Meal Planning Basics

Meal Planning Basics

Are you driving yourself crazy trying to pack lettuce into a measuring cup? Are you trying to keep track of how many grapes your toddler is spitting out, and subtracting that number from his daily fruit intake? Please stop. It doesn’t have to be like this.

When planning your family’s meals, try focusing on quality and variety, and let the numbers take care of themselves. Of course, there are a few tricks to remember!

  • Eat lots, and lots, (and lots) of fruits and veggies. It would be difficult to eat too much! (And potatoes don’t count!)
  • Whole grains are awesome. (Refined grains not so much.) Hide whole grain brown rice in the stir fry, or use whole grain lasagna noodles. They even make whole grain white bread now!
  • Limit your fat intake to healthy fats, like the kind found in fish, nuts, and avocadoes.
  • Be sure to consume calcium rich foods. For some families, dairy products meet this need. Other families turn to leafy green veggies to meet their calcium quota.
  • Keep the following to a minimum: red meat, sugary drinks, and salts. 

So, how do you plan and prepare a balanced, nutritious meal, without doing the math? Variety is not only the spice of life, it is also the key to a healthy diet. I know that a lot of us get stuck in a rut that encourages us to cook the same thing every Tuesday – I do it too, trust me – but it’s advantageous to climb out of the ravioli-rut once in a while.

So, make it an adventure and take your time next time you are in the produce aisle. Buy something you have never tried, or something you haven’t had in a long time. Not sure how to prepare it? Many grocery markets have personnel there who can help you with that. If that doesn’t work, consult the good old-fashioned World Wide Web! Not sure you’ll like it? Oh well, what’s the harm done? Just don’t fill up your cart with seaweed. (Unless of course you know that you love seaweed.)

You can also work variety into a specific meal. Throw extra vegetables (or fruits) into your stir fry. (I hid some mango in mine the other night, and it was pretty tasty!) Serve a slice of watermelon with the meatloaf. Be creative. Challenge yourself to make each plateful a little surprising.

Sometimes it helps to think about variety in terms of color. When I serve tater tots and chicken nuggets, it doesn’t exactly look like an artist’s palette. But if you can work in three or four colors, you will ensure that your masterpiece is beautiful and nutritious.

Eating a variety of fresh, wholesome, quality foods ensures that our bodies will receive a variety of nutrients. We don’t always know what our bodies will need in a given day, but if we give our tummies a rich selection from which to choose, we can rest assured that our systems will fare well, thanks to our healthy fare!