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By Ansley Hill
Meal planning and prepping are wonderful skills to have in your personal health and wellness tool kit.
A well-thought-out meal plan can help you improve your diet quality or reach a specific health goal while saving you time and money along the way (1Trusted Source).
Here are 23 simple tips for developing a successful meal planning habit.
1. Start Small
If you have never created a meal plan or are getting back into it after a long hiatus, it may feel a bit daunting.
Developing a meal planning habit is no different than making any other positive change in your life. Starting small and slowly building confidence is a great way to make sure your new habit is sustainable.
Begin by planning out just a few meals or snacks for the week ahead. Eventually, you'll figure out which planning strategies work best, and you can slowly build upon your plan by adding in more meals as you see fit.
2. Consider Each Food Group
Whether you're preparing meals for a week, month, or just a few days, it's important to make sure each food group is represented in your plan.
The healthiest meal plan emphasizes whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high-quality protein, and healthy fats, while limiting sources of refined grains, added sugars, and excess salt (2Trusted Source).
As you scour through your favorite recipes, think about each of these food groups. If any of them are missing, make a point to fill in the gaps.
3. Get Organized
Good organization is a key component to any successful meal plan.
An organized kitchen, pantry, and refrigerator make everything from menu creation, grocery shopping, and meal prep a breeze, as you'll know exactly what you have on hand and where your tools and ingredients are.
There's no right or wrong way to organize your meal prep spaces. Just make sure it's a system that works for you.
4. Invest in Quality Storage Containers
Food storage containers are one of the most essential meal prep tools.
If you're currently working with a cupboard full of mismatched containers with missing lids, you may find the meal prep process very frustrating. It's well worth your time and money to invest in high-quality containers.
Before you make a purchase, consider each container's intended use. If you'll be freezing, microwaving, or cleaning them with a dishwasher, make sure you choose containers that are safe for doing so.
Glass containers are eco-friendly and microwave safe. They're widely available in stores and online.
It's also handy to have a variety of sizes for different types of foods.
5. Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry
Maintaining a baseline stock of pantry staples is a great way to streamline your meal prep process and simplify menu creation.
Here are a few examples of healthy and versatile foods to keep in your pantry:
- Whole grains: brown rice, quinoa, oats, bulgur, whole-wheat pasta, polenta
- Legumes: canned or dried black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, lentils
- Canned goods: low-sodium broth, tomatoes, tomato sauce, artichokes, olives, corn, fruit (no added sugar), tuna, salmon, chicken
- Oils: olive, avocado, coconut
- Baking essentials: baking powder, baking soda, flour, cornstarch
- Other: Almond butter, peanut butter, potatoes, mixed nuts, dried fruit
By keeping some of these basic essentials on hand, you only need to worry about picking up fresh items in your weekly grocery haul. This can help reduce stress and improve the efficiency of your meal planning efforts.
6. Keep a Variety of Spices on Hand
Herbs and spices can make the difference between a meal that's amazing and one that's just alright. For most people, a meal plan that's consistently comprised of delicious dishes just might be enough to make the meal planning habit stick.
In addition to being exceptional flavor-enhancers, herbs and spices are loaded with plant compounds that provide a variety of health benefits, such as reduced cellular damage and inflammation (3Trusted Source).
If you don't already have a solid stash of dried herbs and spices, just pick up 2–3 jars of your favorites each time you go grocery shopping and slowly build a collection.
7. Shop Your Pantry First
Before you sit down to make your meal plan, take an inventory of what you already have on hand.
Peruse all of your food storage areas, including your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator, and make a note of any specific foods you want or need to use up.
Doing this helps you move through the food you already have, reduces waste, and prevents you from unnecessarily buying the same things over and over again.
8. Consistently Make Time
The best way to integrate a meal planning routine into your lifestyle is to make it a priority. It can help to regularly carve out a block of time that is solely dedicated to planning.
For some people, crafting a meal plan can take as little as 10–15 minutes per week. If your plan also includes preparing some food items ahead of time or pre-portioning meals and snacks, you may need a few hours.
Regardless of your specific strategy, the key to success is making time and staying consistent.
