Meal Planning: How & Why You Should Do It
Do you spend a long time trying to decide what to cook for dinner? Do you look into the refrigerator and your heart says no to whatever is inside? Do you feel guilty for overspending on unhealthy junk food? If yes, then you need to learn about meal planning, a simple and easy way of getting the required nutrition and health on your plate, and why menu planning is important.
Meal planning can help you keep a track of your diet and eat more home-cooked meals instead of ordering food from restaurants. It can also help you stick to your fitness goals.
How to go about meal planning?
Meal planning is done by charting out a plan for meals for the next few days, say for a week. It does not have to be a complicated mind-wrecking process. All you will need to know before starting a healthy menu plan is a little knowledge about the various food groups and their daily requirements.
Here are a few things you can do:
- For starters, jot down the foods you like.
- Flip through cookbooks and pick up recipes you are most likely to use for your meals.
- Try cooking a little extra, you can use leftovers for some other time. This can save you time.
- Try to ensure that all food groups are adequately represented in each meal. The plan should ideally be written down and should be available for quick reference when needed.
- Making a list of the required ingredients and keeping them stocked up at your home is a good idea.
- Switch to healthier alternatives. For example, while shopping, pick up low-fat or fat-free milk instead of regular milk.
The food pyramid for meal planning
A balanced diet is a key aspect of eating healthy. Eating too much or too little is not the solution. When you are planning a meal, you need to ensure that your meal encaptures all major nutrient sources. A food pyramid can help you plan your meals better.
Here are the basic components of a food pyramid for healthy eating:
- Grains should be your major dietary source
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Eat meat, fish, egg, milk and their alternatives in moderation
- Reduce salt, fat/ oil and sugar
How do I know if my meal is healthy enough?
Every book and magazine will tell you about a healthy food pyramid where you will find details about the quality and quantity of each food group. But how does this translate to the plate?
An easy way of guarantying adequate nutrition is by following the concept of a healthy food plate, based on the portion sizes of an average quarter-sized plate. Fill half of the plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter of this plate with protein-rich foods like pulses, beans and meat. The remaining quarter should consist of cereals and grains. One portion of dairy-based food like curd is considered adequate along with this plate. Try and include freshly cooked food items and avoid processed foods, cold cuts and artificially sweetened foods as much as possible.
Cooking at home
A home-cooked meal is a sure shot way to a hygienic and nutritionally balanced diet, provided the basic tenets of meal planning are followed. It is advisable that locally available seasonal fresh fruits, vegetables and millets form a major part of home-cooked food. Try and include different menus, ingredients, recipes, creative plating and involve others in the cooking process to make it an enjoyable process. Very soon you will find that making a nutritionally rich square meal is not a difficult process.
Here is an example of a menu for a 2000-calorie per day menu.
- Cold cereal with raisins and fat-free milk
- 1 small banana
- Slice of whole-wheat toast with margarine and jelly
- Smoked turkey sandwich on whole-wheat pita bread (with romaine lettuce, tomato slices, salad dressing and mustard)
- 1/2 cup apple slices
- 1 cup tomato juice
- 5-ounce grilled top loin steak
- 3/4 cup mashed potatoes
- 1/2 cup steamed carrots with honey
- Whole-wheat dinner roll
- 1 cup fat-free milk
- 1 cup low-fat yogurt with fruit
- Meals on the go
Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself in situations where you might have to order food or pick up a snack or be ready to eat a meal. And what about cheat meals? Are they even allowed? Yes, they are. Well, once in a while. Although this may put a spoke in your meal planning, it is best to choose foods which match nearly with the original meal you had planned for the day. Avoid greasy, fried food. Instead, opt for baked foods, low-sugar foods, fresh fruits, hummus, wraps, multigrain bread, greens or sprout salads.
You are what you eat
The age-old adage 'you are what you eat holds even while meal planning. This is why menu planning is important; not just that, sticking to it is of utmost importance. By choosing the right foods to eat, you may soon find yourself in a healthier and happier space.
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