The benefits of meal planning cannot be understated. Prepping your meals for the week ahead not only saves you time on those busy evenings, but it saves you money too by allowing you to buy in bulk. Plus, knowing you have a healthy ready-made meal waiting for you at home will help you resist the urge to grab expensive take out. Meal planning also allows you to get a little experimental with your cooking, as it forces you to carefully plan a nutritious and delicious menu for the entire week. However, deciding on what to cook is only the first step: you then need to visit the grocery store to stock up on a week’s worth of ingredients.
Now, this is where things can start to get overwhelming, as the product selection in most big grocery stores can be exceptionally wide. Your menu might say you need yogurt, but should you buy low fat, no fat, no sugar, Greek or all natural? And what about eggs? Is it better to buy cage-free, free-range or pasture-raised? The more choices you have, the less enticing it can be to meal plan. However, this doesn’t need to be the case! By following a few simple guidelines on your next grocery store trip, you can easily take the hassle out of meal planning and start enjoying the perks that come from preparing your family’s weekly menu.
Did you know that between 30-40% of our food is wasted from farm to fridge? Meal planning helps to cut down on this waste, as you are buying only what you know you need for the recipes you’ve selected for the week. There’s nothing more frustrating that buying a ton of fresh produce and then letting it all go to waste in the fridge. Additionally, shopping with the seasons is a great way to ensure the food you’re buying is as fresh and nutritious as can be, so when choosing your weekly recipes, be sure to first consider what vegetables are currently in season.
Another way to improve your grocery shopping experience is to commit to making a shopping list. Taking the time to check your fridge and pantry at home to see what you already have and then writing down only the ingredients you need for your chosen recipes will not only streamline your shopping experience, but will help you resist those tempting impulse buys at the grocery store. As such, grocery lists are essential for anyone looking to cut down on food waste and, therefore, wasted money.
Love Your Labels
We’ve all had those moments where we’ve finally read the nutrition labels of our favorite foods and realized we had no idea what we’ve been eating. “You mean that’s what’s in my favorite cereal?” Label literacy is an incredibly important skill to master, as it allows us all a clearer understanding of what we’re putting in our bodies. Some packaging might claim that the product inside is healthy, but reading the nutrition label will give you a much better idea of exactly how much sugar and fat is lurking inside.
Labels are particularly important when purchasing seafood, so it pays to know what to look out for at the grocery store. Third-party NGOs like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) set strict standards for fish and seafood, ensuring they only endorse those products that are responsibly raised. Regal Springs Tilapia was the first recipient of an ASC certification, making it a great choice for ethically-minded shoppers. Reading nutrition labels and looking for reputable certifications is an important step to include in every grocery shop.
The Freezer Is Your Friend
Sometimes, even the best laid meal plans go awry. Maybe a social event popped up at the last minute, or an emergency forces you to abandon your dinner plans. Because life is unpredictable, it’s important to consider how well your weekly meals will freeze should you need to save them for another night. Choosing ingredients that freeze well will also ensure you always have a nutritious dinner ready and waiting for you, and that good food isn’t going to waste. Here are some meals and ingredients to consider:
- Fresh Tilapia freezes particularly well—simply pop those fillets in the freezer when your plans change last minute
- One-dish meals like lasagna, quiche or pizza are well suited to freezing
- Most vegetables freeze extremely well—for best results, boil evenly sized pieces briefly, cool quickly in water, then place them in sealable bags and pop them in the freezer
There are numerous ways to be a responsible shopper. It involves a commitment to buying only responsibly sourced and farmed products, but it’s not as hard to do as you might think. With a little forethought and planning, you can ensure every meal you prepare for your family is nutritious and environmentally friendly, while simultaneously saving yourself time and money.
If you’re ready to plan next week’s menu, why not give these protein-packed recipes from Honduras a go.
Photo Credits: Kzenon / Shutterstock Inc., Dean Drobot / Shutterstock Inc., BravissimoS / Shutterstock Inc.