Friday, July 30, 2010

Friday Flashback:
Plan Your Meals!

Newer readers of Meals with the McRackans may not have been exposed to the older articles, so I thought I would highlight this one from January 2009 on the benefits of meal planning. Even if your life is not so predictable that you can plan dinner every night, just planning a few meals a week can really make a difference! 

Benefits of Meal Planning:

• Healthy Mind – no more last-minute stress of what to make
• Healthy Meals – plan healthy meals and avoid last-minute unhealthy options
• Healthy Bank Account – keep your grocery budget down by not buying what you aren’t going to use

Healthy Mind

Frequently, I’ve heard complaints of the mental stress that comes on the drive home, rushing to figure out what to make for dinner. Then, just when you have it figured out, you get home to find an ingredient missing. Planning meals means you don’t have to worry anymore – just drive home, decompress from your day, and then start making dinner, never having worried about what to make.

Healthy Meals

Planning meals allows for healthier choices. Unfortunately, the easiest last-minute dinner choices are not typically healthy choices. Pizza, mac and cheese, hot dogs, pre-packaged meals, frozen dinners, and take-out are easy as can be … and they will work against your weight loss plans!

You don’t have to become a chef – many healthy meals are easy to make, too. It’s really about making small changes, choosing healthier options. And having a plan enables these choices, because you’re not pressed at the last minute. Steam, broil, or bake your foods – don’t fry. Use fresh ingredients. Choose lean meat. Drain off the fat. Opt for light dressing instead of regular. But most importantly, have a plan. Take the time to choose healthy meals for the week, then stick to that plan.

Healthy Bank Account

You’ve probably heard it said, “Never go to the grocery store hungry.” Well, I’ll add another rule, “Never go to the grocery store without a plan.” We’ve all been there – slimy, scary produce in the refrigerator, bought and never used. Or meat defrosted and then forgotten. Deli meat/cheese you never used up before it went bad. If you plan your meals, these kinds of events will happen less, guaranteed.

Maybe you already use a grocery list – good for you! That’s a great step to take. Just be sure what’s on the list is really what you’ll need – and then stick to it. Don’t purchase perishable items that aren’t part of the plan. And don’t purchase unhealthy snacks! This will help you toward a healthier body and a healthier account balance.

Another Benefit of Planning

Have you ever had a recipe call for just one tablespoon of tomato paste, just a bit of cream, a single stalk of celery, or just a portion of any fresh vegetable? What do you do with the rest of it? Some items can be frozen for future use, but not all. When you make your menu plan, you can plan multiple meals using that same ingredient so none goes to waste.

What if my Plans Change?

If you frequently have to change your plans, causing you to not have dinner at home, be sure to plan at least one meal per week that can drop off the menu without repercussions.

For example, have a pasta meal planned at least one night per week. I think the easiest “droppable” meal is pasta; the unused dry pasta & jar/can of sauce will keep for another week just fine. What about the meat? Well, hopefully you'll know the night before not to take it out of the freezer. If it's still fresh, just go ahead and freeze it. 

Need Ideas?

There’s many websites dedicated to helping you find new recipes. My own site,, has a category for “easily removed from the menu” as well as for "easy," “healthy,” and many other categories of recipes. Feel free to add your own recipes to the site, too!

If you have meal-planning advice to share, just leave a comment so others may benefit from your experience.

This article was originally posted January 30, 2009. 


hsico said...

I haven't done much of this yet. But freezing meals for later is a great way to still have a healthy homemade meal when you just don't have the time to cook in the kitchen. You just have to remember to take it out to defrost.

Jessica-do you know of any more recipes which lend them to freezing well? I saw you had 2 listed.

Jessica McRackan said...

I froze a lot of meals in preparation for the birth of my daughter. This earlier post explains what I did. The enchiladas and chicken tetrazzini worked out particularly well.