How important is it for you to have a plan? Even better, what benefits do you receive from planning in advance?
With the summer months still in full swing, the biggest plans we are making revolve around vacationing, reserving time to binge-watch a new series or catching up on much-needed rest. In all of this planning, how much of your thought process actually goes into planning meals for you or your family? Meal planning provides a means to save money on your grocery bill, eliminates prolonged time in the kitchen and promotes healthier food selection.
Having a meal plan handy is a great way to save money on your grocery bill. Just think, if you have an idea of what you will be eating for the day, week or month, you can determine the amount you would be spending to create your meals. Without a plan in place, you are
prone to order takeout more frequently. This is a costly expense, especially if you have a large family. Always make a list of what you need and “shop your pantry” to avoid over-purchasing. It is a common misconception that meal planning takes up too much time; 30 minutes would suffice to plan your weekly (or monthly) menu.
With your plan in place, you will also notice that your time in the kitchen has reduced from that dreaded hour to 30 minutes, depending on the recipe. This is possible because you have already decided what to prepare and have gathered the needed ingredients for your preselected meals. When planning, make sure to include simple meals that require minimal preparation and clean-up time. Also, use planning as a chance to practice pre-preparing meals. For instance, if you plan to make spaghetti one night, brown your meat, precook your noodles, and pre-chop your vegetables earlier in the week. Place your prepared meat in a ziplock bag, being sure to release any extra air. Your noodles and veggies should be stored in airtight containers. Once you have done this, place items in the refrigerator until you are ready to prepare your dinner. By spending less time in the kitchen, you can spend more time with your family.
Meal planning allows you to expand your pallet by adding more diversity and variety to your breakfast, lunch, or dinner by adding more fresh produce, leaner meats, fruits, and proteins to your diet. According to MyPlate, at least half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. Your plan can be created to include healthier choices so that you are meeting these dietary recommendations.
Becoming a successful meal planner takes practice. By following these simple Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program principles, you will become a professional planner and begin saving in no time!
Ashley McRae is the Adult Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program assistant at North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center.