During this busy time of year it can be difficult to create healthy meal plans. Running from one errand and appointment to the next can be distracting and exhausting and it is easy to turn to fast food options. However, staying healthy and being productive is largely dependent upon eating healthy meals consistently. When you are caring for yourself and serving as a primary caregiver for your family, healthy meals are often your responsibility. Here are some tips to consider as you incorporate meal planning into your schedule.
It might be hard to imagine finding time in your busy day to sit down and make a plan, but doing so will save a significant amount of time over the coming weeks and months. During a quiet moment, in the morning before everyone wakes or late in the evening when the day slows down, get out your calendar and a shopping list. Write down every meal idea, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between.
You may want to plan one week at a time at first then start planning for two weeks or more as it becomes a habit. Don’t allow yourself to be caught without a meal idea. Have a few last minute ideas – such as a frozen meal, sandwiches, or other items you can create quickly as tasks or errands fill your schedule.
Consider Your Schedule
While you are creating healthy meal plans, look carefully at your calendar and consider what you will be doing each day. Will you be at home all day on a Saturday? Will you be running errands and spending the day at appointments? Be honest about how much time you will have before each meal. Some days you will have more time to cook and some days you will have far less. Considering that reality beforehand allows you to choose healthy options, rather than relying on last minute fast food ideas.
The Muscular Dystrophy Association recommends creating meals in slow cookers or crockpots on days when you don’t have a lot of time to cook a meal. The article also explains that slow cookers allow those with certain limitations to stay involved in the kitchen. Invite your loved ones into the kitchen and work together to create healthy, substantial soups, roasts, and more.
Pick Fresh Ingredients
Planning meals ahead allows you to choose fresh, healthy ingredients. In a blog post about Healthy Choices for Caregivers, we suggest creating meals with whole, fresh foods, rather than overly processed ingredients. This includes fresh or frozen chicken or a roast rather than processed lunch meat, raw fruits and vegetables over canned options, and fresh baked, whole grain bread rather than processed carbohydrates.
Use the seasons to drive your healthy meal plans. What is being harvested around you? Which fruits and vegetables are the most ripe and fresh right now? These ingredients are not only the most fresh, they can often be the least expensive as the supply is so great. Look online for recipes that use these seasonal ingredients. Make your freezer your friend during these busy days. Chop and freeze fresh ingredients that you can use in the future.
Choose Nutrient Dense Options
As you are planning meals, consider ingredients that are rich in nutrients. To make a healthy meal you need healthy ingredients that are full of vitamins and minerals. As an article from the American Lung Association points out, you also need to consider how many calories you and your loved ones need. Your doctor can help evaluate caloric needs per day based on individual circumstances. For example, if your loved one is dealing with a limited appetite or increased nausea, choose calorie-rich foods such as whole milk. For those who need to lose or maintain weight, research ingredients that have fewer calories but are still rich in vitamins and minerals like celery, peas and carrots.
While you are planning your meals, think beyond the entrée. A couple months ago, we talked about complete meals which include condiments and side dishes. Be honest with yourself about your and your loved one’s expectations of a meal. If they aren’t going to eat it without ketchup or if you can’t imagine that roast without carrots and onions, make sure you have those on hand or on the shopping list. This will keep your healthy meal plan on track. Also don’t forget dessert. If you or your loved ones expect to finish their meal with a sweet treat, have healthy options on hand so you don’t have to turn to overly-processed goodies when a craving strikes.
Fill in the Blanks
Healthy meal plans don’t have to mean hours in the kitchen for you every day. In fact, planning ahead will free you from kitchen time on a day to day basis. No more staring into the fridge wondering what to whip together. In addition, you can prepare meals ahead and be ready for busy days when you don’t want to be in the kitchen. Double meals when you have time to cook and place the extra in the freezer.
You can add meal delivery requests to your Lotsa Community. Let your community know which days are going to be the most busy for you and your loved ones and which days you would love a meal or two. Getting everyone involved will allow you plan ahead and always have a healthy meal awaiting you.