Meal Planning Leads to Better Health

To achieve a goal, making a plan can help. This is true if you desire to eat healthier, too.

We plan for vacations. We plan to complete tasks at work. We help children plan for a successful school year. So why do so few plan a healthy eating routine? Maybe it’s time to sharpen the pencil and try out a meal plan.

In the midst of afternoon chaos, it can be challenging to think of something healthy to make for dinner. This is when parents cave and call for takeout – greasy food devoid of beneficial vegetables.

But consider this: For the same amount of time it would take to order and pick up takeout, you can grill chicken, steam fresh broccoli and prepare a baked potato cooked-to-order in the microwave. More fiber, more natural vitamins, less saturated and trans fat, and you likely saved money.

People tend to buy takeout when they are in-the-moment hungry and don’t have something available to make quickly. But if the decision has already been made thanks to a meal plan, and the food is close to being ready and the choice becomes a no-brainer.

To make a meal plan, start by outlining your anticipated week’s worth of nutritious, balanced meals before going to the supermarket. Then shop from that list. It could look something like this:

Monday: steak fajitas and vegetable salad

Tuesday: grilled chicken, sweet potato, salad

Wednesday: chicken chili made with corn, salsa and chopped veggies

Thursday: salmon, asparagus, brown rice

Friday: turkey meatballs in a slow cooker, pasta, broccoli

Saturday: turkey tips, quinoa, spinach salad

Sunday: shrimp over pasta, roasted vegetables

A weekly meal plan helps to reduce food waste and prep time. If vegetables are slated for certain days, they are likely to be eaten rather than found molding in the refrigerator a week later.

If you wander the market and buy things with the notion, “Maybe I’ll make squash this week,” the thought is easily forgotten later. But if you write it down and post your plan within sight, it is a reminder that initiates action.

Aim to prep more perishable items, like a large salad, at the beginning of the week. If rinsed and dried well, it will last for a few meals.

Use some leftovers for the next meal. Grilled chicken, for example, can be tossed into a slow cooker for chicken chili, perhaps to be used on a night known to be too busy for cooking.

Buy a few “back-up” items to be ready for changes. For example, if you’re unable to pick up fresh fish, frozen fish filets can be substituted. Breaded chicken tenders could be used if your chicken is not defrosted.

Be realistic; try new or complicated recipes on days when you have time to burn.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in food and nutrition. Send your questions to her at

This column is not intended to diagnose or treat disease. Check with your doctor before making any changes in your diet.

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