Meal Planning: Planning the Weekly Meals
What is a balanced meal?
Any meal that gives you carbohydrate, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals in the right amounts without too much salt, fat or sugar will be well-balanced. Here’s how to plan such a meal quickly:
- Choose a high-fibre carbohydrate food such as potatoes or bread.
- Select a variety of vegetables or salads that will go well with the carbohydrate food you’ve chosen.
- Add a protein-rich food such as fish, chicken or dried beans or lentils. Red meat is fine occasionally and in small quantities, but don’t make it the centrepiece of every meal, or it will push up your fat intake considerably.
The weekly schedule
For minimum effort and to avoid last-minute crises, draw up a rough outline of menus at the beginning of each week. Vary the meals to make the best use of available time and ingredients, and to keep them interesting; and take into account any special meals you need to prepare. Take the list along with you and you’ll find it makes shopping much easier, too.
Everyone can help
Deciding what’s for dinner is one job the whole family can share. Ask every member to write down his or her favourite meals, and use the list to help you plan your week’s menus – or for inspiration when your own ideas run out.
Watch what hard-to-please family members order next time you’re in a restaurant with them. The results could be surprising and may give you some good ideas to use at home.
Food is one area where lower bills need not mean lower quality if you shop with care. Cheapercuts of meat have virtually the same nutritional value as more expensive ones and can be just as tasty. Less expensive oily fish such as mackerel and herring are a bargain too: nutritionally they’re about the same as salmon.
Ring the changes on the old rice-or-potato regime with some new ideas: just for a start you could try meals based on pasta, couscous, com tortillas, pitta bread, dumplings, pastry, cracked wheat, noodles, bread rolls, oatcakes, chapattis or pancakes instead. Use wholegrain products whenever possible for extra fibre.
Many prepared meals bought in supermarkets are nourishing and tasty – and a real help on occasions when you run out of energy or time. Check the ingredients lists and choose meals which do not contain large amounts of saturated fat, sugar or salt. Serve with a salad, or round off with fresh fruit to increase their vitamin content.
If you don’t have time in the evenings to prepare elaborate family dinners, invest in a slow cooker and go for curries, casseroles and pot roasts that can be left to cook during the day. Prepare the ingredients the night before, keep them in the fridge overnight, and put them on to cook before you go to work the next morning. Alternatively, choose food which will cook in minutes when you get home – grilled, microwaved and stir-fried dishes are the fastest.
Look out for unusual combinations and flavours in cookery books and magazines, and try to include one new dish in your schedule each week.
Food is more likely to be appreciated the second time around if you don’t just reheat it in the same form. Turn last night’s casserole into a pie or savoury crumble, for example, or put thin slices of cooked meat into a stir-fry, or dice it into cubes for a curry.
CHECKLIST FOR A HEALTHY MEAL
- Include a protein-rich food such as eggs, chicken, fish, meat, cheese, dried beans or lentils.
- Allow plenty of fresh fruit and either cooked or raw vegetables.
- Vary quantities of high-energy foods such as bread, cheese, rich sauces and sweet things according to individual needs and tastes. Children and teenagers need a high energy intake, asdo sports players and anyone who does hard physical work. Office workers, the elderly and those who lead relatively inactive lives, need far less of these foods.
- Remember that appearance and variety stimulate appetite, so try to include a number of different colours and shapes, and foods with contrasting textures, in every meal.
- Serve at least one crisp, crunchy dish. The extra chewing will make you feel more satisfied and discourage overeating.