Every now and then, our regular meals go a little off course. We might find ourselves in the fast-food lane more often than we’d like or making regular pizza orders. During these times, we need to get back to basics and put some balance back into our diet. One quick way to get back on track with healthy eating is to plan healthy family meals. This means getting back to eating more meals cooked at home with healthy ingredients.
Plan Healthy Family Meals With a Meal Planning Strategy
You might be trying to make healthy meals for your family consistently, but think that you have no time. And if you’re like most, you wonder about the cost of choosing healthier ingredients at the grocery store. You can alleviate many of these concerns by starting a meal planning routine.
Meal planning can make a huge difference in your family’s health. But did you realize that meal planning can also help you to control your family’s budget, too? When you plan healthy family meals, you know what’s for dinner from one day to the next. You also have an idea of what needs to be on your grocery list which means you can budget for groceries from week to week.
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Meal planning also makes it less likely that you will give into impulse purchases as you’ll be shopping from a list.
Also, when you plan meals you can create healthier versions of your family’s favorite meals, and you realize that it takes the same amount of time to make an unhealthier meal as it does to crank out a healthier version of the same dish. You just need to make wiser choices with your ingredients and choose healthier cooking methods.
If you’re concerned about the time or cost of cooking healthy meals, consider these things first:
- The amount of food you need to prepare
- The amount of time you can allocate to planning and prepping meals
- The difficulty of the recipes
- The nutritional value of the foods you’re bringing home from the grocery store
If you’re not an “expert” chef, start out with recipes that are fairly simple and don’t take much time to prepare. When you find a recipe you really enjoy making and the family loves, file it away for future reference!
If you’re looking for ways to save money and time in the kitchen while creating healthy and tasty meals, you’ll want to get started with meal planning and prep. Here are some easy tips to get healthier meals on the table in less time.
5 Tips to Plan Healthy Family Meals in Less Time
1. Plan healthy family meals around vegetables.
To start building a healthy plate, you want to start with vegetables. I know, this is probably very different than what you’re u-ed to. After all, for most of us the main feature of our plate is the meat, right? But in order to build a healthy plate, we need to shift the focus to nutrient-dense ingredients.
So, when you’re out grocery shopping strive to purchase two to three times the amount of vegetables as your protein. That’s because when it’s mealtime, you want at least half of everyone’s plate to be loaded with vegetables, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Veggies are also usually low in calories so you can eat larger portions of vegetables leaving you feeling “fuller” without the extra calories. This also helps you to limit starchier foods without feeling deprived.
Another advantage of having ample vegetables at each meal is that your family members can mix-and-match their veggies to the protein served. Mix it up! Cook a variety of vegetables for each meal. Save a few steps by pre-chopping veggies for the week. Colorful, flavorful vegetables also make meals more fun, especially for the little ones.
2. Choose lean protein sources.
Once you have your vegetables selected, you’ll choose a primary protein source. This might be fish, seafood, lean cuts of meat, poultry, beans, or tofu. Choose the best cooking method for the protein source you select for the week. One of my favorite strategies for prepping meals for the week is batch cooking. Batch cooking is a meal prep strategy that involves cooking larger portions of dishes to ensure leftovers are available or making dishes in advance of when you will be using them for meals.
Proteins are a great meal component to batch cook. For instance, you may want to cook several chicken breasts to use in multiple dishes during the week or cook more than one protein for the week such as fish for dinner today and tomorrow, and curried chickpeas or other meals to stow away for later on in the week.
3. Add whole grains to the mix.
The next meal component you’ll want to focus on is whole grains. Not everyone is a fan of whole grains but they are beneficial to a balanced diet. When the topic of whole grains comes up, you might automatically think of brown rice. But brown rice is not the only healthy whole grain out there. There are main other unprocessed whole grains to choose from like oats, barley, bulgar, millet, farrow or quinoa for extra nutrients and fiber. Create a balanced plate with about one-quarter of the plate full of whole grains.
Prepping whole grains is simple, too. Many whole grains can be batch cooked or prepared using other meal prep strategies to save time in the kitchen. Meal prep makes serving healthy family meals for the week quick and easy.
4. Think about what you will drink.
As you think about planning healthier meals, why not ensure that everyone has a healthy beverage too?! Plain water is always the best choice, but you can also serve drinks such as milk alternatives such as hemp, oat, coconut, and almond milk or any other healthy beverage your family will enjoy.
5. Cut costs while you plan healthy family meals.
Planning out your meals in advance is a great way to keep the grocery bill low while keeping your kitchen stocked with healthier options. Other ways to keep costs low are shopping from a grocery list, buying staples in bulk when it makes sense, chopping and bagging up your own vegetables, and re-using ingredients in more than one meal. And don’t forget to keep a variety of herbs and spices available to infuse flavor into every dish. Check out this post about how to avoid common mistakes at the supermarket.
Following these tips will help you keep healthy meals on the table, cut your grocery expenses, and keep the whole family raving about your flavorful, nutritious meals week after week. For more ideas on healthy groceries, view our list of Healthy Pantry Staples.
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Alicia Hyatte is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Family Wellness Advocate, Health Educator, and a Diabetes Prevention Lifestyle Coach. She helps parents to build healthier habits and routines to better balance home and work life. Her website, WholeFamilyLiving.com, provides motivation and simple strategies for handling everyday challenges like managing stress, being active, eating healthier, losing weight, and more. Alicia is a beach lover and gardening geek in her spare time.