Meal planning can be a mad scramble as families head back to school and back to routine.
"It's really easy for families - when they're busy - to rely on processed foods and easy-to-cook freezer meals from the grocery store," says Live Right Now's in-house registered dietitian Stefanie Senior.
"The key: plan ahead and get organized."
Here are Senior's top 10 tips to get meal planning back to routine.
Assess your diet.
What's working for you and your family? "Which meals are healthy and where could there be improvements," says Senior.
"Most families, for example, may eat a lot of fruit or eat a lot of veggies at dinner but not lunch."
Do you need more home-cooked meals, more vegetables and less sugar, salt, fat and processed foods?
"Assess what's great and what's not great," advises Senior. What needs to happen to improve the diet?
Remember meal planning basics.
Senior suggests the following:
- Protein at every meal and snack.
- Grain/starch at every meal.
- At least a handful of vegetables at lunch and dinner.
- At least two milk/alternatives a day.
Create a menu plan.
Plan out two to three meal choices a week, says Senior.
"Start up slow and don't give yourself too much variety in the beginning. The grocery list can become too huge and too overwhelming."
Start with the basics, and then introduce variety, suggests Senior. "Try a different cereal or different bread. Instead of peanut butter, how about almond butter."
"Families often forget what meals work for them," says Senior. "Find quick and easy meals that your family enjoys and make a list. Stick with what works and then introduce new things."
Create a grocery shopping budget and a staple grocery list.
This will save you time and help cut down on your grocery bill.
"It's important that people get educated on what types of fruits and vegetables they should buy organic," says Senior.
"A lot of people think it's too expensive or they have to buy everything organic. The 'dirty dozen' are fruits/veggies that you should buy organic."
If you can afford it, adds Senior, try organic or naturally-raised meat.
Colour your plate.
Fill your plate with a rainbow of vegetables. "Choose two deep-coloured vegetables for the plate," says Senior.
A variety of produce provides vitamins, minerals and fibre.
Consider seasonal fruits and vegetables.
In-season produce can help you eat fresh and save money. Eating seasonal fruits and vegetables reaps the most nutritional value.
Try one new recipe a week.
Make a list of meals that are currently working - and then start introducing variety, says Senior. Incorporate a new recipe, a new vegetable every week or a new type of lean protein or fish.
"People get stuck in routines and get sick of eating the same thing over and over - and end up in the frozen food section of the grocery store," says Senior.
Check out Live Right Now's recipes for ideas.
Make sure to always have healthy food on hand.
Plan ahead and get organized. "Make time to shop, prepare and cook to ensure there's always healthy food available - or you'll end up with processed food," says Senior.
"Always make extra for leftovers," suggests Senior. "You potentially don't have to cook every day. You don't have to buy lunch - you can eat leftover dinner from the night before."
"Freeze two or three types of dishes that your family really likes," says Senior. On a busy or lazy night, grab it from the freezer and reheat it.
Get your kids involved.
"It's important to get your child's input," says Senior. "What types of meals do they want to try or have more often? Often parents get frustrated because kids are picky. If they like certain vegetables, serve them more often."
"Embrace what they like. If they don't like an item, try to cook it a different way."
For example, on its own, kids may not like squash. Try making it into a soup, or add a sprinkle of sugar to enhance the flavour, suggests Senior.
"Try different preparation methods. Don't give up. The more exposure to food, the more kids will get a chance to get to like something."