9. Designate a Place for Saving and Storing Recipes
Avoid the unnecessary frustration of trying to remember recipes by saving them in a designated location that you can easily reference anytime.
This could be in a digital format on your computer, tablet, or cell phone, or a physical location in your house.
Keeping a space set aside for your recipes saves time and helps reduce any potential stress associated with meal planning.
10. Ask for Help
It can be challenging to always feel inspired to craft a brand-new menu each week — but you don't have to do it alone.
If you're responsible for meal planning and preparation for an entire household, don't be afraid to ask members of your family for input.
If you're primarily cooking for yourself, talk to your friends about what they're cooking or use online resources, such as social media or food blogs, for inspiration.
11. Track and Record Your Favorite Meals
It can be frustrating to forget a recipe that you or your family really enjoyed.
Or worse — forgetting how much you disliked a recipe, only to make it again and have to suffer through it a second time.
Avoid these culinary predicaments by keeping an ongoing record of your favorite and least favorite meals.
It's also helpful to keep notes of any edits you made or would like to make to a particular recipe, so you can quickly begin taking your culinary skills from amateur to expert.
12. Always Head to the Grocery Store Armed With a List (or Shop Online)
Going to the grocery store without a shopping list is a good way to waste time and end up buying a lot of things you don't need.
Having a list helps you stay focused and fight the temptation to buy food you don't have a plan to use just because it's on sale.
Depending on where you live, some larger grocery chains offer the option of shopping online and either picking up your groceries at a designated time or having them delivered.
You may be charged a fee for these services, but they can be a great tool for saving time and avoiding the long lines and distracting promotions you're likely to encounter at the store.
13. Avoid Shopping While You’re Hungry
Don't go to the grocery store when you're hungry, as doing so can increase the risk of impulse buys that you're likely to regret later.
If you feel a little twinge of hunger before you're heading to the store, don't hesitate to have a snack first, even if it's outside of your typical meal and snack routine.
14. Buy in Bulk
Take advantage of the bulk section of your local supermarket as a way to save money, buy only the amount you need, and reduce unnecessary packaging waste.
This part of the store is a great place to shop for pantry staples like rice, cereal, quinoa, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit and beans.
Bring your own containers so you don't have to use any plastic bags to carry your bulk items home.
15. Plan for and Repurpose Leftovers
If you don't want to spend time cooking every day of the week, plan to make enough to have leftovers.
Making a few extra servings of whatever you're cooking for dinner is a great way to have lunch for tomorrow without any extra effort.
If you're not a fan of leftovers, think about how you can repurpose them so they don't feel like leftovers.
For example, if you roast a whole chicken with root vegetables for dinner, shred the leftover chicken and use it for tacos, soup, or as a salad topping for lunch the next day.
16. Batch Cook
Batch cooking is when you prepare large quantities of individual foods for the purpose of using them in different ways throughout the week. This method is especially useful if you don't have much time to spend cooking during the week.
Try cooking a big batch of quinoa or rice and roasting a large tray of vegetables, tofu, or meat at the start of the week to use for salads, stir-fries, scrambles, or grain bowls.
You could also make a batch of chicken, tuna, or chickpea salad to use in sandwiches, eat with crackers, or add to salads.
17. Use Your Freezer
Cooking certain foods or meals in large batches and freezing them for later is a great way to save time, reduce waste, and stretch your food budget — all at the same time.
You can use this method for simple staples like broth, fresh bread, and tomato sauce, or for entire meals, such as lasagna, soup, enchiladas, and breakfast burritos.
18. Pre-Portion Your Meals
Pre-portioning your meals into individual containers is an excellent meal prep strategy, especially if you're trying to consume a specific amount of food.
This method is popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts who closely track their intake of calories and nutrients. It's also a great method for promoting weight loss or even just getting ahead when you're short on time.
To take advantage of this method, prepare a large meal that contains at least 4–6 servings. Portion each serving into an individual container and store them in the refrigerator or freezer. When you're ready, simply reheat and eat.
19. Wash and Prep Fruits and Vegetables Right Away
If your goal is to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, try washing and preparing them as soon as you get home from the farmer's market or grocery store.
