Americans are spending up to 15 percent less time cooking and eating at home than just 30 years ago. That could be harming their health.

Research shows that when people make and eat meals prepared at home they eat a healthier balance of food, including fewer calories, less fat, and less sugar than eating out or bringing home prepared foods. In a country where obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are on the rise, structured meal planning can provide a healthy solution to a busy lifestyle, with healthier outcomes.

Meal Planning and Grocery Shopping

The first step to meal planning is assessing your individual and family nutritional goals in the setting of your busy life. Utilize resources to guide you in healthy and appropriate menu choices. Do you have time to do food prep on the weekends, or do you need fast, healthy ideas during the work week? Once you know what will work for your family, it’s time to plan the weekly menu.

Here are a few suggestions to get started.

  • Make use of what you have in the fridge and pantry.
  • Shop in season produce.
  • Include variety. Having the same thing every night will leave you longing for your take-out days. Themes may help to keep variety. Give “Meatless Monday” or “Taco Tuesday” a try.
  • Consider leftovers in your plan. Whether a quick meal on a night when you are crunched for time or as a wholesome lunch alternative. There will be leftovers, so plan for them.
  • Make a visible menu, digital or tangible, whatever works.

Once you have a menu, plan your grocery shopping around what you will be eating. Going to the grocery store with a list will cut-down on impulse buys that occur from scanning the aisles, ultimately saving time and money and preventing food waste. You are now ready to carry out your meal plan!

Moving Forward

Take time each week to evaluate what’s working.

  • Was one of the recipes you found an instant favorite?
  • Did you realize you need to do more food prep on the weekend for the week to run smoother?

Make changes to suit your circumstances. Menu planning may seem daunting at the onset, but with practice you can craft diverse, tasty and healthy menus that will save you time, money, and inches on your waistline.

Tips & Tricks: Healthy Eating and Meal Planning Resources

With the multitude of websites, templates, blogs and apps available to help with meal planning, there is a good fit for every family and budget. Below are a few options to get you started.

  • This USDA website shares nutritional information, meal planning tips, and offers printable menus and shopping lists.
  • SuperTracker: This USDA website help you create individualized meal plans and lets you track meals, weight, and exercise.
  • MyFitnessPal app: This mobile app provides nutritional information, recipes, and you can track meals and exercise.

Meghan Foster, MSN, RN-BC, received her MSN in 2012, with plans to pursue her FNP certificate. She is now a DNP candidate at UVM College of Nursing, on the FNP track. She currently works as a RN in Rheumatology, enjoys gardening and skiing and lives in Jericho with her partner, three children, two dogs and four alpaca.

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