We’ve all been there. It gets late on a weeknight, and no one feels like cooking: enter fast food delivery. It seems easier and quicker, but it isn’t always the healthiest or cheapest way to eat.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to helping Veterans live healthier lives. Meal planning and preparation are key parts of that mission.
Without a plan, we often end up getting fast food at the last minute or buying random groceries that get tossed when they don’t get used. It costs more and is generally unhealthier than when you make a plan for the week.
No matter what your current routine is, check out these 10 tips to help you get the most out of your meals each week.
- Start small. If you are not a meal planner now, maybe just plan out your breakfasts for the week or healthy snacks you can pre-cut and prepare, like veggies and hummus or bags of nuts. Once you master the small stuff, keep going!
- Find the time to plan. Pick a timeslot when you can sit down and plan out your meals for the week. Take time to look through the fridge, freezer and cupboards to see what you already have and need to use, ask family members for ideas and look over recipes for inspiration.
- Use your calendar. What do you have going on this week? What nights need to be simple and quick? What mornings will be rushed? Use this information to determine how many meals to plan.
- Keep a list of go-to recipes handy. It’s easy to get overwhelmed so having a base to start from is helpful. Keep it on your phone or in a binder and add to it as you find new recipes.
- Use “theme nights” to help. Things like “Meatless Monday” and “Taco Tuesday” or a weekend pasta dish can help make planning easier. You can also incorporate new sides to make leftovers seem “new” again. For example, if you do a lasagna one night with a salad, use the leftovers the next day and add a fruit salad or a side of bread to make it a little different.
- Combine ingredients as you plan. If you are going to do a chicken dish one night, buy a family pack and use the extra chicken for a stir-fry later in the week. If you do a pasta sauce one night, make enough to freeze some for next week. If you buy ground beef for tacos, get a bigger pack and prepare burger patties at the same time.
- Figure out where you struggle the most. Do you end up picking food up on your way home from work? Do you tend to grab fast food for lunch? If you identify your weak spot, you can plan for it. Slow cooker meals you prep in the morning may help if you struggle at night. Pre-made breakfasts put together on Sunday nights may be helpful if your mornings are rushed.
- Set up a time for the prep work. Many people use an hour or two on the weekend to prepare for the week ahead. Make a batch of overnight oats for the week’s breakfasts. Or cut up all your meats into portions and styles you need for that week. Pre-cut the veggies or snack bags ahead of time so you’re ready to grab and go.
- Monitor your progress. Are you throwing away less food? Are you saving money by sticking to a plan? Are you getting through the week without a lot of extra trips to the store or stops at fast food places?
- Keep tweaking the plan. What’s working? What isn’t? Where do you need more help? There are so many meal planning and prepping ideas out there; take some time to find what works best for you.
Resources and Recipes to Get You Started
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is committed to helping Veterans live healthier lives. Meal planning and preparation are key parts of that mission.
Try out one or all of the recipes below to get on track with healthy eating.
Cinnamon Banana Overnight Oats – Prep this on a Sunday (it takes five minutes!) and make enough servings to have it all week.
Spinach Mozzarella Egg Bake – Prep this in 10 minutes and cut it into six portions for a healthy, protein-packed breakfast all week long.
Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas — Prep this in 10 minutes one morning and have an easy meal for a night when you know you’ll be busy. This can be done with soft shells one night and served over rice or salad the next.
Zucchini Muffins — Prep these in 15 minutes and you’ll have 12 healthy, easy-to-grab snacks for the week.
There are many more easy-to-follow recipes available on VA’s Nutrition and Food Services page. You can also find helpful videos if you’re new to cooking, as well as recipes designed with specific diets and health conditions in mind. VA also offers a weekly meal planner with ideas and recipes, as well as a blank one you can use to get started. For budget-friendly meals and ways to save, VA has several additional resources to help.
Meal planning and preparation is just one more way you can take control of your health!