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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 Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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