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Beyond Trim: Planning meals essential to healthy eating

One of the most powerful habits you can develop to ensure that you are eating better is to plan and prepare most of your meals in advance. Knowing what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day relieves stress, keeps you from making bad last-minute decisions, and can save you time and money in the long run.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be very complicated. Sit down with your calendar once a week and look at your schedule. How many meals can you eat at home and how many will be eaten out? If you find yourself hitting the drive-thru frequently, what could you prepare at home instead and take along? If you will be eating at a restaurant, you don’t have to plan for that meal (although you can plan to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day given the size of some restaurant meals).

Once you know how many meals you will be eating or preparing at home, it’s time to decide what those meals will consist of. Check your pantry, refrigerator and freezer to see what you already have on hand and incorporate those ingredients. Don’t forget to include some healthy snacks in your plan as well. Make a shopping list for anything you need, and go to the store.

Set aside some time once a week to prepare as much of your meals ahead of time as possible. You can make soups, stews or casseroles that can be portioned and reheated as needed. You can batch cook proteins and grains and chop greens and vegetables for quick salads, stir fries or bowls.

For breakfast, you can bake individual omelettes or frittatas in cupcake tins or put together several servings of overnight oats for easy grab-and-go options. (Cooking once a week has the added benefit of only having to clean up the kitchen once, as well!)

If you have children at home, get them involved in planning the meals, making the list and doing the shopping. You can even give them age-appropriate kitchen tasks in preparing the meals. The skills they acquire will benefit them for a lifetime.

Eating meals prepared in the home is almost always a healthier option than going out, and planning those meals in advance ensures that you will eat more home-cooked meals.

That’s good for your health and good for your wallet too!

• Sherry DeWalt is the healthy lifestyles coordinator for the CGH Health Foundation in Sterling.