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How to Make Meal Planning Less Stressful

By Heidi Baldwin, MS, Holistic Health Coach

I'm sure you've heard the age-old saying that hindsight gives us 20/20 vision, but a little foresight can be helpful, too. In fact, foresight when it comes to meal planning can be your saving grace for making it work for you, AND saving a lot of time food prepping in the long-run. Meal planning can feel a little overwhelming, but I invite you to see it with renewed eyes today. I'd love to share with you some of my tips I practice to help meal planning feel empowering instead of overwhelming.

The purpose of meal planning is to simplify your life, and here are my tips for making that successful.

1. Stop trying to plan everything.

If you've never been much into meal planning, give yourself some grace and try to ease into it. If you start by trying to plan every single meal, it can send you into overwhelm. Instead, work on planning just a few meals a week and convert the leftovers to lunches. Once you get the hang of meal planning dinners, you can then move on to lunch and/or breakfast from there. Baby steps will lead to lasting habits.

2. Learn how to stock kitchen staples.

To get into meal planning, you need to keep kitchen staples on hand. Rolled oats can function for oatmeal, smoothies, and even baked treats. A whole baked chicken can be used for a family meal one night and then turned into quesadillas, wraps, soups, chicken chili, and so much more. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can bulk cut and cook tofu and have it ready to add to dishes during the week. While these are just a few examples, you can see that buying things that have versatility will go a long way in your kitchen and always give you something tasty and nutritious to eat.

3. Put healthy snack options within reach.

Whether you have kids or not, putting healthy snacks where they can be easily selected is a smart idea. It prevents rummaging pre-packaged snacks when you've got cut-up veggies with hummus front and center in the fridge. Another great option is celery sticks or apple slices with almond butter.

4. Love your slow cooker.

Your slow cooker is a true kitchen hero. You can cook one large meal and use it in different recipes over the next few nights. Or you could make a big batch of soup to enjoy and have left overs. You can freeze portions to pull out next week for an easy, pre-made dinner. It can save you so much time to cook once and eat multiple times off of one prepped meal.

5. Side-step side dish dilemmas.

So, you've meal-prepped, and your main dish is ready to eat in your slow cooker. But what will you serve with it? On busy nights, don't overthink things. Make a habit of keeping frozen veggies and pre-washed fresh greens around, and you'll always have something to serve on the side. When you're planning ahead, you can batch cook roasted veggies and portion them as side-items throughout the week.

6. Pack lunches ahead.

If tonight's meal is going into tomorrow's lunches, portion it all out while you're in the kitchen. Get everyone's lunches ready all at once, and you can set yourself up for a more peaceful morning. Having lunch out of the way will free you from worrying about what to eat, or worrying about hurrying to pack lunches after breakfast. This is also a sure way to make sure you’re not eating junk for lunch because you didn’t have time to prep something healthy in the rush of the morning.

Once you get more into meal planning, it will become easier, and you'll find what works best for you. By easing into it, you'll reduce much of the stress that it can cause initially, and finally be able to use it as a stress-reducing tool for feeding yourself and your family, too!

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