It’s hard to eat right over the holidays. But the holidays also give us a little more time to relax and plan for the year ahead. Erin Spenner, a Registered Dietitian for Memorial Weight Loss & Wellness Center, has been helping INB employees plan for that “eat right” or “lose weight” goal many of us will put on our list of New Year’s Resolutions.
Erin says it takes a lot of work to eat right. But in doing so, you make healthier decisions, decrease your chances of overeating, feel satisfied throughout the day, and enjoy your meals and snacks more.
When you’re really, really, really hungry, it’s easy to eat the wrong things. If you know what you’re going to eat when, there’s no need to make a wrong choice.
“Sit down once a week or once a month and lay out your meal plan,” says Erin. While this may seem to take a lot of time, you’ll actually save time in the long run. She believes many people spend 15 minutes every day deciding what to eat, then 30 minutes stopping at the grocery store. You can spend that same amount of time and put together an entire week’s plan.
Erin says meal planning, “Reduces stress, saves money, and helps us manage calories and nutrition.” That means making good decisions when it comes time to eat because our decisions aren’t really decisions at all! Eating is a planned event!
She adds, “Do you remember when your grandmother used every single item in her cupboard/pantry and no foods ever went to waste? I do, and we need to get back to the basics of those times. Fruits and vegetables from the summer garden were canned and used throughout the next months – green beans, tomatoes, corn on the cob and more.” She advises creating a meal plan around seasonal vegetables and fruits, even if you aren’t going to be canning them yourself like Grandma. Shopping seasonally is a great way to save money, reduce waste, and increase flavor.
Decrease Chance of Overeating
When you lay it all out in front of you (or use a website or app to do it for you) it’s easy to see what eating a couple extra cookies or pint of Ben and Jerry’s can do to your daily calorie count. Planning meals AND snacks allows you to do this BEFORE you put that cookies and cream ice cream in your mouth. Planning also allows you to include some NOT so healthy choices in your overall plan.
“Every meal doesn’t have to be the healthiest choice,” Erin says. “Just watch portion size.”
Erin recommends planning tool websites like E-meals, Relish, Once a Month Meals and SparkPeople. She notes that a yellow, lined sheet of paper can work just as well. Just write it down. Then follow the plan.
Some people like to do monthly plans and hit the grocery store less often because each trip to the store is a chance to be tempted into buying something not on your plan. Erin offers these other grocery store considerations:
- Know when your store get its weekly produce. You’ll want to shop as close to this day as possible for the freshest fruits and vegetables.
- Buy produce that is in season to save money.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables are sometimes the cheaper and healthier alternative to fresh.
- If half of your plate is going to be filled with non-starchy vegetables, half of your grocery card should reflect the same.
Feel Satisfied Throughout the Day
When you plan meals, you also take the time to consider, “Am I really hungry?” as you go to reach for a bag or chips or sneak a piece of candy from the department candy jar. Erin says, “Learn to identify your patterns. On a scale of 10 to 1, how hungry am I?” You might find that you’re only a number 5 at 11:30 and hold off eating lunch until noon.
When you plan meals, also plan snacks, advises Erin. “Snacks are a bridge between breakfast and lunch and/or lunch and dinner or dinner and bedtime. They should include five grams of fiber and protein.”
Erin’s Memorial colleague, Kimberly Paskiewicz, MPH, RD, LDN, told INB staff to remember the kids. “Make meals and eating a family affair. Talk about when we are going to eat, where we are going to eat, and what we are going to eat. Teach kids food rules and boundaries.” Then turn dinner into not only a time to eat, but a time to talk. Ask, “What is the best thing that happened today? What should we plan to do this weekend? If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be?”
Because dinner may be early for kids, they may need a bedtime snack. Erin recommends making all snack times easy and nutritious by having pre-portioned foods in the pantry and fridge. For example, package carrot sticks and apples slices, small containers of ranch dip and peanut butter, and pretzels or veggie chips. Save money by buying in bulk and doing your own packaging.
Enjoy Your Meals and Snacks More
Because you’ve done the hard work of planning, Erin insists you’ll enjoy eating more even if you aren’t eating one-time favorite foods like cream-laden soups or your all-time favorite food like bacon. Why? Because meal planning:
- Reduces stress
- Saves money
- Helps you better meet your nutrient needs
- Helps you better manage your caloric intake
And when you do those things you feel better when you’re awake, sleep better when you’re supposed to be asleep.