Are you stuck trying to figure out how to meal plan healthy food for your family? Here are 5 core strategies to set you up for success!
You want your family to start eating better. Every week seems to be the same- You start out with great intentions, but you slip mid-week and let all the fresh produce you just bought go to waste. Meal planning healthy food is so hard!
One of the most common questions I’m asked is, “How do you meal plan healthy food?” It’s a tricky question and hard to have a single good answer, because every family is different. I’m putting my 5 core strategies into one post to get you started.
It’s not perfect, just like I’m not perfect. We eat junk food, too. But keep reading, because you may want to come back to this each week to remember why you want your family to eat healthy food in the first place!
How to Meal Plan Healthy Food
Choose Your “Healthy”
First, you have to set your standards and core values for what is healthy. And remember, what’s healthy for me may not be healthy for you.
A long-distance runner needs lots of carbs, while a diabetic may need to limit carbs.
I choose to eat an omnivorous diet, while others choose not to eat meat.
Is any one of those healthier than the other? Not at all! Being healthy is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. But it is important to have a set of core values established so when you come across certain situations, you can go through that list and filter out what can stay and what can go.
An example of core health values could be:
- I choose not to eat red meat
- I choose to eat one big treat per week (Ex.- cheesecake or ice cream)
- I’d like to eat 4 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit every day
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, as you can see. But having those values in place can be helpful, especially when it comes to meal planning.
Stock Your Pantry for Success
A full pantry is a happy pantry! Stocking plenty of good food in your pantry leads to two things:
- Cheaper grocery bills
- A better likelihood of eating healthier foods
Buy the staples when they’re on sale and always keep them in your house. Foods like rice, dried beans, salsa, oats, and quinoa are amazing shelf-stable foods; and with a few extra ingredients, you basically have a “free” dinner because you didn’t have to buy anything that week to make that dinner.
Plus, when you have healthy foods in your pantry, you’re less likely to overindulge on things like cookies and candy. Especially if you don’t keep them in your house.
Now, I’m not saying you should empty your entire kitchen of treats, because that may not be feasible. But keep maybe one serving of something so you don’t end up overeating.
So, what other kinds of foods should you keep in your pantry? Here’s a handy list:
See also: How to Make a Healthy Grocery List
Expand Your Recipe List
Do you find yourself stuck making the same recipes over and over? Sometimes eating healthy can seem boring if all you eat is chicken and broccoli. But you can take just about any recipe and make it healthier!
As an example, let’s say you and your family love macaroni and cheese. Surely there’s no way to make that healthy, right?
Well, take a look at this Pinterest search! You can totally make macaroni and cheese healthy by adding or subtracting certain ingredients. Use slightly less cheese, add Greek yogurt, etc.
Just take your favorite recipe and add the word “healthy” to your search and see what comes up. Other examples to search for are:
- Healthy cookies
- Healthy muffins
- Healthy pizza
- Healthy cornbread
- Healthy chicken nuggets
- Healthy pasta
After you find what you need, make sure to pin them to a new board! You can title it “Healthy Recipes” and either leave it public or make it a secret board if you want only yourself to look at it.
Stick to Your List- and Budget
This is my biggest piece of advice when people ask me about meal planning. You have to set your grocery budget, make your weekly shopping list, and STICK TO IT.
So how do you determine your budget? A good starting point is $25 per person per week. So if you have 4 people in your family, you can set your budget to $100 per week. If that seems too high or low, adjust where needed. But set some sort of base budget so you know what to stick to.
Now, you may be like me and love walking up and down the aisles looking for clearance items. It’s my weakness, friends; I can’t pass up a good deal. But if I go over budget buying things I don’t really need, that leaves me less money for next week’s food. And we don’t just say “Oh well, I’ll just add more money”. What we have is what we get.
Here are some quick tips to sticking to your grocery list:
- Have your spouse shop for you (If your spouse can actually stick to the list better than you can)
- Shop online! You’re less likely to overspend if you can only add what you need to your online list. Kroger Clicklist and Wal Mart Pickup are two examples of good programs to use.
- Purposely set aside 5 or 10 dollars a week from your budget for those impulse items. Sometimes you just can’t pass up a super good deal, so if you know you have the money ahead of time you’re still technically sticking to your budget.
Use Time-Saving Strategies
One thing people tell me is that they don’t have time to cook healthy food. They work full-time, they have multiple kids, etc. I get it! Sometimes I also have trouble figuring out how to get a healthy meal on the table.
But good excuses are still excuses, so we need to come up with strategies that help us stay accountable. Here are some tips to use every week:
- Use your slow cooker in the mornings– Having dinner already figured out is a HUGE time-saver.
- Use your Instant Pot in the evenings– I know this thing can be a life-saver! You can throw foods into your Instant Pot and have dinner ready in an hour, it’s amazing.
- Make freezer meals– You don’t even have to have huge 3-hour freezer meal sessions. You can double a dinner recipe once a week and fill your freezer pretty fast. For more examples of this, check out my 4 Weeks to Fill Your Freezer e-book!
- Meal prep once a week– Taking time on a Sunday afternoon to chop some veggies and/or make breakfast for the week can really set the foundation for how your week goes. With all the produce already chopped, you’re more likely to use it and reduce food waste! Check out my tips on meal prep for your busy family.
These 5 strategies, when used together, will help you set the base for your healthy meal planning.
- Choose your healthy
- Stock your pantry
- Healthify your recipes
- Stick to your list and budget
- Use time-saving strategies
Meal planning healthy food is definitely hard at first- and you’ll have weeks where you just totally mess it up. I do too! It’s okay! Give yourself grace and get back on track next week. The tips above will help, so look back on this when you struggle to make your meal plan for the next week.
What other advice would you give for healthy meal planning? Leave a comment and let us know!
Jaime is a Nutrition Coach and professional writer. She enjoys cooking easy meals, running, and learning more about food.
Jaime specializes in helping women with ADHD learn to meal plan and cook healthier meals without getting overwhelmed.