Menu Planning as a Tool to Eating Healthier
Most of us know how frustrating it is to arrive home from work and realise there's little in the cupboards for dinner. The truth is, it can be very easy to head to the local take away when this happens. But, how can you avoid this situation?
Well, with a little organisation this can be a thing of the past! By using a menu plan you can work out what you and your family will eat ahead of time; this may seem like a daunting task, but the initial effort is definitely worth it in the long run.
Organising your menu plan
The first thing you need to do is decide how often you want to visit the supermarket, obviously this will depend on your schedule, and your family's needs. It may suit you to go once a week, every two weeks, or once a month.
Once you have decided how often you will visit the shops, you can then work out how many meals will be required in this time frame. Remember to take into consideration main meals, side dishes, dessert, drinks, eating out, special occasions, expected visitors, and leftover, or takeaway nights.
Some people find it useful to make a simple list of meals for the week ahead, and rather than assigning a day to each of them, you can choose something from the list depending on your daily schedule. However, if you prefer to be more organised, you may find it more suitable to write down exact meals for each day of the week, perhaps using an online menu planner, or create your own using Excel, for example.
For increased variety in your menu planning, you should try to write up two weeks, to one month's worth of menus, which will be rotated. Remember to leave a few nights blank when you can try out new recipes, or have leftovers.
While planning your menu, you should also take into consideration the seasons, as this will allow you to purchase foods when they're cheaper, and fresher, and you can plan to include meals suitable for the weather, such as soups for winter, or salads for summer etc.
Menu planning can also be very useful if you are trying to meet specific dietary requirements, for example including more vegetables each day, or eating more fish each week. To keep your menu varied, try using broad categories as the basis for your menu plan, such as:
- Pasta or rice based
- Red meat
- Eggs or cheese
Making your shopping list
The final step is to make a shopping list. If you find you buy roughly the same items each week, there's no point writing out a new list each time. You may want to create your own weekly shopping list, as this allows you to plan the list according to your normal route around the shop. Or, you may prefer to use one of the online versions that are readily available.
Remember to check your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what you already have in stock, and make your list according to the items you need by using your menu plan as a guide.
Many people prefer to shop every day, buying food for that night's dinner, as it's needed. Others plan a day or two in advance, but no farther. So, whether menu planning will work for you really depends on your personal preferences. But, if it's something you've haven't tried before, why not give it a go? You may find it really works for you!
What are your menu planning suggestions? Write a comment, and tell us about it!
Melanie Thomassian is a dietician, and author of Dietriffic.com, an online resource of healthy eating tips for busy people!