Healthy Meal Planning for the Whole Family
Although menu and meal planning might sound a little boring, it can well and truly revolutionise your family’s nutritional health, not to mention your mental sanity too. Taking 10 minutes a week to plan ahead, whether a scribble on the back of an envelope or a structured excel sheet, will lessen the 5pm “What’s for dinner?” burden, and go a long way to making the diabetes management journey a smooth transition for the entire family.
Here are our top five tips to live by, for efficient and hassle-free meal planning for you and your family, no matter how big or small:
Plan five dinners a week
To simplify the process, plan five dinners a week as the base menu. The reason for this is three fold – it allows for leftovers, social occasions and the fact something always changes.
Sticking with five days instead of seven offers a little more flexibility and the opportunity to buy something different which is in season or on special, or to dally in the fresh food markets and just eat cheese and dip for dinner. And of course, it allows for every mum’s saviour: leftovers!
Plan a nutritionally balanced week
A great benefit of menu planning is that you can ensure the whole family gets a nutritionally balanced weekly diet. If you follow a regular omnivore diet, it is easy to allocate each night to a particular protein base. Focusing the days like this also provides guidance on recipe choice. You can then also buy meat proteins in bulk and keep them in the freezer for the following week.
Our recommendation is to regularly plan:
- One red meat based meal for vitamin B12 and iron intake
- One poultry or white meat based meal which packs a protein punch
- One fish or seafood based meal for omega 3 fatty acid intake
- Two vegetarian plant protein based meals for the amazing benefits of vegetables!
According to recent research, only 6.8% of the Australian population are getting their recommended daily intake of vegetables (ABS 2014). To help with upping your family’s intake of veggies, when planning the menu aim to fill half of your plates with either salad or cooked vegetables for both lunch and dinner. Even if you don’t prepare the meals for the week exactly as you intended, by doing so, you’ll have the veggies in the kitchen waiting to be eaten (and a great way to satisfy little appetites with healthy snacks between meals).
Pantry and freezer staples
This is as much a money saving tip as a sanity menu planning tip. By keeping your pantry and freezer well stocked with staples, you can reduce you weekly shop requirements and cost.
How does it reduce the cost? Buy non perishable items in bulk and when on sale like canned fish, dried legumes, spices, flours, seeds, nuts, canned tomatoes, frozen peas, frozen vegetables and frozen seafood.
Dried, canned and especially frozen food does not necessarily mean reduced nutritional quality either. Keep an eye on the sodium content and artificial ingredients which are used to preserve and compensate for flavour and colour loss during processing. There are some good options out there, just read the labels and look for ingredients which sound like edible substances.
Sunday prep session
This point should actually be number one given how beneficial it is to setting the week up for nutritional success! When planning the menu each week, we suggest choosing two meals to prepare on Sunday – those which may take a little longer to cook in the kitchen, but are perfect for bulk cooking, lunches and of course, plenty of leftovers!
Some of our favourite suggestions (for ease and great taste!) include: healthy bolognese sauce, beef casseroles, roast chicken (for sandwiches, wraps or nachos), roast beef (for salads), roasted vegetables (for legume and fetta salads), risottos, veggie lasagne and soups in the warmer months (great for cleaning out the veggie crisper).
Consider also baking a few sweet or savoury treats for lunchboxes and freeze half so you aren’t tempted to eat them all at once. It will also enable you to rotate them through the week with last week’s baking effort.
Take a list
Sounds obvious, but it can significantly reduce the stress of your weekly shop so be sure to take the shopping list from your menu plan to the shops.
If you don’t have your list you will buy too many veggies, too much fruit and random other non-essentials (or tempting treats!). For ease, consider keeping your shopping list in your emails or the notes section on your phone so you can always access it easily.
Healthy family eating doesn’t have to be a bore or a chore. Simply follow these easy and time efficient steps to planning out your weekly meals and you’ll be on the path to healthier – and more cost efficient – eating in no time. Good luck!