Thursday, April 23, 2015

Meal Plans vs Meal Planning

One of my most frequent requests upon people learning that I am a dietitian, is for me to write a meal plan for them. What is requested is a specific menu including all 3 meals and snacks. I have 3 reasons why I always refuse and why I despise and do not use a meal plan at home for me or my family:

  1. Personal likes and dislikes are so different that if I were to develop a meal plan for another person (even my husband), chances are it would be rejected because it wouldn't be according to their tastes. 
  2. My life, and I therefore expect to some degree everybody else's life, does not follow a strict schedule leaving further room for failure and diversion from the meal plan.
  3. Variety is the key to a healthy diet, not any specific foods. Variety is best achieved with flexibility not always available in meal plans. 
My alternative to meal plans is meal planning. In my house, an ideal meal plan is a list of main dishes for the week on one side of a small paper and the grocery list on the other. Sides are sometimes included, but often they are not as I just include a variety of fruits and vegetables to my list according to season and sales and mix and match to what fits my tastes any specific night. Of course, when first starting to meal plan, you might consider including side dishes to ensure you make them each night as main dishes should rarely be served alone. Below are a few of the benefits I find in meal planning:

  1. There is no set schedule. Some meals are fast while others are more time consuming, which allows me to select dishes as my week plays out.
  2. A corresponding grocery list to the dishes you wish to make, ensures you will have the ingredients on hand and enhances the chance that you will make dinner and/or lunch.
  3. Adaptability allows for variety, substitutions and constant introduction of new recipes. 
My basics of meal planning:
  • Ensure protein variety: I plan my main dishes according to the type of protein ensuring that no type is used more than 2 times in a week. For example I might have 2 fish, 1 chicken, 1 turkey, 1 beef, 1 vegetarian (beans, legumes, cheese) & 1 pork meal one week, and perhaps 1 fish, 2 chicken, 1 beef, & 2 vegetarian meals the next week. This can be adapted to your tastes. If you don't like vegetarian dishes add more of something else.
  • Vary your main dishes: I personally like variety and I often try new recipes I find online or in cook books 1-2 times a week. Some are used again in the future depending on my family's reaction to them and others are a one time deal.
  • Balance: I utilize MyPlate to ensure balance which incorporates your protein (1/4 of your plate), vegetables and fruits (1/2 of your plate), carbohydrate (1/4 plate most of which are whole grains) and a side of dairy. If one of my meals is lacking in any of these areas I catch it up during snacks.
  • Snacking: Eat when hungry, but remember to stop when satisfied! As stated above, snacks incorporate any missing food groups from lack of presence at meals or, in the case of my toddler, refusal at meals. For instance if she eats only fruit and yogurt for breakfast I might offer a hard boiled egg, toast or dry cereal for a snack. If she refuses the vegetable at lunch she might get a frozen vegetable or hummus with fresh vegetables for her afternoon snack. 
  • Have fun and incorporate themes: I'm blessed with a husband and daughter who really aren't that picky so trying new things is not only accepted but expected. One thing that can make things fun is an International night planning a meal from a certain country or region, holiday themed dinners or simply eating outside to mix it up. Make meals fun.
  • Involve the family: Kids especially enjoy making decisions and are more likely to eat when they get to choose. My toddler often gets to pick from 2 dishes I'm considering. As she gets older she will be encouraged to supply ideas for the master list.

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