Here’s the plan: What you need to know about healthy meal planning
This story is adapted from the Fall/Winter 2018/2019 edition of Peak NV magazine, a specialty publication of the Sierra Nevada Media Group and its affiliated media organizations: Nevada Appeal, The Record-Courier, Lahontan Valley News and Northern Nevada Business View. Go here to view a digital version of the magazine.
Whether you’re still clocking in or enjoying retirement, weeks get busy and before you know it, your meals have become a constant blur of restaurants — or worse yet, sad bowls of instant oatmeal.
The solution? Proper prior planning.
Setting aside time on a Sunday afternoon to plan your meals for the week ahead will not only benefit your bank account, it will also help to make sure you’re eating a balanced, nutritious diet.
“Start with planning just dinners for the week or planning lunches for the week,” suggests Kelcie Atkin, a dietician with Renown Health Improvement Programs. “They don’t have to be elaborate. I think that’s a mistake that some people make when they’re trying to meal plan. They are trying to make a restaurant menu where they are eating something different for every meal and that gets overwhelming.”
If you’re new to meal planning, set a goal of planning and shopping for 3-4 meals, keeping in mind that leftovers can always be repurposed to liven them up.
Once you pass the 50-year mark, eating meals with a good source of protein is more important than ever, says Atkin.
“Some recent research is showing that we lose some muscle mass as we age … and the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism,” said Atkin. “We want to try to preserve that lean muscle mass, so we do recommend trying to focus on eating a little more protein than normal.”
Avoid processed meats
Lean proteins are key, so when choosing recipes, try and avoid processed meats like sausage and bacon and focus on lean proteins — fish, boneless skinless chicken breasts or pork loin, for example.
“There is also healthy protein in eggs, as well as beans,” added Atkin. “Cheese has some protein, and nuts and nut butters have good sources of protein in them, too.”
Accompany the protein in your meal plan for the week with servings of fruits, vegetables and grains, such as quinoa, barley or brown rice. The grains can also be made ahead of time and stored in Tupperware to save cooking time.
While fresh fruit and vegetables are great to stock up on for the week, frozen varieties can be cheaper and quicker to prepare.
“Frozen fruits and vegetables have just as many nutrients as fresh,” noted Atkin. “They are often more cost effective and you don’t have to worry about them spoiling.”
If you buy fresh vegetables, consider washing and cutting them before storing in the fridge. Tossing a big batch of veggies in the oven to roast at 400 degrees for the week ahead can make it less tempting to sort through the take-out menus when you’re not in the mood to spend much time cooking.
‘Keep it simple’
The recommended intake of calcium and vitamin D increases after age 50, from 1,000 mg a day to 1,200 mg and 600 IU to 800 IU, respectively.
While dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt are well-known sources of calcium, fish, kale, okra and white beans are also nutrient-rich. Salmon is chock full of both calcium and vitamin D, while some dairy products and orange juice are fortified with vitamin D.
But at the end of the day, “keep it simple,” says Atkin. “If your plan is to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that’s fine. You have a plan in place. Make a grocery list that follows that plan.”
Starting small allows you to get the hang of buying complimentary recipes that might share ingredients and cut down on costs, finding meals that support a balanced diet, and getting ahead of the game with pre-cooking and pre-chopping.
For inspiration on healthy, simple meal plans, head to ChooseMyPlate.gov and browse sample two-week menus and accompanying grocery lists.