most meals? Prep and cook this at the beginning of the week.
- What meal uses the most ingredients? Cook this at the end of the week so most of your ingredients are already prepped. For example soups or salads.
- Can I use leftovers? You do not have to plan 7 breakfasts, 7 lunches, and 7 suppers. Whew, that would be 21 meals each week! Instead aim to choose 1-2 breakfast ideas, 2-3 lunch ideas, and 3 supper ideas each week. That could be as little as 6 meals for an entire week.
4. MAKE YOUR MARKET LIST
- List each meal you will prepare.
- Break down each meal into a list of recipes.
- List ingredients for each recipe.
Here are some quick, healthy, and delicious meal ideas to simplify your life.
Chicken, Carrots and Leeks
- Make Chicken, Rice, and Leek soup with carrots.
- Eat roasted carrots as a side with roasted chicken. Have rice as a side dish (make extra for a soup later) or saute leeks you already have for an easy side.
- Use leeks to make a Leak and Sage Crustless Quiche. Shave leftover carrots to make a French Carrot Salad to go with the Quiche.
- Make a tomato based Cabbage Soup with leftover shredded chicken.
- Make an easy Grain Bowl with shredded chicken, roasted carrots, sliced apples, and rice or quinoa.
- Make Carrot Pancakes, Carrot Cake Overnight Oats, or Carrot Muffins for breakfast.
Pork Tenderloin, Shredded Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes
- Use shredded/pulled pork from the crockpot for tacos with cabbage slaw.
- Eat shredded pork on a salad. Consider bulking up your salad greens with the shredded cabbage. And adding roasted sweet potatoes for a savory addition to your salad.
- Keep it easy with a meat and three. Eat sliced roasted pork tenderloin with roasted shredded cabbage, roasted sweet potatoes, and a simple green side salad.
- Add bbq sauce to leftover shredded pork tenderloin for BBQ pork.
- Stuff a sweet potato with shredded pork and add an extra veggie such as roasted broccolini for a complete meal.
- Eat a sweet potato topped with nuts, seeds, and nut butter for breakfast.
- Make sweet potato hash for breakfast.
White Beans, Kale, Quinoa, Bell Peppers
- Make a “Mediterranean Cobb” Salad using raw kale topped with cooked quinoa, sundried tomatoes, red onion, avocado, and boiled eggs.
- Make White Bean and Kale Soup.
- Keep it simple with a plate of white beans, sauteed kale, and quinoa for a meal.
- Prepare Quinoa and Cooked Kale Stuffed Bell Peppers.
- Make White Bean Hummus. Eat with bell pepper strips, cucumber slices, and endive lettuce leaves.
- Make Quinoa Porridge for breakfast.
- Try a Quinoa and Egg Breakfast Bowl.
Let’s Cook the Chicken, Carrot, and Leek Plan!
Easy Crockpot Shredded Chicken
2 chicken breasts
2 cups chicken broth or water
Pinch of salt to taste
Place chicken breasts in a crockpot with liquid. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Remove top and shred with two forks. Season with salt to taste. Reserve liquid for soups or cooking later in the week.
Chicken Leek Soup
Try adding prunes to your chicken and rice soup for an unexpected bit of flavor. Chicken, leeks, and prunes are traditionally used together in Scottish Cock-a-Leekie soup.
1 Tbs avocado oil
2 leeks, tops removed and discarded, bottoms sliced into rounds
3 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 tsp ground thyme
5 cups chicken stock (2 cups reserved from Crock-pot Shredded Chicken plus store-bought)
1 cup Crockpot Shredded Chicken
1 cup cooked jasmine rice
1 cup prunes, pitted
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add sliced leek bottoms and sliced carrots to the pot. Cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in thyme and chicken stock. Increase heat to high and let just boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir in chicken, rice, and prunes. Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
1 pie crust of your preference-or make this a crustless quiche by adding egg mixture straight to a greased pan
2 tsp avocado oil
2 leeks, tops removed and discarded, bottoms chopped
1 cup non-dairy milk
Sea salt and pepper to taste
4 oz herbed goat cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks to skillet and saute for about 8 minutes until soft. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and milk. Whisk in salt and pepper to taste. Once leeks are soft spread them evenly over the bottom of pie crust or in a greased pie dish if making crustless quiche. Sprinkle herbed goat cheese evenly on the bottom of a pie plate along with leeks. Pour egg mixture over leaks and goat cheese. Bake for 45-50 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Simple French Carrot Salad
6 carrots, grated or shaved
¼ cup currants
3 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Add carrots and currants to a large bowl. In a separate small bowl make the vinaigrette by whisking together the remaining ingredients. Pour vinaigrette over carrot mixture and toss to coat.
Stay On Track
Develop a support group to help you meal plan each week. Ask your friends or family if they would like to create a weekly group text or email that simply lists what they are cooking each week. If you have a difficult time deciding what to cook, most likely they do too!
Stay the healthy course this new year by supporting one another and sharing your ideas.
Recipes © 2021 Aubrey H. Moore, DCN, RDN
Feeding MaxWell nutrition blogs are produced for informational purposes only and brought to you by MaxWell Clinic, LLC. The information is provided by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist that has been trained in providing dietary advice backed by nutritional science and research. The nutrition information is not to be construed as medical advice or medical nutrition therapy. The information is not to be used as individualized nutrition counseling or used to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any medical problems. The content of these blogs should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment from your medical provider. Any information, examples, recipes, foods, or stories presented do not constitute a warranty, guarantee, or prediction regarding the outcome of the individual using the material. The reader is responsible for working with a qualified professional before beginning any new dietary program or plan. The writers and publishers of this nutrition information are not responsible for any adverse reactions, effect, or consequences resulting from the use of provided information, recipes, foods, or suggestions.
Ducrot, P., Méjean, C., Aroumougame, V., Ibanez, G., Allès, B., Kesse-Guyot, E., Hercberg, S., & Péneau, S. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 14(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0461-7