Your essential guide to healthy meal planning

Your essential guide to healthy meal planning

A great way to boost your health is to spend a bit of time planning out delicious, healthy meals for the week ahead. Sounds simple and obvious but how often do you get back from the supermarket and find you only have the ingredients for one meal?! The tips below will help you to save time, money and take the stress out of mealtimes.

1. Plan in advance

Ideally, try to find 30 minutes at the end of the week to plan out the meals for the following week. Gather together your favourite cookery books and pick out meals that will fit in with your weeks’ activities. If you’re going to be late home for some of the evenings, why not try some of the following tips:

• Cook a double portion on days when you have more time so that you can simply re-heat the following evening.
• Once you’re in your stride with meal planning, you can cook extra portions for your freezer, so you’ll have nutritious ready meals to defrost for busy days
• Or if you buy prepared food, you can upgrade it by adding a side of extra vegetables that take less than 5 minutes to prepare, such as steamed spinach or steamed/boiled green beans.

For weeks when you have more time, it’s worth trying out a new recipe using ingredients you don’t use very often.

2. Make sure your meals are varied

Making out a list of meals is a great way to make sure you get plenty of variety. Have a look at your meal plan:

• Do you have at least 3 portions of vegetables and 2 of fruit per day? Are these a range of different colours?
• For fish eaters, do you have 2 portions of fish, including at least one meal with oily fish? (If you don’t eat fish, see my blog on plant-based diets)
• Are you including enough fibre? According to the latest research 9 out of 10 of us are not eating the recommended 30g of fibre per day. Try to include wholegrains, lentils, pulses (such as chick peas) and fruit, such as apples and pears.

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3. Keep your store cupboards and freezer well stocked

This is a real time saver. Healthy eating is a lot easier if you have well-stocked kitchen cupboards! Here is a list of some of my standard supplies.

For the freezer, I like to keep bags of frozen berries, edamame (soya) beans and prawns, as well as extra portions of soups, stews and curries.

Check your cupboards and freezer before you go shopping to see if you need to replace any key staples.

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4. Organise your shopping list

Writing a list is a great time saver – if you have a meal plan you’ll be able to get all or most of your food for the week. This way you should find you don’t need any last-minute dashes to grab something (possibly not so healthy) when you’ve run out of meals. It’s a good idea to split out the fruit and veg in a separate column – it means you can see at a glance if you’ve got plenty of variety for the week.

Of course, you don’t have to stick rigidly to your list. You might find some great seasonal fruit or veg that you can swap round with your shopping list items.

5. Prepping

You’ll reap the rewards if you can spend a small amount of time prepping ahead! Everything from breakfast to dinner can be partly made in advance.

• For breakfast, see my overnight oats and beetroot breakfast muffins in my free breakfast recipe ebook.
• For weekday lunches when I was working in an office I liked to cook some brown rice or quinoa the night before, leave to cool and store in the fridge in a lunch box with a variety of chopped vegetables and a pulse such as kidney beans or chick peas. I’d take a small pot of olive oil to pour over the salad at lunchtime (if you do this the night before, the salad becomes soggy and not so appetising!).
• A lovely meal to prep for dinner is a tray bake – you can chop all the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, red onions, tomatoes and courgettes, the night before and store in the fridge ready to be tipped into your baking tray the following evening.

Hopefully these tips will help you to eat more healthily and will make mealtimes more relaxed. The key here is to start at your own pace. Pick out the tips that work for you and soon you’ll only be asking ‘what’s for dinner?’ once a week.

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