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Studies have shown that only about half of Americans prepare their own meals at least 3 nights a week and parents report meal planning to be one of the top 3 sources of stress in their lives. When we know that preparing food at home and eating together with others are both independently significant markers of health and can both reduce risk of chronic disease, these statistics are startling. No matter what health concerns you may have, from maintenance to prevention, eating minimally processed foods at home is one of the best things you can do to reduce your health risks. And while every single person and household is different with their own unique needs, there are a few key tricks of the trade to get you moving in the right direction on your meal planning journey:

  1. Start paying attention to the ingredients on labels more than the numbers. Grams of carbs and sugars and fats don’t mean a whole lot unless you are on a VERY strict eating pattern, and most of those numbers can be tweaked with portion sizes. So read the ingredients instead. As a good rule of thumb, if the ingredients read like a recipe and you can easily find all of those items in a grocery store, it’s likely an ok product. If the ingredient list looks more like a science experiment, set it down and look for another product.
  2. Remember Your Macros. You do not need to count macro grams but you do need to be able to identify the following main sources of energy in every main meal you eat: Protein, Fiber, Fat. Get used to identifying them so your brain learns what balance means.
  3. Take advantage of prepared produce & grains. Especially if you are newer to meal planning and cooking, the act of chopping up bell pepper and onion AND cooking up rice for a stir fry can seem like too much. Buy those veggies already chopped and find a bag of instant rice (again reading those ingredient labels) and help yourself out! The freezer section is a great place for these items too!
  4. Use the Meal Theme Method. Plan your week ahead using themes such as BBQ Monday, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Wednesday, Tofu Thursday, Breakfast for Dinner Friday. Come up with 4-5 themes of flavors or ingredients you like, then come up with 3-5 ways of preparing those meals so you can rotate through them each week without getting bored. Some examples:
    1. BBQ Monday:
      1. Grilled BBQ sauce chicken with grilled zucchini & grilled corn
      2. Grilled flank steak with pesto sauce & grilled veggie salad
    2. Taco Tuesday:
      1. Slow cooker carnitas + fajita veggies + guac and corn tortillas
      2. Black bean & chicken taco salad
    3. Pasta Wednesday:
      1. Spaghetti using chickpea pasta + meatballs & a salad
      2. Pesto penne + baked salmon & broccoli
    4. Tofu Thursday:
      1. Tofu stir fry over jasmine rice
      2. Crispy tofu Buddha bowls
    5. Breakfast for Dinner Friday:
      1. Veggie Frittata + salad & fruit
      2. Lox & bagels with roasted veggies

Write your themes down using our Meal Themes Worksheet and simply plug and play with your weekly meal plan, adding more recipe or theme ideas over time as you find more meals you enjoy and can easily prepare. If you live with others, involve them too and have some fun!