Every new year’s day brings a new round of resolutions that are often abandoned within weeks of the new year. Usually they relate to things we will give up or a diet plan to make a radical change in our lives: giving up sugar, giving up alcohol, radical reductions in calorie intakes But how about instead you think about making one small change that will make a difference to your diet and lifestyle without any radical form of abstinence? Here it is: meal planning.
Ok, so we run a meal planning business and we are going to say that, right? But here’s the deal: planning your eating is one of the most consistent messages across all diets, lifestyle changes, health kicks, ways of life. Every dietitian, no matter whether they are of the no-diet approach or pro-diet approach, will say being prepared and having food in your house to cook your own meals is key. Michael Pollan, US food writer, talk about home cooking as the differentiator between societies with low rates of obesity and those which don’t cook at home much with high rates of obesity. If you plan your meals and have the ingredients at home, it is so much easier to make a meal from scratch.
Making the switch from meal panicking to meal planning is not too hard. This one simple change doesn’t require too much effort to achieve. It only requires about 10 minutes a week, a few pieces of paper (or a great app) and a commitment to food shopping once a week.
It can even save you a considerable amount of money, as you don’t make short-term takeaway decisions or rush to the shops at the last minute for expensive, processed ingredients. You cook from scratch and know what you are eating. And that is a plus for the environment too, as we can radically reduce the amount of food wastage per household.
And the great thing about becoming an active meal planner is that it can incorporate any form of change you choose to adopt: quitting sugar, reducing calorie intake, going alcohol free, cutting down your food bills. If you know what you are going to eat during the week and have the food on hand, it is easy to make any change to the way you eat.
Lots of meal planning revolves around the notion that you cook 7 dinners, 7 breakfasts and 7 lunches at home each week, which isn’t for everyone. Our 2014 survey of Australian families revealed most people cook 5–6 dinners at home each week, with the other 1–2 meals being either eating out, takeaway or leftovers. That’s why the PlanBuyCook meal planning app was built to reflect real life: so you plan for those meals you know you won’t be cooking as well as those you are.
Making your food shopping more efficient is also important, so having a comprehensive shopping list after you have planned your meals is key to achieving lifestyle change. Avoiding multiple trips to the supermarket saves time, money and poor food choices. In 2019, I am going to plan for two weeks at a time (but still shop weekly), so that I am thinking over a longer period to avoid too much repetition of meals or core ingredients.
As for me, here are some changes for 2019 to our household eating.
I think about our kids and their diet, and realise that we almost never achieve five serves of vegetables a day. In the survey noted above, the only kids who were getting 5 serves of veggies a day were the children of vegetarian households. I am not worried about the two serves of fruit, as my kids rarely have even one serve of fruit a day so are not eating excessive amounts of sugar. So the key here is to get some more vegetables in at breakfast and lunch to reduce the pressure on dinner time. Scrambled eggs are on the menu pretty much daily in our household, so adding some wilted spinach or smashed avocado to them is a great start to the morning. Incorporating one to two serves in the lunchbox will also greatly reduce the pressure on the vegetables at the evening meal, or offering veggies with dip as an afternoon snack will also make the pressure on dinner vegetables lower.
Now that my kids are getting a little older, it is also time they learn some basic cooking skills to help with the workload at home. So in 2019 I am going to use the great know-how I have gleaned from Jen to build basic cooking skills in my kids (and husband!). Two of my kids are now in high school, so it is also a great time to get them to make a family meal each week. This is an idea which I am borrowing from other friends, and will give them great life skills for when they leave home. Preparing our children by teaching them good basics like how to chop onions, how to peel garlic and dice carrots will also be a great preparation for them starting to cook meals in the next few years. My third child year old can work on basic knife skills and cooking basics such as pancakes as his first steps.
So that’s it: an achievable plan that you can either read about with interest or appropriate any as you wish. I hope it makes for a calm 2019 that will set us up.
So in 2019 here is my plan to do to keep the family’s cooking and eating on track:
- plan meals fortnightly
- only shop once a week
- cook meals from scratch using identifiable, real food
- aim to consistently offer 4–5 serves of vegetables daily for the kids
- only cook with natural oils or butter
- keep sugar intake low (one serve of fruit a day)
- teach my kids basic cooking skills, like knife skills etc.
- get my teenagers to cook one family meal each week.
Gaby is the co-founder of PlanBuyCook meal planning app, available for iPhone and iPad. You can add your own recipes or choose from 130 provided recipes. The app automatically aggregates all your chosen ingredients into a smart shopping list you can tick off in the supermarket.