What’s for Dinner?

Use a meal planner to nix the stress and up the health factor

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The average person eats breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, which totals 21 meals.  We spend approximately 630 minutes per week eating, or the equivalent of 10.5 hours.  So why is an enjoyable task such as noshing on grub, an admittedly substantial portion of our week, often brushed aside to the last minute? 

Many of us don’t always take the time to properly plan ahead -- for anything, really, but especially in terms of meals.  Due to our lack of planning, dinners are often handed out of drive thru windows in greasy, brown paper bags, or lunches consist of a hot dog snatched from the corner street vendor between errands.

Believe it or not, there’s a solution to skipping the fast food lines and therefore a method to cinching your waist.  The answer involves a weekly chart, or a meal plan, to organize for each meal, day by day. 

Organization blogs like the unclutterer offer blank, downloadable charts for the purpose of meal planning.  Fill in the blanks for what you want to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you’ve got the basics covered.  There’s even room for snacks and reminders by the meals should you need to notate if any dish needs day-before preparation.  You don’t have to create anything fancy, either.  A simple, handwritten list on a piece of scrap paper serves the same purpose.

Meal planning is effective in that you’re forced to evaluate what ingredients compose each dish.  You’re saving time and avoiding frenetically searching for what’s in the fridge.  Not only is scavenging for the next meal stressful, but it’s unhealthy, too.  You’re more apt to eat what’s sitting on the kitchen counter (think, Saturday night’s pizza for Monday’s breakfast, lunch and dinner).

The initial time spent shopping, planning and prepping for a week’s worth of meals will save tremendous amounts of time as well.  Forget meandering up and down the aisles of the market during the next food store outing.  Instead, spend 10 minutes writing a shopping list and you’ll, in turn, save 20 by knowing what you want, and then getting in and getting out.  Nix those last-minute runs to the grocery store because you forgot that there weren’t any frozen chicken breasts left in the freezer. 

Additionally, you’ll be cutting back on calories when planning ahead.  Say you plan to pack a salad for Monday’s lunch.  Put thought into the preparation of the salad, and don’t just toss in brown, soggy lettuce from a bagged lettuce mix.  Instead, use fresh ingredients like baby spinach and mix it with the likes of chickpeas, sprouts, sliced mushrooms and peppers.  It’ll be easier to stick to a diet, because you won’t be dreading that same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.  You’ll also be less tempted to join your coworkers on their weekly Friday outing for burgers and fries. 

Planning out meals allows you to make use of leftovers, too. Cook double the amount of brown rice for Tuesday’s dinner when serving it up with steamed veggies and grilled chicken.  Then, save half of that rice for Thursday’s dinner to make burritos.  Mix the rice with some beans, peppers, grilled (lean) steak, and sprinkle in some low fat cheese before stuffing the filling into a whole grain wrap. 

Real Simple houses tons of recipes to make meal planning easier, such as the “31 Healthy Recipes” list that plans a dinner a day for one month.  So if you’re not the inspired chef, then scroll through recipe after recipe to select from an array of nutritional meals that suit your fancy.  The site also offers tips and checklists like how to stock a pantry with food essentials (so that you’re not -- again -- running out for that garlic mid-sauté). 

Here’s some food for thought:  meal planning and organized, healthy eating habits can go a long way.  The ultimate goal of meal planning is to reduce stress and to plan ahead for healthier, more enjoyable meal times.  So go on and transform 630 minutes of unhealthy and stress-riddled eating sessions to 630 minutes of relaxed, enjoyable meals.  Fill out that weekly chart, save time shopping and learn to enjoy what’s on your plate. 

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