You know the old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” This definitely rings true with meals. We can certainly combat some stress and improve balance in our meals with a little planning. Here are a few easy steps to prepping nutritious and delicious meals that fit into your lifestyle and preferences.
Step 1: Make a menu
- Decide how often you are able to make it to the store. Will this menu be a few days at a time, a week, or a monthly menu?
- Consider whether you are preparing meals ahead and portioning them up, perhaps on a certain day of the week, to reheat later. Maybe you’ll be preparing the meal the day you plan to eat it, or a combination of each.
- Take into account any allergies or special nutrition needs for those consuming the meals.
- Don’t forget to consider what items you may already have on hand to avoid waste and save money.
- Consider if meals will yield leftovers that can be used to cut down on cooking time for future meals. Perhaps they’ll be eaten later that week, or frozen for a later week.
Step 2: Stock your pantry and freezer with the five food groups
Keep items on hand that you know you frequently use, especially those that are shelf-stable or frozen. By keeping foods from each food group, you can ensure you’re able to provide a balanced meal with less effort.
Vegetables: Canned or frozen vegetables, dried mushrooms, or canned tomatoes can easily be added to soups, stews, and casseroles. Consider chopping dried herbs to freeze in ice cube trays with a small amount of water to add to foods for a burst of flavor and antioxidants.
Fruits: Dried raisins and cranberries or other dried fruits work well to add to a morning breakfast, a mid-day trail mix snack, or to salads or starches with lunch or dinner for added fiber and flavor.
Milk and Dairy Products: Dried milk is a great back-up item to have on stock. You can use it in your coffee or tea. Boxed milk is also available in single-serving packages and is a great item for lunch boxes. Evaporated milk, available in cans in the baking aisle, can be substituted for liquid milk in most recipes.
Protein Foods: Stock up on canned or dried lentils, black, pinto, cannellini, garbanzo, and kidney beans. These legumes are a great source of protein. Toss cooked beans in salads, soups, stews, and other dishes. Canned tuna, anchovies, and sardines are a pantry must — they are a quick way to add protein, healthy fats, and flavor to meals.
Grains: Keep a stash of oatmeal, buckwheat, and other whole-grain cereals in the pantry. For an extra boost, add nuts and fresh berries to these hot cereals. Barley, farro, quinoa, and other grains provide staples for healthy meals. Also, keep a variety of rice on hand — long grain, short grain, basmati, and brown rice. Spaghetti, ziti, penne, and other pastas are great for an easy, quick, and filling family meal. Give yourself an extra nutrition boost by buying whole-grain pasta or trying pasta made from legumes.
Step 3: Keep a running grocery list
- Keep a pad and pen handy to jot down items throughout the week as you use up staple items.
- As you decide on meal ideas, check your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for any items you already have that need to be used up and add additional items you may need to that list to round out a meal.