If you open your refrigerator to find a freshly prepared fruit salad or carrot and celery sticks ready for snacking, you're more likely to reach for those items when you're hungry.
Anticipating your hunger and setting yourself up with healthy and convenient choices makes it easier to avoid reaching for the bag of potato chips or cookies just because they're quick and easy.
20. Prep Smart, Not Hard
Don't be afraid to acknowledge the need to cut corners.
If you're not great at chopping vegetables or don't have time to batch cook and pre-portion your meals, there are likely some healthy, prepared options at your local grocery store.
Pre-cut fruits and vegetables or prepared meals are usually more expensive, but if the convenience factor is what it takes to reduce stress in your life or get you to eat more vegetables, it may be well worth it.
Remember, not everyone's meal planning and preparation processes look the same. Having the wisdom to know when you need to scale back and improve efficiency can help you stick to your goals long term.
21. Use Your Slow or Pressure Cooker
low and pressure cookers can be lifesavers for meal prep, especially if you don't have time to stand over a stove.
These tools allow for more freedom and hands-off cooking, so you can meal prep while simultaneously finishing other chores or running errands.
22. Vary Your Menu
It's easy to get stuck in a dieting rut and eat the same foods day after day.
To avoid this, make it a point to try cooking new foods or meals at regular intervals.
If you always choose brown rice, try swapping it for quinoa or barley. If you always eat broccoli, substitute cauliflower, asparagus, or romanesco for a change.
You can also consider letting the seasons change your menu for you. Eating fruits and vegetables that are in season helps you vary your diet and save money at the same time.
23. Make It Enjoyable
You're more likely to stick to your new meal planning habit if it's something you enjoy doing. Instead of thinking of it as something you have to do, try to mentally reframe it as a form of self-care.
If you're the household chef, consider making meal prep a family affair. Have your family help you chop vegetables or batch cook some soup for the week ahead, so these activities become quality time spent together instead of just another chore.
If you prefer to meal prep solo, throw on your favorite music, a podcast, or an audiobook while you do it. Before long, it may be something you look forward to.
The Bottom Line
Meal planning and preparation is a great way to make healthier food choices and save time and money.
Though it may seem overwhelming at first, there are a variety of strategies you can employ to develop a sustainable meal planning habit that works for your unique lifestyle.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Mark Hertsgaard
What follows are not candidate endorsements. Rather, this nonpartisan guide aims to inform voters' choices, help journalists decide what races to follow, and explore what the 2020 elections could portend for climate action in the United States in 2021 and beyond.
Will the White House Turn Green?<p>Whether the White House changes hands is the most important climate question of the 2020 elections. President Donald Trump rejects climate science, is withdrawing the United States from the Paris Agreement, and has accelerated fossil fuel development. His climate policy seems to be, as he tweeted in January when rejecting a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal to protect New York City from storm surges, "Get your mops and buckets ready."</p><p>Joe Biden, who started the 2020 campaign with a climate position so weak that activists gave it an "F," called Trump a "climate arsonist" during California's recent wildfires. Biden backs a $2 trillion plan to create millions of jobs while slashing emissions—a Green New Deal in all but name. Equally striking, his running mate, California Senator Kamala Harris, has endorsed phasing out fossil fuel production—a politically explosive scientific imperative.</p><p>The race will be decided in a handful of battleground states, five of which already face grave climate dangers: Florida (hurricanes and sea-level rise), North Carolina (ditto), Texas (storms and drought), Michigan (floods), and Arizona (heat waves and drought). <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/" target="_blank">Public concern is rising</a> in these states, but will that concern translate into votes?</p>
Will Democrats Flip the Senate, and by Enough to Pass a Green New Deal?<p>With Democrats all but certain to maintain their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate will determine whether a potential Biden administration can actually deliver climate progress. Democrats need to pick up three seats to flip the Senate if Biden wins, four if he doesn't. But since aggressive climate policy is shunned by some Democrats, notably Joe Manchin of coal-dependent West Virginia, Democrats probably need to gain five or six Senate seats to pass a Green New Deal.</p><p>Environmentalists, including the League of Conservation Voters, are targeting six Republicans who polls suggest are vulnerable.</p><ul><li>Steve Daines of Montana, who denies climate science</li><li>Martha McSally of Arizona</li><li>Thom Tillis of North Carolina</li><li>Susan Collins of Maine</li><li>Joni Ernst of Iowa (bankrolled by Charles Koch)</li><li>John James of Michigan (also a Koch beneficiary)</li></ul><p>Republican Senators are even at risk in conservative Kansas and Alaska. In both states, the Democratic candidates are physicians—not a bad credential amid a pandemic—who support climate action. In Kansas, Barbara Bollier faces an incumbent funded by Charles Koch. In Alaska, Al Gross urges a transition away from oil, though his openness to limited drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve dims his appeal to green groups. He faces incumbent Republican Dan Sullivan, who receives an 8 percent lifetime voting record from the League of Conservation Voters.</p>
