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These pro tips and advice will reduce the stress of meal planning

In today’s busy world, planning healthy meals can be difficult. Add the challenges of choosing nutritious foods and budgeting amid inflation, and many people opt for processed or fast foods that are affordable but lacking in nutritional value. So, we turned to our nutrition expert to help consumers plan meals and eat beneficial foods for advice. 

Molly Bremer, MS, RD; is the director and dietitian at Mosaic Nutrition in Burlington, Vermont. We asked her to weigh in on some common issues that lead to unhealthy eating. Her meal prep tips and product recommendations will help you improve your diet. The Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Triple Clad 12-Piece Cookware Set, All-Clad Programmable Slow Cooker and OXO Good Grips POP Container Set are three of the recommended products featured in this article. 

Focusing on the foods you eat

Healthy meal planning begins with assessing the types of foods to include in your diet. Bremer said that eating a variety of healthy foods is essential, but so is including foods that are enjoyable to eat. “I recommend having a variety of the five food groups (grains, protein, dairy, fruits and vegetables) and fun foods,” she said. “This might surprise some folks, but having fun foods included in your diet is as important for your health as including fruits and vegetables. When we expand our view of health to a more holistic approach (physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual), “health” is seen as more than just physical health.”

Eating healthy while budgeting

When it comes to shopping for food in 2022, inflation is a major factor for many people. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food prices are up 11.4% higher than in August of 2021.  

“Due to our current economic situation, many Americans are having to think about how to continue to eat healthy while staying within a tighter budget,” Bremer said, adding that planning helps consumers keep costs in check. “I would first suggest trying to plan ahead by assessing what food you have already and creating a grocery list after that. This is a helpful strategy to cut back on buying unnecessary foods and ultimately save money,” she said. 

Bremer also suggests that shoppers consider low-cost foods such as rice, eggs, bananas, beans, peanut butter and frozen and canned foods to save money. 

“I would also recommend looking into the qualification requirements for food assistance programs such as SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; formerly known as food stamps), WIC (Women, Infants and Children), or other federal and local programs.”

Healthy meal planning and time management

As a nutrition expert, Bremer said that she’s frequently asked for food shopping and cooking tips for those with busy lifestyles. “I suggest trying to come up with a meal planning system, incorporating canned and frozen foods and if you have the resources, to outsource as you can.” Bremer offered additional times-saving tips:

  • “When meal planning, I encourage people to make a list of proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, drinks and fun foods.”
  • Once you buy your groceries, prepping the food all at once can help save time. Meal prepping looks different for everyone. For some, it means washing and cutting vegetables for easy grab-and-go snacks. For others, it means making lasagna and wild rice soup for the week. 
  • Including frozen and canned foods can be game-changing. “I always have a variety of frozen and canned entrees and sides on hand. Some staples I include are frozen meatballs, canned soup, boxed mac and cheese, frozen vegetables, canned beans and frozen dumplings.”
  • “I would recommend including other people, such as kids, spouses or babysitters, to participate with grocery buying or cooking if possible to distribute responsibility and help lighten one’s task load.”

Planning healthy meals for kids

Cooking for kids poses several challenges, but Bremer offered suggestions for preparing meals that they’ll enjoy and that are good for them. 

“My number one recommendation for meal planning for families with children is to think of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, which simply states: parents are responsible for what, when and where food is offered and children are in charge of if they will eat and how much to eat,” she explained. The parent who cooks food is often viewed as a short-order chef, but this can cause a lot of added stress and limit the variety of foods the children are exposed to. If parents are struggling with feeding all members of their family, I recommend trying to find a meal where there are options and choices.”

Bremer continued. “For example, having a taco night where family members can decide if/what protein and veggies and what amount of cheese and other toppings they desire. Or if there is a steak night and one of the kids is a vegetarian, use the same marinade on tofu and serve the same side dishes. It can be difficult and nuanced, so I recommend working with a dietitian specializing in family feeding. If that is not an option, I would look at literature from the Ellyn Satter Institute.”

Healthy snacking

“Snacks are a helpful tool to help bridge the gap between meals,” said Bremer, who recommends indulging in two to three snacks each day to prevent decreases in blood sugar that can lead to overeating. “I recommend pairing protein, fiber and fat to create satiating and satisfying snacks. Some of my go-to snacks are trail mix (with M&Ms and cereal), greek yogurt parfaits with fruit and granola, apples with peanut butter, or a smoothie made with fruit, veggies, ground flax seed, nut butter and milk. If I am in the mood for just a bag of BBQ chips, I eat those chips since they will be satisfying for my mental hunger, but I know that they will probably not physically keep me full and I might need to have a meal or another snack soon,” she advised. 

Bremer’s product recommendations for healthy meal planning and eating

Best Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Triple Clad 12-Piece Cookware Set

Cuisinart MultiClad Pro Triple Clad 12-Piece Cookware Set

Cuisinart’s MultiClad Pro set features 12 useful pieces for all of your cooking needs. The triple-clad construction offers excellent durability and even heat distribution. 

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Best Freshology Meal Delivery

Freshology Meal Delivery

Customizable meals are simple with this popular meal delivery service. The website is easy to use to choose wholesome foods to fit your dietary needs and preferences. Sold by Freshology

Best Modern Shop Magnetic Notepads, Pack of 8

Modern Shop Magnetic Notepads, Pack of 8

According to Bremer, making a grocery list will help you stay focused and save money when you shop. This pack includes eight notepads with magnetized backs so you can keep them handy until you head to the store. 

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Best Clif Bars Variety Pack

Clif Bars Variety Pack

If you love to snack on Clif Bars, there’s a good chance that you’ll appreciate the variety in this multipack. It includes six different flavors and a total of 16 bars. Each one is made of delicious plant-based ingredients that promote energy in between meals. 

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Best Instant Pot Duo Crisp

Instant Pot Duo Crisp

This instant pot provides 11 different functions and stands out from other models for its air frying capabilities. The 8-quart capacity is ideal for serving meals to groups. 

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Best Spread the Love Naked Organic Peanut Butter

Spread the Love Naked Organic Peanut Butter

Spread the Love peanut butter is a nutrient-rich option made from dry roasted peanuts and doesn’t contain oils or sugar. It’s great for snacking and cooking. 

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Best All-Clad Programmable Slow Cooker

All-Clad Programmable Slow Cooker

Versatile cooking functions, a 6.5-quart capacity and sleek design earn All-Clad’s programmable slow cooker a top spot on this list. The ceramic insert is dishwasher-safe for quick and easy cleanup. 

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Best Thousand Lakes Minnesota Grown Wild Rice

Thousand Lakes Minnesota Grown Wild Rice

Packed with protein and fiber, this wild rice is an excellent option for numerous recipes. We like that the package contains just wild rice and no salt or preservatives. 

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Best OXO Good Grips POP Container Set

OXO Good Grips POP Container Set

The five canisters in this set are designed to keep food fresh so you can save leftovers and money. It includes different sizes to match a variety of food storage needs. 

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Best Creative Co-Op Metal Cookbook Holder

Creative Co-Op Metal Cookbook Holder

Not only does this stand work for cookbooks of various sizes, but it also features a stylish design that looks nice on a countertop. It’s a useful accessory that provides easy access to recipes during cooking.

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Jennifer Manfrin writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 

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