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Meal Planning for Busy People | Nutrition Month

March is Nutrition Month, the perfect time to focus on healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices! Throughout the month of March, we’ve partnering with Vitality Nutrition‘s Registered Dietitian Courtney Berg to share her best tips to help you improve your overall diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Click here to meet Courtney.

Meal planning is a fantastic strategy for busy individuals looking to save time and maintain a nutritious diet. Consider twelve dietitian-approved tips to make dinner preparation efficient and effective.

Start with a plan

Take time to plan out your meals. Some choose to plan dinners for the entire week whereas others find it more manageable to plan the night before or up to three days in advance! A menu plan will help you consistently follow through with your personal nutrition goals while saving time and stress in the kitchen.

Assess your schedule

Review your weekly schedule including work commitments, social events, and any other engagements that might affect meal times or available cooking time. Determine the best time to schedule grocery shopping and meal preparation. For example:

  • Is there a day that is best suited to grocery shop or meal prep?
  • Is there a busy night of the week where you should plan to eat leftovers or a quick meal?
  • Is there a night of the week where you have more time to experiment with a new recipe?

Dedicating time to grocery shopping and meal preparation will help you execute your menu plan with greater ease.

Take inventory

Take a look at what you have available in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Are there ingredients that need to be utilized in the upcoming menu plan? By utilizing what you already have in your kitchen you can reduce food waste and save money!

Use theme nights

Assign a dinner theme to a day of the week to provide a framework for your menu plan and reduce the number of days in the week to plan for. For example, “Meatless Monday”, “Taco Tuesday,” or “Pizza Friday.” This can provide structure to your meal planning while still allowing for flexibility in the specific recipes you choose.

Create balanced meals with each food group

Balancing your meals with each food group is an important consideration to optimize your menu plan. When choosing your recipe or dinner ideas, consider each food group to select meals that contain a mixture of ingredients across each category.

  • Protein: sourced from meat, poultry, fish, dairy (eg. Greek yogurt and cottage cheese), and plant-based proteins (eg. tofu, tempeh, beans, and lentils)
  • Carbohydrates: sourced from starches (eg. potatoes, corn, plantain), beans and lentils, whole grains (eg. quinoa, barley, rice, oats, breads, pasta, tortillas), and fruits.
  • Fats: sourced from nuts and seeds, cheese, avocado, coconut milk, olives and cooking fats such as olive oil, avocado oil, or butter.
  • Vegetables & Fruits: frozen, fresh, and canned are all options when selecting vegetables and fruits for your meals.

Keep it simple

t’s fun to experiment with new recipes, however, simple meals are often best when it comes to meal planning for busy people. Choose recipes that are quick to prepare, are familiar to you, or require minimal ingredients. Some ideas include:

  • Try a one-pot meal like a chili
  • Make a sheet-pan dinner like chicken fajitas
  • Stick to a family favorite like tacos
  • Prepare a simple meal that contains an ingredient from each food group such as grilled chicken or fish with roasted potatoes and a side-salad.

Cook once, eat twice

Prepare a double batch of supper to enjoy for leftovers the next day. Batch prepping is a time-saving strategy that can simplify your meal planning efforts and reduce time spent in the kitchen. Here are some tips to make the most of this approach:

  • Choose meals that reheat well: Choose recipes that taste just as good (or better) when reheated the next day. Dishes like soups, stews, casseroles, pasta bakes, and curries often improve in flavor when reheated!
  • Use leftovers creatively: Get creative with how you use leftovers to create new dishes. Leftover roasted vegetables can be added to salads, leftover ground beef from taco night can be turned into taco salad, or extra cooked chicken can be shredded and used in wraps, sandwiches, or bowls!
  • Freeze extras: If you end up with more leftovers than you can eat in a few days, consider freezing them for later use. Soups, stews, and chili often freeze well and can be a convenient option for busy days when you don’t have time to cook.

Create a recipe arsenal

Use a sticky-note or the notes section of your phone to compile a list of your favorite recipes. You can turn to this list of go-to meal ideas when you are menu planning or struggling to think of what to make for dinner!

