Planning helps to make your meals and snacks healthier

Planning weekly snacks and meals can make a big difference in your health. If planning meals and snacks is new to you, starting with small goals can help.

Do you often get home after work or school and think, “What should I eat tonight?” Are you often running late so that packing lunch and eating breakfasts are not an option? Planning meals and snacks can help to avoid these situations that often lead to eating meals away from home.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, we eat in a variety of places - homes, work, restaurants, maybe even our cars. In some of these places, we have more control over what choices are available than in others. Since high calorie foods are everywhere, it's important to take the time to plan ahead to make sure we have healthy options available to us.

Creating and using weekly meal plans and shopping lists can decrease money, time and energy spent shopping and preparing meals. These tools will help plan and prepare more nutritious meals. Incorporating a variety of food from all of the MyPlate food groups is very important when creating a meal plan.

Planning can also help you ensure that healthy options available. It saves time and money and can help you avoid food waste. Whether you are cooking for just yourself, one to two people, or a larger group, planning meals is a good place to start improving your food choices. Taking the time to plan a healthy evening meal can help you avoid a less healthful "drive-through" dinner.

When planning weekly meals and snacks it is often difficult to plan for each meal. Try starting with just breakfast for a week and then gradually transition to adding in lunch, dinner and snacks. Picking a time and day that works best for you to plan and possibly involving the input of other family members can be beneficial.

Suggestions when starting to plan meals and snacks include:

  • If you have cooked extra food for another meal, use these foods for others meals or snacks. Cook once and eat twice!
  • Plan around what you may have on hand.
  • Plan meals with less meat and add other high protein sources such as beans and legumes.
  • Consider when you may be away from home or may need a quick meal.
  • Plan for meals and snacks that are quick to prepare.
  • Plan for meals and snacks that include WIC or commodity/pantry foods.
  • Include variety. Challenge yourself to plan menus that use all food groups. Include meals and snacks that are composed of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy!
  • Include foods to use in brown bag lunches.
  • Include family or individual favorites.
  • Check for what is on sale at the grocery store and what you may have coupons for. Plan around these items.

Once you have planned your weekly meals and snacks, you have more information to begin a grocery list. A shopping list reduces impulse buys that are potentially unhealthy and can also save you money. When making your shopping list, check store flyers, clip coupons and see what items you have on hand before going to the store or farmers market. Perimeter shopping around the outside aisles of the store often results in the purchase of increased amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and dairy.

Planning may take added time in the beginning but it will save you time, money and your health in the end!

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