Preparing meals at home as part of a healthy lifestyle doesn't have to be overwhelming. Strategies for meal planning, along with the right kitchen tools, can help you prepare and enjoy meals at home more frequently.

By Angela L. Murad

Do you strive to make healthy meals more often? Preparing meals is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, but it can be tough to know where to begin. Do you struggle with making a weekly meal plan? Or do you have food at home, but lack the time to make meals?

Answering these questions can help you determine your path to success in the kitchen, including planning and executing healthy meals.

I asked Healthy Living Program wellness chef Jennifer Welper to help narrow down some specific strategies for setting up a routine that makes it easier to eat more healthy meals at home.

First, consider your expectations for meal planning.

  • If you currently dine out or bring prepared food home most days of the week, begin with a realistic expectation of how often you'll make meals at home. Set a goal of cooking two main meals each week. Once you're confident in making two meals a week, gradually increase how often you cook.
  • Start with a staple food you already feel comfortable preparing as the basis for several quick meals. For example, if you prep a large batch of rice with minimal seasoning ahead of time, you could make Thai coconut rice, rice pilaf, Mexican rice, and a rice bowl with protein and vegetables. Boom!

The second strategy chef Jen recommends is having the right tools in your kitchen to help you be more efficient in creating tasty food. Here are a few of her favorite tools:

  • A large cutting board allows you to cut multiple vegetables while preparing meals. In fact, chef Jen suggests cutting the veggies that will be used for several recipes at once. Keep the cut-up vegetables or other foods in clear containers in your refrigerator to quickly assemble meals.
  • Sharp knives make quick work of chopping vegetables and other foods. Chef Jen doesn't recommend a particular brand of knives. Just make sure they're sharp!
  • A meat thermometer is essential in preventing foodborne illnesses that spread through undercooked meat. It can also help you avoid overcooking and drying out meat, especially chicken or fish.
  • High-quality, hard anodized pans are durable, won't warp, evenly distribute heat and, most importantly, are easy to clean. Keep at least two on hand in different sizes.
  • Stackable clear storage containers let you store and quickly identify cut-up foods or already-prepared meals. No more forgetting about your leftovers!

Finally, a routine of weekly meals can give you structure while allowing you flexibility with recipes. Each week you might plan a meatless option on Monday, tacos on Tuesday and fish on Friday, for example. We tend to get in a rut with meal planning, chef Jen says, or we make it more complicated than it needs to be.

To keep it simple, think of a meal as composed of at least three different food groups. Then approach meal planning with this strategy:

  • First, fill half your plate with nonstarchy vegetables, such as asparagus, beets, bell peppers or broccoli. Fresh, frozen, and low-sodium or no-added-salt canned veggies are all good options. Keep frozen vegetable blends in your freezer as an option to quickly add vegetables to your meal.
  • Next, add a lean protein source, such as chicken or turkey breast, pork tenderloin, beef tenderloin, or seafood. Beans or lentils are great vegetarian protein sources. Eggs also are a good source of protein and can be cooked in a hurry. Use different sauces for a variety of flavors. You might try barbecue sauce, marinara or fruit salsa.
  • Finally, add one of these carbohydrates: brown rice, whole-wheat couscous, oven-baked potatoes or whole-wheat tortillas.

Use these strategies not only to plan healthy meals, but also to get them on the table quickly so that you can enjoy them.

Try the following experiments at home to put these strategies into practice:

  1. Find two recipes you want to make that use similar ingredients, and prepare or chop their ingredients ahead of time.
  2. Sharpen your knives at either a local butcher or the butcher counter at the grocery store.
  3. Every other week, try one new vegetarian recipe.
Aug. 21, 2020