Mastering the Meal Plan

Every week it’s seems to be the same old dilemma.  Like an unexpected curve ball being thrown at you every night (even though we all know that’s not the case).  What should I make for dinner?  And besides that, you dream of having it be a healthy, nutrient dense meal that everyone in the family will love.  Sometimes this seems to be an insurmountable task. 

So let’s make it simple and break it down into smaller pieces so the whole puzzle doesn’t seem so overwhelming.  Oh yeah…we will also make sure it’s healthy AND tasty!

1.     WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE NIGHT?  First things first…what is your favorite night of the week to get settled and plan for the week ahead?  Most people will say Sunday night, which seems the most logical.  The family is settling down from the high-energy weekend and getting ready for the work and school week ahead.  But maybe Friday is your night.  Whatever night it is, use this time to plan your family’s meals for the week ahead.  Browse through your cookbooks, magazines, the Internet, or wherever you gather recipes and begin to feel inspired!

2.     START WITH YOUR PROTEIN!  The easiest way to start the meal planning process is to pick a few different types of protein to use as the main component of your weekly meals.  This will make all the smaller pieces easily fall into place.

o   Buy in Bulk:  The best thing to do is buy your protein in bulk so you can use it a variety of different ways during the week.  Frozen bags of boneless, skinless chicken breasts are great to use at a moments notice.  You can quickly thaw as many as needed and avoid wasting unused chicken.  Same goes for fish and shellfish.  Costco and Sam’s Club have great organic varieties of these frozen foods, in addition to pork, lean red meat, and turkey.  Also check out Trader Joe’s frozen protein selection.

o   Go Vegetarian: To keep down the cost of your main dish, try some vegetarian options.  Beans and legumes are a low cost, nutrient dense choice when putting together the perfect dinner.  These options can also be purchased in bulk, prepared quickly, and stored easily.  Great to have on hand when all else fails or you are much too tired to cook an elaborate meal. 

o   Eggs: The perfect protein:  Don’t be afraid to incorporate eggs into your dinner.  They are simple to make, delicious, and are a complete protein.  Brown rice sautéed with veggies and an over-easy (or over-medium) egg on top is such a healthy dinner and can be made in a snap.  It’s a big hit in our house!

3.     SUPER SIDES! Now that you have the main component of your meal, add some super sides.  This can be as simple as brown rice with steamed broccoli or something more complicated such as a quinoa dish or butternut squash mac & cheese.

o   Great Grains:  Like I said before, buying your grains in bulk is the cheapest and easiest way to always make sure you have it in the kitchen cabinet.  Brown rice, whole wheat pastas, couscous, quinoa, and polenta are some great choices that the whole family will enjoy.  Spice it up with adding veggies or the chosen protein for the night.  Whole Wheat pasta with grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and pesto is a yummy, nutrient-filled dinner.

o   Vary your Veggies:  I know you have all heard it before but mix up your veggies and branch out from the same old trend.  Purchase local produce from your farmer’s market and incorporate it into new dinner ideas.  If you can’t buy fresh, remember that frozen is just as nutritious (sometimes even more so) and is such an easy make!  Most grocery stores sell frozen blends of different veggies, which will be more appetizing for even the pickiest palate.

o    Sauce it up:  Who doesn’t love to “dip”?  Condiments are a kitchen necessity, so make sure you have a few different kinds on hand.  Ketchup (go for the more natural variety), mustards, hot sauce, BBQ sauce, soy sauce (or Bragg’s Amino Acids), Teriyaki sauce, salad dressings (always the lite variety), and/or olive oil & balsamic vinaigrette can spice up any simple meal.  And if your little one doesn’t love the meal in front of them, maybe a little sauce will bring it to life!

All in all, planning is the most important aspect of your weekly dinners.  If you take the time before the week begins, you won’t feel so frazzled during the week and will be able to enjoy the time with your family.  Remember to keep it simple.  The more simple it is, the healthier the meal turns out.  

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Jill Latham, MS Nutrition, Food Science and Dietetics

Throughout Jill’s life, nutrition, health, and exercise have always been the cornerstones of who she is. After a stint in the entertainment business following college graduation, Jill decided to go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in Nutrition and become a Registered Dietitian. Jill has a Master's of Science in Nutrition, Food Science and Dietetics and is a soon to be Registered Dietitian. Jill truly enjoys encouraging and teaching people how to eat nutritiously and live healthy! During her four years in school, Jill realized how much she liked educating children on the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, which lead her to develop a strong interest in fighting childhood obesity. Honored to be part of ChildCareInfo.com as the Nutrition contributor, she looks forward to sharing her knowledge on how to make healthy living a part of everyone’s lives, especially our children. Jill currently resides in Santa Barbara, California with her boyfriend and dog, Madison. She also loves to juice fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and exercise regularly! Please visit Jill’s nutrition, health, exercise, & wellness blog Nutrition Concierge. Jill is Founder and CEO of Vibrant Earth Juices