Healthy Food Guide (Australia)
Your ultimate guide to meal planning
We can be faced with more than 200 food decisions every day, and the pressure surrounding what and how we eat can lead eventually to ‘decision fatigue’.
By planning what you eat in advance, you can keep decisions to a minimum. You’ll be amazed how clearing your mind can help keep your pantry stocked with better choices. Meal plans can also be lifesavers in busy times.
First up, you need to find a meal planning style that works for you. Doing a meal plan for a full week at a time seems to work well for a lot of people. Others can manage two weeks at a time. And if you prefer to go shopping a few times a week, then every three to four days in advance might be progress for you.
Writing the plan
It’s an excellent idea to put together a ‘recipe bible’, which is basically recipes you have tried, tested and that you know go down well in your house. You can then use these recipes to help you create your plan.
Start by writing down what you will have for dinner for the next few days, week or fortnight. Then work out if you can make any of the meals in bulk to freeze for the next week, or if you can cook extra to have for lunch the next day. For example, if your plan includes roasting a chicken, cook two at once. That way, you’ll have one for dinner and one for lunches, and can freeze any you won’t use within three days. Or, if you are making a big salad for dinner, prepare an extra salad in a lunch box, ready to eat the next day with some chickpeas, tuna or leftover chicken.
Once you have your plan, you’re ready to write your shopping list — it’s as easy as that.
Keep it interesting
Don’t confuse meal planning with the overly regimented meal prep trend taking social media by storm. You don’t have to eat the same thing every single day (unless you want to), but it can help if you have a theme for each night. For example: Monday, meat free; Tuesday, fish; Wednesday, mince; Thursday, eggs; Friday, a homemade, healthy version of a takeaway. Or maybe go with country themes, such as Italian, Mexican and Thai — mix things up! Keep it interesting and it won’t be a chore.
What about when plans change?
If you’re someone who has a lot on, or know that things can easily change at the last minute because of kids’ activities or people popping round, here are a couple of things to try:
1 INCLUDE A FEW 5–MINUTE MEALS
in the plan and move them around as you need. Some quick and easy ideas include an omelette, tuna and brown rice abundance bowls, or a vegie and lentil soup served with wholegrain toast and smashed avocado.
2 BATCH COOK & FREEZE MEALS
If a crowd appears with little warning, a supply of precooked frozen meals lets you pull out a curry, casserole or soup to feed the multitudes.
3 STOCK YOUR PANTRY
It’s amazing what you can throw together at the last minute using what’s in your pantry. Stock up on microwavable rice, baked beans, canned tuna, dried pasta and pasta sauces for a healthy and hearty last-minute meal.