Will Local and State Races Advance Climate Progress?<h4>THE CLIMATE HAWKS</h4><p>Under Democratic and Republican leadership alike, Washington has long been a graveyard for strong climate action. But governors can boost or block renewable energy; the Vermont and New Hampshire races are worth watching. Attorneys general can sue fossil fuel companies for lying about climate change; climate hawks are running for the top law enforcement seats in Montana and North Carolina. State legislatures can accelerate or delay climate progress, as the new Democratic majorities in Virginia have shown. Here, races to watch include Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Colorado.</p><h4>THE CLIMATE POLICY MAKERS</h4><p>Perhaps the most powerful, and most overlooked, climate policy makers are public utility commissions. They control whether pipelines and other energy infrastructure gets built; they regulate whether electric utilities expand solar and energy efficiency or stick with the carbon-heavy status quo. Regulatory capture and outright corruption are not uncommon.</p><p>A prime example is Arizona, where a former two-term commissioner known as the godfather of solar in the state is seeking a comeback. Bill Mundell argues that since Arizona law permits utilities to contribute to commissioners' electoral campaigns, the companies can buy their own regulators. Which may explain why super-sunny Arizona has so little installed solar capacity.</p><p>In South Dakota, Remi Bald Eagle, a Native American U.S. Army veteran, seeks a seat on the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, which rules on the Standing Rock oil pipeline. And in what <em>HuffPost</em> called "the most important environmental race in the country," Democrat Chrysta Castaneda, who favors phasing out oil production, is running for the Texas Railroad Commission, which despite its name decides what oil, gas, and electric companies in America's leading petro-state can build.</p>
Will the Influencers Usher in a Green New Era?<h4>THE UNCOUNTED</h4><p>The story that goes largely under-reported in every U.S. election is how few Americans vote. In 2016, some 90 million, <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2018/08/09/an-examination-of-the-2016-electorate-based-on-validated-voters/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly four out of every 10 eligible voters</a>, did not cast a ballot. Attorney Nathaniel Stinnett claims that 10 million of these nonvoters nevertheless identify as environmentalists: They support green policies, even donate to activist groups; they just don't vote. Stinnett's <a href="https://www.environmentalvoter.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Voter Project</a> works to awaken this sleeping giant.</p><h4>THE SUNRISE MOVEMENT</h4><p>Meanwhile, the young climate activists of the <a href="http://www.sunrisemovement.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunrise Movement</a> are already winning elections with an unabashedly Green New Deal message. More than any other group, Sunrise pushed the Green New Deal into the national political conversation, helping Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey draft the eponymous congressional resolution. In 2020, Sunrise has helped Green New Deal champions defeat centrists in Democratic primaries, with Markey dealing Representative Joe Kennedy Jr. the first defeat a Kennedy has ever suffered in a Massachusetts election. But can Sunrise also be successful against Republicans in the general elections this fall?</p><h4>THE STARPOWER</h4><p>And an intriguing wild card: celebrity firepower, grassroots activism, and big-bucks marketing have converged behind a campaign to get Latina mothers to vote climate in 2020. Latinos have long been the U.S. demographic most concerned about climate change. Now, <a href="https://votelikeamadre.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Vote Like A Madre</a> aims to get 5 million Latina mothers in Florida, Texas, and Arizona to the polls. Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda are urging mothers to make a "pinky promise" to vote for their kids' climate future in November. Turning out even a quarter of those 5 million voters, though no easy task, could swing the results in three states Trump must win to remain president, which brings us back to the first category, "Will the White House Turn Green?"</p>
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By Tony Carnie
South Africa is home to around 1,300 of the world's roughly 7,100 remaining cheetahs. It's also the only country in the world with significant cheetah population growth, thanks largely to a nongovernmental conservation project that depends on careful and intensive human management of small, fenced-in cheetah populations. Because most of the reserves are privately funded and properly fenced, the animals benefit from higher levels of security than in the increasingly thinly funded state reserves.
