Plan Those Meals!

Lunch was predicable when I was in elementary school. As we slowly walked in line, we were served on metal sectional trays by lunch ladies in hair nets. Each item was plopped unceremoniously on the sectional tray, each item in its own place. Visualize this lunch: mashed potatoes covered with turkey gravy including a few bits of turkey pieces that swirled with the liquid. Canned corn. Room temperature applesauce. The standard bread and butter sandwich that was white bread on one side, brown on the other and a big slab of cold margarine in the middle, cut at an angle. Whole milk in a carton that was a bit warm from being taken out of of the fridge too soon. White cake with white frosting finished the meal. Appetizing? Not much. What's wrong with this picture? It was all the same color, texture and temperature. This is a perfect example of what not to do when planning a meal!

Whether you're putting together a meal for a whole family or just for you, a few basics will help you produce an appealing, healthy meal.

Planning a Satisfying, Healthy Meal:

  • Variety of colors.  Look for deep, rich colors in fruits and veggies.  This will help you get in great vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in addition to being more visually pleasing. 
  • Whole grains or starchy vegetables.  Choose at least one per meal.  Look for breads, tortillas, crackers and cereals labeled 100% whole grain, or that have "whole____" as the first ingredient on the label. Corn, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta are great choices.  Whole grain couscous, quinoa, and bulgar are some of the more unusual but quite tasty grains to investigate.
  • A little healthy fat.  A few nuts, olives, avocado, or oils such as olive, canola or safflower.
  • Balance.  Imagine dividing the plate into sections. This will help deliver a good nutritional balance in carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals:
    • 1/2 should be filled with fruits and veggies
    • 1/4 whole grains or starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, beans)
    • 1/4 protein (lean meat, chicken, fish, dried beans, lentils, nuts, soy, seeds)
  • Variety of textures. Crisp, crunchy, smooth, creamy, chewy.  All the same can mean boring and less enjoyment. My school lunch was primarily all the same texture: mush.
  • Variety of temperatures. A more satisfying meal usually includes more than one temperature. 
Plan your meals. Some like to select a menu for every meal for a week. Then, all they have to do is make what's on the menu.  I like a more flexible meal planning style:

  1. Choose 7 main meals at the start of the week, making sure to choose a few menus that require very little prep time. 
  2. Hit the grocery store. Make sure to have all the ingredients necessary to make each meal. 
  3. Pick and choose the menu that works for each day as it comes.  If I'm home early, I select a menu that requires a bit more prep time.  If the day is very busy or something comes up, I'll pick out a meal that is quick and easy.  All ingredients are on hand, so stopping at the fast food drive-thru just isn't necessary.

This week, give good meal planning a try. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some good sample menus.
As the quote goes:  if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
To your health!