New Year’s goals that include healthy eating typically go up in flames (see above photo) by March, if not earlier. But for those who are interested in making eating changes that last, meal planning is part of the equation. Diets are popular for their newness and appeal, while meal planning lacks excitement and falls back on the same boring advice many don’t want to hear. That to eat well, we need to plan. Not diet. Plan.
But planning doesn’t have to be boring! Sustainable meal planning makes sense for our health, our wallet and our environment. When we know what we have on hand, what we need at the store, and what’s going on the table for dinner, we can slow down, relax, and enjoy the eating experience. Harried, tired and haphazard don’t make for a comforting meal at home.
Step 1 – Inspiration
To start the planning process, we need to be inspired. Ideas don’t generate themselves, we need to search out recipes, talk to friends and neighbors, dust off old cookbooks and head to the blogosphere. Talk with friends who entertain often, and with those whose meals you love. Have a recipe swap party. Head to the bookstore to peruse cooking magazines and cookbooks. Those who go astray from meal planning often tire of repeating the same meals. Brainstorming some new ideas and stepping fearlessly into the kitchen can do wonders.
Start slowly. Idea gathering can be fun, but also overwhelming if we get carried away. Remain realistic about nutrition, taste preference and what’s manageable for you in the kitchen.
Step 2 – Organization
Once ideas are gathered, get a system to stay organized. Keep recipes together and categorize as you add them. Consider a “tried-and-true” section as well as a “to try” section. Programs such as Tastebook allow you to search for new recipes, store recipes on their website and access them through a smartphone app. You can even print a cookbook with your favorite recipes if you prefer a hard copy in the kitchen.
Know what’s in your pantry and keep an ongoing store list in a central location (fridge door anyone?). Every so often, take an inventory to toss expired items or quickly use items about to expire. Start menu planning based on what’s already available in house. Include a day for leftovers, and one for eating out or ordering in.
Set shopping days ahead of time, particularly if you need to visit more than one store. And take your list. Going to the store without a list is like, well, it’s not pretty.
Once necessary items are purchased and ingredients are in place, get that apron on and get cooking!
What are your tried-and-true meal planning methods?