Studies show that meal planning is not only beneficial for health reasons, but it can also be a big time-saver. By planning out and creating meals before-hand, people experience less inclination to eat unhealthy foods that are quick and easy but offer little-to-no nutritional value. Meal prepping is a tool for weight loss, restricted diets, or simply as a component of an overall healthier lifestyle.
Meal Planning Basics
Meal planning is a way to choose which meals and snacks a person or family will consume for a set future period. Planning meals in advance makes it easier to maintain recommended portion sizes and creates opportunities to incorporate healthier options. The ingredients for meals and snacks are prepped ahead, up to a week in advance, and stored in the refrigerator. Depending on the meal, they may be completely ready-to-reheat dishes or portioned-out ingredients ready to pop in a pan or oven.
Encourages Healthier Eating
Carefully planning and preparing meals can reduce the urge to buy convenience meals or fast food, especially during time constraints or high-stress periods. Families with meal plans tend to consume a greater variety of vegetables. Additionally, home food preparation makes it easier to stick to specific diet guidelines or restrictions and cut down on high-calorie foods with lower nutritional values.
Meal planning is an excellent tool for weight loss and controlling dietary intake. Studies show that people who plan their meals ahead of time not only eat healthier foods but are also less likely to be overweight. Researchers determined that meal planning is an effective tool for obesity prevention and it encouraged subjects to eat foods with better dietary quality.
Studies indicate that people who spent less than an hour each day preparing meals spent more money on food and ate fast food more frequently. People who plan meals have mapped out their purchases, making shopping more efficient. Meal planning makes it easier to stick to a budget and avoid impulse items that can substantially increase the cost of groceries.
Extended Planning: Freezing Meals
For people who need to plan even further ahead to accommodate schedules or dietary needs, freezing meals is an option. Some foods can be cooked, then frozen for a month or longer. The preparer labels each bag using permanent marking pens or tape to designate the dish, its packaging date, and the number of servings.
Less Food Waste
Food waste is a major problem around the world. In the U.S. alone, about 1250 calories per person per day becomes waste. A 2018 study also found that each consumer wastes one pound of food daily. Vast resources are necessary for growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food, all placing a strain the environment. Meal planning, as well as proper preparation and storage, helps to prevent food waste.
Meal planning allows people to plan meals around their lifestyles and personal preferences. Creating a menu for the week ahead does not mean that a meal schedule is rigid. Individuals should adjust their meal plan as necessary to take advantage of sales or to choose healthy food that better suits a mood or craving.
Planning for Restricted Diets
Some conditions such as type 2 diabetes have specific dietary requirements and caloric limitations, which are easier to follow with meal plans. People with diabetes must manage their blood sugar levels. Some easy ways to accomplish this are to follow a well-balanced meal plan, cut back on calories, eat equal amounts of carbohydrates at each meal, and consume healthy fats.
Though there are few studies, researchers continue to look at the effects of nutrition on stress levels. Some discovered a potential link between low levels of vitamin D and stress. Meal planning and preparation of healthy meals may not only help reduce stress levels, but also leave more time to enjoy the hours outside of work or at the end of a tough day.
Experience New Foods
Because meal planning leads to greater food variety, it also creates opportunities to incorporate new foods into a daily diet. Studies show that meal planning increases an individual’s awareness of the nutritional content of different foods. By learning more about the wide variety of healthy foods available, people are more apt to incorporate them into their diets rather than just bookmarking recipes they never end up making.