Vincent van der Merwe at a cheetah translocation. Endangered Wildlife Trust
Under Pressure<p>Cheetah populations elsewhere in Southern Africa have not prospered over the past 50 years. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers have crashed from 1,500 in 1975, to just 170 today. Botswana's cheetah population has held steady at around 1,500 over the same period, but illegal capture for captive breeding and conflicts with farmers and the growing human population are increasing. In Namibia, there were an estimated 3,000 cheetah in in 1975; roughly 1,400 remain today.</p><p>In contrast, South Africa's cheetah numbers have grown from about 500 in 1975 to nearly 1,300 today. Van der Merwe, who is also a Ph.D. student at the University of Cape Town's Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild), says he's confident that South Africa will soon overtake Namibia and Botswana, largely because the majority of South African cheetahs are protected and managed behind fences, whereas most of the animals in the neighboring countries remain more vulnerable on mainly unfenced lands.</p><p>Wildlife researchers Florian Weise and colleagues have reported that private stock owners in Namibia still trap cheetahs mainly for translocation, but there are few public or private reserves large enough to contain them. Weise says that conservation efforts need to focus on improving tolerance toward cheetahs in commercial livestock and game farming areas to reduce indiscriminate trapping.</p><p>Van der Merwe says fences can be both a blessing and a curse. While these barriers prevent cheetahs and other wild animals from migrating naturally to breed and feed, they also protect cheetahs from the growing tide of threats from humanity and agriculture.</p><p>To simulate natural dispersion patterns that guard against inbreeding, the trust helps landowners swap their animals with other cheetah reserves elsewhere in the country. The South African metapopulation project has been so successful in boosting numbers that the trust is having to look beyond national boundaries to secure new translocation areas in Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique.</p><p>Cheetah translocations have been going on in South Africa since the mid-1960s, when the first unsuccessful attempts were made to move scores of these animals from Namibia. These relocations were mostly unsuccessful.</p>
Charli de Vos uses a VHF antenna to locate cheetahs in Phinda Game Reserve. Tony Carnie for Mongabay
Swinging for the Fences<p>But other wildlife conservation leaders have a different perspective on cheetah conservation strategy.</p><p>Gus Mills, a senior carnivore researcher retired in 2006 from SANParks, the agency that manages South Africa's national parks, after a career of more than 30 years in Kalahari and Kruger national parks. He says the focus should be on quality of living spaces rather than the quantity of cheetahs.</p><p>Mills, who was the founder of the Endangered Wildlife Trust's Carnivore Conservation Group in 1995, and who also spent six years after retirement studying cheetahs in the Kalahari, says it's more important to properly protect and, where possible, expand the size of existing protected areas.</p><p>He also advocates a triage approach to cheetah conservation, in which scarce funds and resources are focused on protecting cheetahs in formally protected areas, rather than diluting scarce resources in an attempt to try and save every single remaining cheetah population.</p><p>"People have an obsession with numbers. But I believe that it is more important to protect large landscape and habitats properly," Mills said.</p><p>He suggests that cheetahs enclosed within small reserves live in artificial conditions: "It's almost like glorified farming."</p><p>"In the long run we have to focus on consolidating formally protected areas," he added. "Africa's human population will double by 2050, so cheetah populations in unfenced areas will become unsustainable if they are eating people's livestock."</p>
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