Getting ready for the "busy" season

Well, it's that time of year where we find ourselves running from one event to another, cramming errands, work and family time in. The first thing that seems to suffer it how we take care of ourselves during this time. Here is another fantastic blog post from my good friend Dr. Laura Nurse and her take on how to tackle one of these issues....meal planning. Enjoy ­čśŐ

Who doesn't know that frustrated impatient feeling you get as you stare into the fridge at 5pm when you are tired after a full non-stop day and have no idea what to make yourself to eat. Let's call it “hangry”; when you are angry because you are hungry. Like stumbling in the home-stretch of a race, it's this exact feeling that has ruined many a day of healthy eating. Meal planning is my real trick for making the finish line and the end of a long day so much easier. Read on for my "how-to" instructions...
Learning To Meal Plan

When I lived with my Mum, healthy eating was so much more enjoyable. I just showed up and followed her instructions. Sometimes I got away with just setting the table, other times, we made the whole meal together. She was always so good about ensuring we had fresh whole foods meals most of the time. I'm positive my robust health and immune system is a direct result of this commitment to wholesome home-made meals during my childhood and formative years. (Thanks Mum!)

When I moved out on my own, however, the learning curve was steep. At first, I reveled in grocery shopping, but quickly discovered that only buying your favorite foods doesn't amount to a well balanced meal. Neither did I have the skill nor time to spend in the kitchen during those early days. Despite my good intentions, I must admit there was a lot of wastage as the fresh produce wilted away while I ate quick, no-fail “meals” like toast at the end of a long day until I learned a better way.

It took a few times to get the hang of it, and still remains a chore, but in all honesty it is the one household chore that I do once and benefit from all week long. Saturday mornings, with my coffee and cookbooks in hand, I have a seat at the kitchen table and sketch out my healthy meal plan for the week. Humour me and try it just once, you'll see.

8 Steps To A Making A Meal Plan
1) Gather your tools:
  • Create a weekly schedule template for meals or use a diet diary form like thisto get started. (Before I had this template, I used a weekly schedule pad for students from the dollar store.)
  • Local Grocery Flyers.
  • Your calendar/agenda for the week.Cookbooks, recipes, or just have google handy.
2) Write in any major social events, dinners out, or other activities on the schedule that will affect your meals this week.

3) Next, if you are into cost savings (and who isn't?), take a look in your pantry, fridge, freezer, etc. and make a short list of the foods that your want to eat up this week. Maybe there's a can of something you've been meaning to make something with? An overstock of say spinach that will turn bad within the next day or so? I find it handy to write these things down in the “eat up” side bar for reference.

4) Now, answer how and when will you eat those ingredients, by picking a recipe and scheduling it. Plan a family fave or flip through some recipes if you need inspiration. Think about when you have time to do the cooking required, then pick a meal, and write it in on the form. As you schedule each meal, build your shopping list with any required ingredients that you don't already have on hand.
  • TIP: You can't eat it up if its already gone yucky, right? Schedule the “eat up” meals sooner in the week, rather than later to eliminate food wastage. 
5) Once “eat ups” are out of the way, consider your breakfasts. What will you eat each morning for the next week? Fill those meals in and write down any thing you need on your shopping list.

6) Then move to planning the remainder of your suppers. Thoughtfully planning around any events/activities will make your life much easier! This is a great way to get the whole family involved – if you are the main cook and know you'll be busy, bestow the cooking responsibilities to another family member to help out, and put their name by the meal so they know. (I find they quickly learn to reference it as you make it part of the household routine.)
  • TIP: If I am making something like a soup or sauce or anything that can be easily frozen, I will plan to do a big batch. That way you can have healthy, busy-life friendly freezer meals ready to go for when things get busy. Oh... and I just loooove my slow cooker for weeknight meals when you come home from a long day at work.
7) Last, plan your lunches. Especially on work days, we rely on left-overs, soups, salads, or sandwiches for quick and convenient mid-day meals. Sometimes, we just plan to eat out too. I've found this scheduled “break” keeps spending on convenience meals in check beautifully!

8) Post schedule on fridge and then finish your coffee in triumphant peace, while you contemplate who you are going to make do the groceries this week.

Last Tips

Depending on how busy life is on any given week, your well-laid plans are not always destined to be executed perfectly. And that's just fine. It takes some experience to get the serving sizes for new recipes right. Sometimes someone goes for seconds when you were planning left overs for lunch tomorrow. Events and obligations come up that sometimes cause me to switch days around. It really helps to be flexible about your plan and plan and to adapt it as needed. Finally, hang onto them! I have found it time-saving to keep old meal plans and re-use them.


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