Can meal planning be beneficial to leading a nutritious diet?

Can meal planning be beneficial to leading a nutritious diet? Feed to Succeed Registered Dietitians give their insight on how meal planning can be beneficial to leading a nutritious diet and tips on how to start. 

Meal Planning Takes a Little Extra Effort, But it’s Usually Worth the Outcome

“I really cringe at the school lunch options in our district. Meal planning takes a little extra effort, but it’s usually worth the outcome! I find that during a busy week of work and kids’ activities if I don’t have a plan, we are often scrambling – especially for packing lunches – and the health factor is the first piece to go when I’m in a hurry. When I shop on the weekends, I make sure to stock up on enough fruit and veggies for the week, grab a fresh loaf of whole wheat bread, and make sure there are cheese sticks, milk boxes or yogurts to round out the packed meals. The most effective part about meal planning in our house is if I wash and chop veggies on Sunday. If they are ready to go in the fridge, the likelihood of everyone packing a healthy lunch triple because it’s easy and available.” -Betsy Hjelmgren, MS, RDN, CSP, LDN

Establish an Outline for What Meals and Snacks You Want Available

“I am an advocate for basic meal planning throughout the week.  By establishing an outline for what meals and snacks you want available, you are setting your family up for success.  If you are new to meal planning, try implementing these three steps.

  1. Make a grocery list, and ensure you have 3-5 options from each food group.  For example, if you want to stock up on whole-grain carbohydrates, consider purchasing whole wheat bread, brown rice, a multigrain cereal, whole-wheat pasta, and granola bars.
  2. Prep meals in large batches.  Freeze extra portions for later in the week, or simply keep in the fridge and pack for an easy lunch.
  3. Don’t forget to include healthy “convenience” snacks.   Trying to meal prep every single item throughout the week can become an exhausting and never-ending job.  Save your sanity and keep a few ready-to-eat items on hand.  My go-to items are Protein bars, Greek yogurt cups, trail mix, and hummus/pretzel cups.” -Bailey Gianacakos, MS, RDN, LDN, CSSD

Offer a Balance and a Variety of Foods

“Meal planning is important for a nutritious diet and to help your family eat healthier. Planning and offering a balanced diet consisting of all food groups at meals and snacks can help children receive their nutritional requirements for growth. The timing of meals and snacks are also important for your child to be able to regulate their own eating. Healthy meal planning helps your child not only meet their nutritional needs but also helps them eat intuitively. A weekly meal plan also can save time, potentially save money if ingredients can be used in multiple dishes, makes grocery shopping easier as you have a more defined shopping list, and keeps your family from reaching for the junk or fast food.

Some tips for starting a meal plan are:
-Offer a balance and variety of foods from all food groups (vegetables and fruit, whole grain products, dairy, and protein foods) at mealtimes.
-Utilize leftovers or think about ways to repurpose the leftovers. For example, serve leftover grilled chicken on a salad or serve it in tacos.
-Involve your family in meal planning. If your family decides what they will eat, they may be more excited to sit at the table. Also, it takes some of the pressure off you.

-When making a meal plan, consider your family’s weekly schedule. For example, prepare meals that are easier on busy days and save more time-consuming meals for days that there is less going on” -Nicole Michehl, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC

Have a Set Plan for the Week

“Meal planning is a great way to add a variety of nutrients to your family’s diet, reduce waste, and save time and effort. Having a set plan for the week helps us to use all of the ingredients we buy and strategically add more nutrition to each meal. For busy families, knowing exactly what is being made for dinner and how it will be made can make the cooking process easier-and it can encourage kids to join in the prep!
Here are some tips to get started:
-Pick 2-3 main ingredients in three broad food groups (carbs, protein, and fruits/veggies) and plan meals around them
-Freeze any leftovers so they’re available in the future when you’re in a pinch!
-Repurpose ingredients when you can. Today’s leftover grilled chicken can go on a salad tomorrow. Leftover veggies can be thrown into soups or blended into smoothies with fruit.”
-Abby Olcott, MS, RD, CDN/LDN