Top five tips for planning a healthy menu

© Fergs25 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Fergs25 | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Enlightened eating doesn’t just magically happen. It does indeed take some effort. But on the other hand, it should not be a Herculean task to get healthy eats on the table. After all, that much stress does not contribute to your well-being.

If you simply go with the flow, rather than with a plan,  you could drown in less than wholesome offerings.  Unlike decades ago where homemade food was the norm, nowadays it’s too easy to go for sodium and/or fat laden nutrient poor choices. Spur-of-the-moment  eats may mean prepared foods, convenience items or restaurant meals.  It’s one of the reasons for Dietitians of Canada’s Nutrition Month theme,  Best Food Forward: Plan Shop Cook Enjoy.

Instead, save time, money  and energy by  planning a menu. Here are five tips for making it a reality.

•    Develop a plan
Take some time to put together a menu that features a variety of foods.   Don’t expect to have the menu in a day or two or you’ll just add stress to the whole endeavour. Start with a rough draft of basics for each day- for example, a chicken dish for Monday, fish for Wednesday etc. Then fill in the actual preparations over a period of a few weeks.
•    Don’t waste cooking opportunities
As you make up your rough draft, plan to get more than one meal out of your cooking sessions.  For instance, if you make roast chicken or some chicken breasts for one dinner, don’t take a chance that there will be leftovers. Instead cook double so that the extra can be used for lunch or dinner the next day. But change the dish by adding it to a stir-fry, salad, sandwich or soup. The same goes for vegetables. If broccoli is your side dish, the additional servings can be used for a marinated salad. Extra pasta can yield the basis for a pasta salad for the next day.

•    Filling in the blanks
Coming up with actual dishes to put in your menu plan can be done over a period of time. Start with a few lists on your refrigerator. The first can be “Dishes to try”. How many times do you read through an appealing recipe in online or in a magazine and promptly proceed to forget about it? Instead write the name and source on your list. Then once you’ve tried it, either write it on another list called “Keepers” or discard it. All too often you make a new dish and because it’s not part of your repertoire, you forget all about it. Well that won’t happen with your keeper list. Then start to incorporate the new dishes into your menu.

•    Use your menu to make shopping lists
When you base your shopping lists on a menu, there’s no guesswork about what you need. Keep a file with your shopping list and simply print it off. But be flexible with your options if there are supermarket specials or if there are seasonal items you want to incorporate. And while products like frozen veggies can be a super selection for nutritious meals, those swimming in a sea of sauce are costly in terms of your food dollars and nutrient counts.

•    Make tempting options
If you’re a food lover, use a variety of sources to come up with appealing options. For example, if there’s a favourite dish at your local eatery, why not come up with a homemade version using online recipe sites,  by checking out your local library or by investing in a cookbook or two. Chances are that in the process you can slash the sodium and fat counts while boosting fibre and antioxidant levels. You can also bet that if your menu choices are boring, you’ll end up stuck in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket or picking up the phone to order a pizza.

Do you keep a standard shopping list on your computer or smart phone? Do you have any shopping or menu planning tips to share? Please do so in the comment section below.

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Categories: Tips and Tricks

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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