Getting food on the table three times a day can be a challenge to say the least. However, there is general consensus in the world of nutrition and wellness that doing so is worth the effort.
Benefits of Eating at Home
- You control the ingredients. Whatever your eating goals are - a whole food/plant based diet, eating gluten free, cutting out processed foods, reducing fat and sugar intake, or just eating healthier in general - it really helps to know what is going into the food you eat. Preparing your food at home is the best way to do this. If you are dealing with food allergies or sensitivities this becomes even more important.
- You control the portion size. Sometimes I am shocked by the portion sizes when I eat out. A salad for one looks like it could feed an entire family. Of course you can always save some for later, but it can be tricky to eat an appropriate portion when the food is already in front of you.
- Builds relationships. Cooking and eating at home are perfect opportunities to catch up with your family members and strengthen bonds. The simple act of eating regular family dinners at home is believed to benefit children in many ways. Just a few of those are better academic outcomes, higher self-esteem, lower risk of substance abuse, and lower rates of obesity.
- Saves money. Eating out is expensive, plain and simple. You aren't just paying for the food, you are paying for all the overhead costs of running the restaurant. Most meals can be made for less money at home. The money not spent on eating out can be used to build up your savings or for other financial goals.
That all makes perfect sense, right? So, why would any of us eat out ever again? Well, first of all it can be fun and delicious. I don't think there is anything wrong with eating out occasionally. But, that is the key. It should be a special occasion. The trouble comes when it is a regular part of our routine. This brings us to the second and probably more common reason people eat out - time. More precisely, lack of time. Here's the thing though, most meals don't take longer to cook than the amount of time it takes to go to a restaurant, order your food, and wait for it to be prepared.
So, what's the real issue? It's planning. In my experience, meal planning is the best way to ensure that you are getting all the benefits of eating at home. When I have a meal plan in place for the week, or better yet, the month, I am far less likely to panic at dinner time and resort to less than ideal options like eating out.
Tips for Meal Planning
The idea of planning out meals for any extended period of time can be a bit overwhelming. I mean its hard enough to figure out what your having for dinner one night, let alone 7, 14 or 31. Trust me on this one, it is worth it! Sit down for a session of meal planning and instead of having to figure out a plan every single day, you do it once and then can turn on auto pilot for the weeks you planned.
Here are some of our favorite tips for meal planning:
- Assign a theme for each night of the week. A few examples are soup night, salad night, taco night, grilling night, pasta night, pizza night, stir-fry night, Crock-pot night. Of course Tuesday would be taco night so each Tuesday you have some kind of taco or other Tex-Mex cuisine.
- Rotate menu plans. Create multiple two-week menu plans and then just rotate them. If you like a little more variety, create more of these plans, but if you are a person that thrives more on routine, just a couple two week menu plans ought to do it. You can always slip in a new meal when it starts to get a little boring.
- Find a meal planning service that works for you. You don't have to do it all on your own! While you can typically do a free trial of these services, most have are fee based. However, I find that the savings you will get from not eating out as much easily makes up for it. Also, remember that these services save you time and effort which is often worth the subscription cost. A few of my favorite plant based menu planning services are:
- Get the whole family involved. Ask your spouse and children to come up with one meal idea each week. Giving them the theme for the night as a starting place can be helpful.
- Have at least a vague plan for lunch. Who wants to stop everything in the middle of the day and figure out what do make for lunch? Not me. I personally do not enjoy making lunch so this is an easy one for me to slip up on and grab a sandwich or something quick when I am out and about. That money adds up quickly and so do the calories! Instead I have items on hand to easily make a sandwich, salad, burrito, etc. I don't have to plan too much, but I can still throw something together so quickly that it doesn't seem like I'm making lunch at all. Prepping ingredients ahead of time makes it even easier.
- Implement a rotating breakfast menu. Mornings can be crazy! Having a plan for breakfast is great way to ensure that everyone is heading out the door with a solid nutritional foundation or the day. Again, this can be a little less detailed than a dinner menu. Maybe Monday is smoothie morning, Tuesday is cereal and almond milk, Wednesday is waffles, etc.
- Consult your calendar. Take into account the activities going on in the afternoon and evenings. If you have a certain day each week that is back-to-back after school activities, make that Crock-pot night or leftover night.
- Make a shopping list. All the meal planning in the world won't help if you don't create a list of ingredients you need and plan a time to shop so that you will have everything you need when it comes time to prepare your meal.
For a little more inspiration, check out Cooked, by Michael Pollan. It has definitely influenced how we look at cooking at home. From his website, "Relying upon corporations to process our food means we consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt; disrupt an essential link to the natural world; and weaken our relationships with family and friends. In fact, Cooked argues, taking back control of cooking may be the single most important step anyone can take to help make the American food system healthier and more sustainable. Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life."
If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it!
Please share any meal planning tips that have worked for you in a comment. We love hearing from you!