According to research conducted at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, people who frequently cook meals at home eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less. Unfortunately, many busy families in the Baltimore area and beyond struggle to find the time and motivation to cook. Often, they don’t have the ingredients available in their pantry and feel that it’s too much work to cook a healthy meal. This feeling will be magnified if their kitchen is cluttered and disorganized, forcing them to eat out on a regular basis, so it’s important that they start by decluttering their kitchen and purging unneeded or unused items. Then, the meal planning can begin without all of the distractions of the clutter.
Here are 8 tips to get started on creating an organized meal plan:
1. Plan your meals for the week and note down the ingredients needed so that you can shop for everything once a week, or every other week.
2. Keep basics in your pantry so you’re not constantly running out to the store; or worse, giving up and eating out. For example, there are a few items that can be used in many recipes, e.g. onions, garlic, herbs and spices, canned tomatoes etc. For a list of recommended items for a well-stocked pantry, see the list in this article on the Simple Dollar website, Staple Foods You Should Always Have On Hand.
3. If you’ve had a particularly busy week and haven’t had the time to shop for ingredients, check your pantry and refrigerator to see if you can create a meal using what you have on hand. An app like the Paprika Recipe Manager, and many others, can help with this.
4. Keep healthy snacks in your refrigerator and pantry, such as apples, bananas and pears. When in season, add blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes and plums. Berries can be bagged into portion sizes and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to eat. Be sure to label the containers or baggies. If your refrigerator or freezer is packed, create an inventory list so that you always know what you have before heading to the grocery store.
5. Make your lunches for the week to save time in the mornings, and store them in individual containers so that you can quickly grab one as you run out of the door for work or school.
6. To avoid eating junk food and unhealthy snacks while out and about, always bring a healthy snack in the car with you. This will prevent you from being tempted to pick up fast food or a bag of potato chips before heading back home.
7. In addition to fresh fruit, other healthy portable snack ideas include granola, nuts, dried fruit and fruit cups. Hard boiled eggs, applesauce and yogurt are also good options, but may need to be kept in a small cooler bag.
8. If you struggle to get dinner on the table because you’re out of ideas, when you have some downtime, spend some time looking through cookbooks or browsing recipe sites on the web. Websites like Pinterest provide great visuals of meals and snacks you can make at home. Just type in a main ingredient, or meal type, e.g. chicken soups, beef stews, casseroles, vegetarian stew, paleo meals, gluten-free snacks, etc. and begin making meal planning a priority.
For more ideas for busy moms and dads who would like to prepare healthier options for their children, visit the “Especially for Moms” page on the USDA Food & Nutrition website for recipe ideas and videos.
Baltimore Organized Families writer, Jacquie Ross, has been writing for The Examiner since 2009. Please check out her other articles related to decluttering, organization and time management. Jacquie, a professional organizer and certified life coach, also shares organizing tips in her Timely Tips e-newsletter. Subscribers are eligible to receive her free 8-day email declutter tips when they sign up for her newsletter.