Back-up healthy meal planning in a crunch
What to do when you don’t have a plan or your schedule changes and you need a back-up
Watch Andrea Holweger, Calgary Dietitian, on back up meal planning
In a best-case scenario, I would recommend booking some time in your calendar to plan meals for the week, make a grocery shopping list and go shopping. But we all know that life isn’t perfect or predictable and planning or executing a plan doesn’t always happen.
It is also likely that you can have an amazing plan but something in your work or family life is bound to happen that steals away your precious time and makes it difficult to execute the plan you had in place.
What are some of the most common issues people have with meal planning?
- Your life is insanely busy and you simply could not find time to plan and shop with all that you are juggling at home and work
- Your schedule changes unexpectedly and makes it impossible to execute your meal plan
- Weekday stress and fatigue impacts motivation to want to make a healthy supper
- Getting home from school/work too hangry to take the time to execute your meal plan
What is the single most important question to ask yourself the night before?
Before going to bed answer the question: “What is for supper tomorrow?”
- Look at your available options in your pantry, fridge and freezer and simply select the 3 components of a balanced meal (grain/starch, vegetables and a source of protein).
- Your meal planning doesn’t have to be fancy. Give yourself a break – having pancakes, Greek yogurt and frozen veggies may not be gourmet but it meets the criteria for a balanced meal.
- Let the vegetable drive dinner. To avoid food waste instead of looking in your freezer or pantry, start by what fresh foods need to be used up first and form your meal around those items
If you have forgotten to answer the most important question the night before, think about this on your drive to work, at lunch or while waiting to pick up your kids from school. ANY amount of planning instead of hoping for the best at supper when you are hangry and tired is helpful.
What is the criteria for a healthy backup meal?
All of the dietitians in our practice recommend having a list of back-up meals posted in your home:
- Make a list of 3-5 back up meals you will have on standby at all times in your home
- Make sure your weekly grocery shopping list always contains the ingredients for your back up meals
- Meals should be able to be prepared in a short amount of time
- Meals should contain 3 things for balance (grains or starches, vegetables and/or fruit and a source of protein)
- The main cook and the “not-so-good cooks” should know how to make these (do some cooking instruction if needed so everyone is on board)
Having a solid backup meal plan prevents stress if scheduled meals fall apart, allows for your work or personal family schedule to change and also prevents imbalanced home and eating out if getting to the grocery store is delayed.
What are some ideas for back up meals?
While each individual or family food preferences and cooking skill is different here are a few to get you started:
- Scrambled eggs, toast (fresh or frozen bread) and carrot sticks or frozen veggies.
- Quesadillas: Flour tortillas (fresh or frozen), canned black beans, grated cheese (kept fresh or frozen), red peppers (fresh or jars of roasted red peppers), frozen corn and canned salsa.
- Frozen shrimp sautéed with Thai chili sauce (or lemon, garlic and olive oil) prewashed salad and couscous which can be made in minutes.
- Baked beans, potatoes (boiled or microwaved for speed), cabbage (shaved for a coleslaw or steamed if you prefer)
- Thin frozen fish fillets you can dust with bread crumbs and seasoning. Served with whole grain garlic toast and steamed fresh/frozen veggies.
- French toast, yogurt or cottage cheese, frozen berries/mango.
- Fresh or frozen stir-fry strips of beef, pork or chicken that can be added to fresh/frozen veggies and tossed into a wrap or over rice.
- Pasta, tomato sauce, ground meat/poultry (or canned drained lentils or chick peas)
What are some healthy convenience food options?
Healthy convenience foods to consider stashing in your home are:
- Pre-cut fresh or frozen vegetables & fruit
- Packaged salad or coleslaw mix
- Canned diced tomatoes & legumes (lentils, chick peas & beans)
- Shredded or pre-sliced cheese (can also be frozen)
- Rotisserie chicken
- Freeze individual portions of chicken breasts/thighs & fish fillets
- Freeze lean ground meatballs
- Veggie burgers, non-breaded turkey or chicken burgers, lean beef or bison burgers
- Pre-sliced meat (stir-fry & stewing)
- Canned fish (tuna, sardines & salmon)
- Frozen, peeled shrimp & other seafood
- Frozen edamame beans
- Nuts & seeds
- Whole grain pizza crusts or ready-made dough (can be frozen)
- Fresh or frozen whole wheat tortellini