The Benefits of Meal Planning

By Megan Tomaszewski

When we talk about health, we’re bombarded with conversation surrounding the Holy Grail of all lifestyle changes: eating a healthier diet. I too have had this goal, and have found myself slipping back into old patterns. Why? Because I didn’t have a real plan, just a vague ambition to throw in more fruits and vegetables while curbing back on junk food. Like any goal you’re serious about, creating long-lasting healthy eating habits is best supported by having concrete steps and ideas to guide you.

So, if this is one of your aims, there’s no better time for you to step into the world of meal prepping. While many are often intimidated by it––including myself, as a substandard cook with limited time and income––meal prepping becomes quite simple, and even exciting, when you break it down.

First off, the most obvious benefit to planning meals in advance is the nutrition factor. When creating your own dishes, you can adjust ingredient quantity and type to accommodate your own personal needs, such as using a low fat or nut milk in curry and customizing all the sugar, spice and everything nice that goes into your meal. You know exactly what’s going into your food because you’re the one making it.  This is especially great for families who may have one or more individuals facing restrictions like vegan, lactose/soy intolerance or gluten-free. Now, you can make something that everyone can happily and healthily enjoy.

Additionally, if you have, say delicious, homemade chicken fajita bowls ready to go in your fridge or freezer, you’re probably going to pass on grabbing that greasy double cheeseburger or sodium-laden Chinese takeout on the way home from work. And according to a 2017 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, increasing one’s frequent home food preparation is associated with “better adherence to dietary objectives, higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, fiber, folate and vitamin A, with lower intakes of fat in young people.”

Not only does this save your waistline, but it saves your wallet as well! You may be skeptical regarding the financial factor, though, saying to yourself, “Megan, healthy foods are SO much more expensive!” Yeah, maybe if you’re looking at buying your entire grocery list at Whole Foods, but at regular supermarkets or even farmer’s markets, you can still get great, healthy foods without blowing your whole paycheck. And staples like chicken, eggs, oatmeal and more can be used repeatedly in diverse ways throughout your week, getting the most for your money.

Even with the excellent points I’m making, I get it, you still may be hesitant. “But Megan, I’m just too busy to cook! I don’t know what I’m doing!” I feel you, stranger! Meal prepping intimidated the heck out of me, but doing the research and finding so many resources out there for cheap, healthy meal prepping ideas, recipes, guides and grocery lists for beginner’s like me really helped to make the concept less overwhelming.

Just think of meal prepping like laying out your clothes for work the night before: it may seem simple, but it’s a great way to take the rush and stress out of one area of your life. And taking the time and energy to cook your own meals and play around with new recipes is actually proven to be therapeutic in areas other than your physical health, with Huma Qureshi’s 2013 article in The Guardian citing multiple cooks using their kitchen time as a means to help with depression and anxiety by focusing on small, achievable tasks and creating a tangible result.

Whether you’re prepping for just yourself, you and a partner or your whole family, the end game is the same: you’re prioritizing your health and the health of your loved ones while learning skills you can use for the rest of your life––and most likely giving yourself a creative boost in the process. What a wonderful way to kickstart a healthy lifestyle. 

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