Meal Planning Skill Building

Expert Stories | Mrs. Shayana Ameresekere MHumNutr (Aus) RNutr(Aus), Nutritionist

Most parents lead a hectic life with time being of the essence, one way to free up some time and ensure your children receive their required daily nutrients is by meal planning ahead of time.

Meal planning is the simple act of taking some time out to plan any number of your meals for the week. Plan for yourself or plan for your family. Plan to eat healthy, and plan a night out. Plan every snack and meal, or simply plan your lunches so you don’t spend money on restaurant food during the week. It doesn’t really matter what you plan, as long as you thought about it and have tried to incorporate the essential nutrients which are required for that day.

I like to think meal planning assists in three specific areas; time, money and health. (S. Ameresekere, 2021).

Meal planning helps time in a plethora of ways; reduced grocery store trips, because if you know your weekly menu beforehand you can do your best to buy everything for the week in one trip to the market or grocery store.

Planning your meals before time allows you to also prep your family’s food and store it in the fridge or freezer until you need it. Or you can pre cut or dice food and store it for when you are ready to cook shortening your overall cooking time.

Your health is another aspect that you can focus on when you meal plan. Every individual is different and nutrition requirements can greatly differ from person to person, but when you plan ahead you can make smart choices related to your nutritional requirements and ensure they are accounted for. (S.Ameresekere, 2021).

Meal planning also allows for you to portion control and be accountable for the food you and your family consume rather than “impulse eating” which may occur when people are stressed, are overly hungry or as a result of boredom.

Lastly meal planning allows you to be economical and work towards a set budget.

When you plan and cook your own meals, you are most likely saving money when compared to purchasing the same type of meal from a restaurant. Additionally, planning your meals can help reduce food waste. While it might be nearly impossible to go 100% waste free, some simple planning techniques can help dramatically reduce your food waste. For example, if one of your planned dishes requires some spinach, you can also try to plan lunches or smoothies for the week that require different parts of that vegetable which would have otherwise been thrown away.

So what are some tips and skills to utilise while meal planning?

Firstly, start small. If you have never created a meal plan, it may feel a bit daunting. Starting small and slowly building confidence is a great way to make sure your new skill is sustainable.

Begin by planning out just a few meals or snacks for the week ahead. Eventually, you’ll figure out which planning strategies work best, and you can slowly build upon your plan by adding in more meals as you see fit.

Make sure you consider each food group. Whether you’re preparing meals for a week, or just a few days, it’s important to make sure each food group is represented in your plan.

Healthy meal plans should place emphasise on whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high quality proteins and healthy fats, while limiting sources of refined grains, added sugars, and excess salt. (https://bit.ly/38wy6pl).

Take note of what you already have in your pantry first. Before you sit down to make your meal plan, take an inventory of what you already have on hand.

Peruse all of your food storage areas, including your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, and make a note of any specific foods you want or need to use up.

Doing this helps you move through the food you already have, reduces waste, and prevents you from unnecessarily buying the same things over and over again. (https://bit.ly/3creMLk).

And lastly Always go to the grocery store with a list and not when you are hungry.

Going to the grocery store without a shopping list may make you waste time and you may end up buying a lot of things you don’t need.

Having a list helps you stay focused and fight the temptation to buy food you don’t have a plan to use. And going to the grocery store or market when hungry will usually tempt you into making more impulse purchases rather than shopping on a full stomach. (S. Ameresekere, 2021).

Following the above recommendations will get you on the right track to start meal planning for yourself and family. Remember to enjoy creating your meals and you will find that meal planning will soon become quick, efficient and second nature to you.