So now that we’ve covered what we, as a country, are doing wrong where diet is concerned—thanks to the USDA—I thought I would spend today talking about one simple thing you can do to stay on the right track: plan ahead.
I don’t know about you, but I love planning special dinners—like a traditional holiday meal, maybe a birthday celebration, or in the old days, a meal at my favorite restaurant. (Gasp! What’s a restaurant? It’s been so long I hardly even remember.)
The anticipation of it almost makes me giddy, knowing how delicious it’s going to taste, from the moment the meal is placed on the table to the leftovers the next day.
Isn’t it joyous to look forward to those special times? And later, to think back and remember all the different dishes, with a great sense of satisfaction?
Well, what if you could feel that way about what you make and eat every day? (Well, maybe not every day—but most days.)
I know way too many people who don’t start to think about what’s for dinner until it’s dinner time. And do you know where that leads? To poor decisions, fast food, and otherwise eating whatever’s around—almost never the best choices.
So, as a tie-in to my cooking shows (which I hope you are watching on Instagram and on YouTube), I thought we should go over a concept you might remember from Home Economics—menu planning. Because thanks to COVID-19, home-cooked meals have made quite a fashionable comeback.
Meal planning 101
Usually, my cooking shows involve very few steps—and I like to use one-pot cooking methods whenever I can. I deliberately focus on these strategies to prove two very important points…
First that you can make a delicious, home-cooked meal using simple ingredients. (This also allows you to know and carefully select every ingredient that goes into your meal.) And second, that you can do it in less time—and with less money—than it takes to go to a drive through or to call in takeout.
But even these points can get lost if you’re scrambling to figure out what to make. Which is why planning ahead is the secret to success in the kitchen.
Keep it simple and seasonal
This process doesn’t have to be complicated.
I set aside time every weekend to think about the week ahead, and what will pair well with the food I already have or want to have.
If you’re in the mood to try something new, all you have to do is browse through recipes on-line (that’s what I do), get a cooking app, or buy my A-List Diet book with menus and hundreds of recipes already included. (Or watch one of my cooking demos and plan from there!)
All of this information is at your fingertips now—and there’s no reason not to take advantage.
But remember to keep it simple, too. I only plan a week at a time, since vegetables can go bad so quickly. I also consider which nights I will have more time than others, and what foods are seasonal.
In other words… be realistic. Don’t plan on four-course dinners every night, because that just ain’t gonna happen.
Once I’ve got a general plan of what I’ll be eating for the week, I make a list of the ingredients I need.
With menu planning, you know exactly what you’re going to buy when you set out to shop. Making a list keeps you moving through the store more efficiently, and this will lead to less impulse purchases.
And yes, this applies to whether you shop in person or on-line. But if you still shop in person, meal planning will also save you unnecessary trips out. (And considering our current pandemic conditions, that can only be a good thing.)
For me, before the pandemic, I would head to the marker after making my weekly shopping list. But now, all of my shopping happens online—which, I must admit, I enjoy. I order my proteins in bulk from a farm that is entirely pastured, grass-fed and -finished. Then I order the accompaniments to make the meal from an online grocer.
And—voila—within a an hour or so, you’ve got everything you need for a week of healthy, delicious meals, ready to go.
One more tip to make meal planning a success: be flexible. You might not feel like eating the meal you planned for Wednesday by the time it rolls around. It’s okay to swap things out—switch up proteins and vegetables, add some cheese to a dish, or whip up an omelet for dinner. Soups and stir-fries are also great ways to throw together a meal with almost anything you may have in the house. Planning ahead—and having all the necessary ingredients on hand—will give you plenty to choose from if you do change your mind.
Is home-cooking glamorous? No, not particularly.
But it’s certainly more nutritious than what you’d be ordering out or picking up to-go—not to mention cheaper, too. And during a time when people are still fearing for their lives and their jobs, I could hardly think of a smarter habit to adopt amidst the chaos.