Try only one new meal per week

By incorporating one new recipe per week into your meal planning, you can satisfy your craving for variety while still keeping your meal prep routine manageable and efficient. Consider these dietitian-approved tips when trying new recipes:

  • Choose simple recipes: Look for recipes that fit your skill level and don’t require too many unfamiliar ingredients or complicated cooking techniques.
  • Schedule it in: Make trying a new recipe part of your meal planning process. Choose a day of the week when you have a bit more time to experiment in the kitchen such as a weekend or a less busy evening.
  • Plan ahead: Make sure to include any new ingredients you’ll need for the recipe on your grocery list. This will prevent any last-minute scrambling to find items you don’t have on hand.
  • Prep in advance: If possible, do some of the prep work for the new recipe during your regular meal prep session. This could include chopping vegetables, marinating meat, or preparing dressings.
  • Be adventurous: Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new flavors or cuisines. You might discover a new favorite dish or ingredient that you never would have thought to try otherwise.
  • Evaluate and adapt: After trying the new recipe, take note of how it turned out and whether you and your family enjoyed it. If it was a hit, consider adding it to your regular rotation. If not, think about what you could do differently next time to improve it or whether it’s just not the right fit for your tastes.

Rely on nutritious ‘convenience’ foods to save time

By incorporating nutritious “convenience foods” into your meal plan, you can save time without sacrificing nutrition! Some nutritious convenience ingredients to consider:

  • Frozen vegetables and fruits: Frozen vegetables and fruit are often just as nutritious as fresh ones and can be a time-saver since they’re already washed, chopped, and ready to use. Add frozen veggies to soups, stir-fries, or casseroles or include frozen fruit in smoothies, yogurt parfaits, or overnight oats!
  • Canned beans: Canned beans are a convenient source of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, and other nutrients. They can be added to salads, soups, stews, wraps, and taco salad for a quick and easy meal.
  • Pre-cooked grains: Many grocery stores now sell pre-cooked grains like quinoa, brown rice, or farro that can be heated up quickly and used as a base for meals like grain bowls, salads, or stir-fries.
  • Rotisserie chicken: Rotisserie chicken is a convenient option for adding protein to meals without having to cook it yourself. You can shred the chicken and use it in salads, sandwiches, wraps, soups, or casseroles.

Invest in time-saving gadgets

Time-saving gadgets can significantly streamline your meal preparation process and make cooking more efficient. Some effective gadgets include:

  • Instant Pot or Pressure Cooker: This versatile appliance can significantly reduce cooking times for soups, pulled meats and roast, grains, and beans.
  • Slow Cooker or Crock-Pot: Slow cookers are ideal for preparing meals like stews, soups, pulled meats, and roast with minimal effort. Toss ingredients into the pot in the morning and come home to a ready-to-eat meal in the evening.
  • Air-fryer: Air fryers use hot air circulation to cook food quickly and evenly. This means you can cook foods like chicken, vegetables, and potatoes in far less time. Additionally, the air-fryer requires significantly less oil than traditional frying methods!
  • Rice Cooker: A rice cooker takes the guesswork out of cooking perfect rice every time. Some models even have a steamer basket, allowing you to cook rice and steam vegetables simultaneously.

Stay flexible

Being flexible when meal planning is key to adapting to changing schedules, preferences, and unexpected events. A flexible approach also allows you to adapt when grocery shopping by taking advantage of in-season or budget-friendly ingredients! Remember that meal planning is a tool to help you, not a rigid set of rules. Don’t be afraid to adjust and make changes as needed!

By adopting effective meal planning strategies, you can make dinner time more efficient and follow-through with your personal nutrition goals!

Meet Courtney Berg, RD, B.Sc. Nutrition

About Courtney  |  Courtney Berg is a Registered Dietitian and completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition from the University of Saskatchewan in 2016. Her approach to nutrition continues to evolve as she learns and grows with her clients at Vitality Nutrition. However, a holistic approach remains the base of her philosophy with an emphasis on understanding how nutrition as well as sleep, mindset, exercise, and the environment work together to influence whole body health.

About Vitality Nutrition  |  Vitality Nutrition is a collective of Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists supporting clients in Saskatchewan and across Canada! We incorporate a unique and meaningful approach to food, fitness, and performance that empowers clients to build life-long habits and see lasting results.