Meal Planning

Meal Planning & Preparation

Probably one of the most common excuses I hear for not eating the way an individual wants to is the planning and preparation involved in a meal. America’s emphasis on self worth founded in “busyness” and focus on wealth leaves little time for proper dining. The absence of this value contributes to far more disparity in our country than the obesity rate. Can this breakdown be linked to the demise of family units, increased crime rates, sky-rocketing health care costs? One thing is certain, meal planning and preparation seems to have become an elusive art reserved for ladies of leisure or grandmothers. This page will walk you through meal planning and preparation from getting foods at the store to getting them on the table.

At the Store:

In the Pantry:

One of the key reason people claim they do not prepare meals at home is because they don’t have anything to cook. So they often find themselves just picking something up on the way home. Always keep staples in the pantry so that you are without excuse for something to make for dinner even when you haven’t had time to go to the store. Organize your panty as well so that you can find things quickly and inventory can easily be accounted for. Here is a list of things to keep stashed:

Low sodium chicken/veggie broth
Black beans, Garbanzo beans
Canned diced tomatoes
Bread crumbs
Peanut butter
Brown rice
Cous cous
Can evaporated skim milk
A jar of no sugar added applesauce
Can salmon
Microwave popcorn
Spelt flour (or whole wheat flour)
Sugar (or sugar substitute)
Baking soda and powder
Condiments: Seasoned Rice Wine Vinegar, Sesame Olive oil, Pan release, Cinnamon, Italians Seasoning, Reduced Sodium Soy Sauce, Apple Cider Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar

In the Fridge and Freezer:

In addition to non-perishables, keeping staples in the fridge or freezer is also key to always being prepared. The freezer is your friend. Next fresh, frozen is the best! If you are so fortunate to have a separate deep freezer, you can really keep meals or ingredients available. Below is list of things to keep on hand in your freezer or fridge:

Frozen whole grain waffles, such as Kashi
Frozen shelled edamame beans
At least 3 bags or frozen veggies
2 bags of frozen berries
Lean meat (fish, buffalo medallions, chicken breast) or tofu/tempeh
1 loaf whole wheat bread
Minced garlic
A low fat vinaigrette, such as Newman’s Own Light Sesame Ginger
Reduce fat cheese (Feta, mozzarella, etc.)
A carton of egg substitute or egg whites


• Cook in bulk on the weekend or when you have time and freeze food for later.
• Never thaw anything on the counter. Instead slow thaw items in the fridge a day in advance.
• Don’t thaw and refreeze items. If you only want to use part of an item, separate the item into desired portions prior to initially freezing it. If you must thaw more than you desire, cook the portion you don’t plan to use. Then you can re-freeze it cooked, which is safe.
• Most left-overs will keep 3-5 days in the fridge and can be eaten as lunches or dinners later in the week.

In the Kitchen:

For some this is the joy of it all and for others the agony. Meal planning and preparation in the kitchen may take as little as 10 minutes and as much as days. If you spend time ahead of beginning the process in the kitchen to think through all the necessary steps, you may just find you require less time and the process may become more joyful. Below you will find guidance for what steps you should think through and prepare for while in the kitchen.

• Collect all the items you plan to use while preparing your meal: recipe, cookery and utensils need for prep, all ingredients. Set them to the side of your work area in easy reach for quick utilization.
• Learn what flavors and foods are typical of various cuisines (Italian, Mexican, Caribbean, French, Greek, Thai, etc.). Then plan your weekly menu by cuisine. This will also help prevent you from getting in the rut of eating the same thing regularly. Variety is one of the keys to good nutrition.
• Try to plan your menu with only one item that requires much preparation. For instance, if your menu is poached salmon, steamed asparagus, mustard sauce, roasted new potatoes, the only item that requires much prep work is the roasted potatoes. If you have thought through your menu ahead of time, then you know the most efficient sequence to prepare your dishes. The oven should be preheated while you cut the potatoes, then season the potatoes, and place them in the oven. While they roast you can then prepare your mustard sauce. Then boil your water for the salmon. Cut the ends from your asparagus, season it, and place in steaming container. The salmon and asparagus can cut at the same time and should be finished the same time the potatoes are finished.
• Keep a computer or your cookbooks in the kitchen for easy reference while cooking.
• Have a list of substitutions handy, such as this one ( , in case you need a quick change of ingredients to complete your recipe.
• Part of meal planning and preparation in the kitchen is clean up. Attempt to clean as you go so that little work is left when you complete your meal.

On the Table:

Many people don’t even eat at their table any more. Like treadmills that have become coat hangers in the corner of the house, many kitchen or dining room tables are seldom used and exist more for the idea behind it rather than the function. For those that do utilize their table to eat meals, this section will remind you that meal planning and preparation does not end in the kitchen. When the food finally makes it to the table, it does culminate the finality. It should generate great satisfaction from a job well done with meal planning and preparation.

• Have at least 3 different colors represented in the meal.
• Always have a lean protein, 2 fruits or vegetables, and a starch combination present
• Think about varying temperature and texture. For instance, don’t serve 3 mixtures or casseroles together. Instead try something varied like: grilled lean meat, steamed veggie, cold fruit salad, and mini muffins.
• Presentation is everything! Experiment with cutting produce in new ways (julienned, triangles, crinkle sliced) and you may be surprised by a picky eaters new interest. Use garnishes that are quick and easy. For instance, place a lettuce leaf beneath a fruit salad cup as accent. Squeeze wasabi sauce in a zig zag pattern along ¼ of the plate and place your tuna at the edge. Stack your foods with the starch on bottom, lean protein in the middle, and veggies spilled over the top. Use dishes that compliment your art work (food creation).