Stocking up on healthy and good tasting food is one of the first steps towards meeting your wellness goals. When hunger strikes your body will thank you for having food around the house that will nourish your body in addition to just curbing your hunger pains. Cooking at home is a great way to save money, spend time with family, and have more control over what you are putting into your body. Pick one day every week to complete your menu and grocery shopping list. If it is too time consuming to complete both in one day then plan for your menu one day, and shop the next. Begin by looking in your fridge to identify what food items you already have on hand. Are there chicken breasts in your freezer, or canned black beans in your pantry? If you can, try to use these items to help save you time and money in the grocery store.
Next, grab all of your recipe resources such as recipe books, magazines, favorite websites, or items you have pinned on Pinterest. Some of my favorite resources are Allrecipes.com, Taste of Home: Healthy Cooking Magazine and my Vegetarian Time Cookbook for satisfying meatless dishes. Then decide how many days this week you want to cook dinner. Be realistic. I usually aim for 4-5 days of cooking at home. This gives me flexibility in my schedule and makes it less likely that the food will go bad. The other days of the week we either go out or eat leftovers in the fridge. If you are currently not cooking very much, then aim for 1-2 days of cooking at first to help build your confidence and skills, then gradually build more cooking days into your week.
The next step is the fun part…choosing your recipes! Browse through your resources and begin to look for items you want to make. Be conscious of the time you have to cook and choose items that are easier, especially for weekday meals. If there is a recipe that you want to try but it takes a lot of time then make it on the weekend or make it ahead of time and save it for later that week. As you are picking out menu items try to choose recipes that contain lean proteins like fish, beans or chicken and be aware of the cooking method used. Does the recipe call for a lot of butter, cream or salt? If so can they be substituted with olive oil, low-fat milk, or salt-free seasonings? Also, remember the grocery store has items such as marinated chicken or pre-made stir fry mix that may save you time throughout the week. As you pick out recipes write down all the ingredients on a sheet of paper. When I write my list I categorize items by dairy, meat, frozen, produce and dry items such as cornstarch. This helps save time in the grocery store and reduces the risk of missing something. In addition, make sure to write down the recipes you are planning on making and where you got the recipe from so you don’t forget later that week.
Once you choose your main entrees, then pick out a vegetable and starch/whole grain you want to accompany with the meal. If your entree already contains a starch or vegetable such as Chicken Broccoli Stir Fry, then it it is not always necessary to add additional side items. However, the more vegetables the merrier. In addition to dinner entrees, what would you like to have for lunch this week? Do you think you will eat leftovers or would you like to make additional lunch items? Then think about breakfast and snacks you would like to have throughout the week. Continue to choose items high in nutrients and less in fat and sugar. Overall choose lean proteins, low-fat dairy if you drink milk products, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Developing a menu plan makes choosing healthy foods a lot easier and less daunting. You will soon realize that meal times are less stressful and you will be satisfied with the foods you are eating. Happy menu planning!