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Meal Planning: Your Ticket to Freedom

It's 5:30 p.m. and you're heading home after a long, full day. All of a sudden your mind turns to the daily question, "What's for dinner?"

Whether it's just you or whether you're preparing a meal for a whole gang, it's not an energizing prospect to imagine planning, shopping for or cooking a meal from scratch at the end of a long day.

That's probably why the fast food businesses are booming and why our health is suffering from the effects of these "easy" foods.

If you think meal planning is an unnecessary step, or that it would create a strict regimen that you'd be trapped by, read on about how meal planning can free you from worry and improve your health and well being.

REASONS FOR MEAL PLANNING

Less time and money spent at the grocery store

When you plan your meals out a week at a time, your trips to the grocery store become much more manageable. You know exactly what you'll need and you'll be less susceptible to "impulse" buying. Sometimes, when I'm feeling REALLY efficient, I even write my list in order of where I'll find it in the grocery store. Plus, buying the ingredients to cook a meal from scratch usually costs much less than the ready-made version.

Healthier meals = healthier you and your loved ones

When you're planning ahead, you'll have much more control over what you eat, and you can consciously choose to improve the health of your meals.

Better-timed meals

If you BEGIN planning and cooking dinner when you get home, it could be quite late before you're sitting down to eat it. The closer to bedtime it is when you finish dinner, the less likely you'll have time to properly digest and for your body to absorb what you've eaten. For breakfast and lunch, having the meals planned out can help remind you to STOP and EAT them.

Variety

When we choose our meals in the moment, based on what's fast, easy and enjoyable, we tend to stick to a few standby's and don't branch out very much. Nutritionally, this leaves us lacking. We also risk getting bored with our food and looking to fast food or unhealthier options for "excitement".

HOW TO PLAN YOUR MEALS FOR THE WEEK

1. Keep some spontaneity. You could just plan one part of the meal. For instance, if you know that you always have plenty of fresh of frozen vegetables that you can choose from, then simply plan "chicken, potatoes and vegetables". Then you can still have some spontaneity in your meal.

2. When you have time, make "frozen dinners". Make a double or triple recipe; package the leftovers in single (or family-size) servings and freeze.

3. Factor in schedule changes. Maybe the night after the big meeting or the night of the soccer tournament aren't the best nights to cook a meal from scratch. Plan a quick meal, take-out or your own "frozen dinner" for those nights.

4. Aim for balance. With the week spread out before you, look for balance between heavy and light meals, vegetarian and meat-based meals, and a variety of different-coloured fruits and vegetables.

5. Plan while you're in the kitchen. That way you can easily check for the ingredients of the dishes you're planning. If they're not there, add them to your grocery list immediately.

6. Keep an active grocery list through the week. That way, when staples run out you can add them to list.

7. Grow your recipe collection. Use the Internet, the cookbooks of your friends and family, magazines, etc. and find new things to try. One new recipe a week will keep things exciting!

8. Get some expert advice. Consult a trusted source such as Canada's Food Guide, or better still get individualized meal and nutrition suggestions from a registered dietician or a holistic nutritionist.

9. Make it a team effort. If you're feeding others as well as yourself, make the planning a team effort so that everyone gets some of their favourites through the week.

10. Always follow your plan, except when you don't. There are going to be things that come up, days that you just don't feel like eating what you've planned, or days when you've forgotten to do your nightly prep. Create a list of healthy stand-by's that you can throw together with the staples in your own kitchen. If you're on the go, be prepared by having a list of healthy choices at your favourite restaurants.

A meal plan is not a rigid "diet" or set of orders. The meal plan serves you, not the other way around.

Start now with tomorrow's meals. What can you defrost or partly prepare tonight to make tomorrow's meals easier and healthier?

(c) Copyright Linda Dessau, 2005.

Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, is the author of "The Everyday Self-Care Workbook". For free resources, including your own Meal Planning Worksheet, visit http://www.genuinecoaching.com/resources.html

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