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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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How Meal Planning Can Keep You Healthy

You know by now that meal planning and cooking food at home is going to save you more time and money than if you did not practice these smart habits, but being prepared in the kitchen also has health benefits that are crucial if you are serious about staying healthy. How so? The reasons extend beyond just knowing that a fast food cheeseburger is unhealthier than salmon and asparagus prepared at home. Let’s look at how meal planning and cooking at home aligns with a healthier lifestyle: 

Ingredient Control

When you prepare meals at home, you are the one that also gets to control what goes into them, and small differences add up. For instance, if you were to go out for Italian food, the establishment is going to use full-fat mozzarella and ricotta to prepare your lasagna. At home, you can be sure to use part-skim cheeses, which slashes your calories and fat while still providing plenty of flavor. Ditto with salad dressings, sour cream, milk products, and more. Restaurants will opt for full fat versions of these types of products because they produce a richer result, but you can still achieve a very tasty replica at home using healthier items. This also goes for cuts of meat. Trained chefs know that marbled meats and fattier cuts can yield buttery and succulent results, but they aren’t keeping your caloric intake in mind. 

Appropriate Portions

Most servings at restaurants and fast food establishments are almost or sometimes more than double what an appropriate portion of the item should be! It’s hard to resist eating all of it when we’re out and enjoying ourselves. At home, you are better able to control your portions, distribute appropriate serving sizes to the rest of the family, and reserve some of the meal for leftovers before eating, ensuring that you won’t go overboard. Reliable leftover containers will help you feel inspired to pack things away for lunch for the next day before you even sit down at the dinner table.

Less Sugar, Sodium, Oil and Processed Food Intake

You know that feeling of being bloated and dehydrated after eating out when you may have indulged a bit too much? That’s called going overboard with sodium! Meals prepared at restaurants and fast food spots are loaded with sodium, and it’s contained in items that aren’t necessarily “salty.” This also goes for sugars and butter and oils, which may be used in excess to increase flavor and for certain cooking techniques. Fast food is not only filled with all of these components, but is also usually not prepared using fresh ingredients, but rather processed items and an abundance of chemicals. 

Defeating Food Impulses

When you don’t plan meals and anticipate what you’ll need to eat during busy times, it’s all too easy to stop for food while you’re out and about. And even though it may sound counterintuitive, if you never have anything “fun” or enjoyable to eat at home, you’ll indulge more often and giving in to impulses and cravings! You can combat both of these conundrums with meal planning because you can equip your household with the food tools necessary to still eat healthy on busy nights while still planning yummy meals and treats so you can indulge at home occasionally. Having a few reduced fat Oreos from the pantry with a cup of low-fat milk is still going to be healthier for you than stopping for ice cream on the way home just because you feel like a treat! The same goes for meals. Keeping things balanced at home is your best bet to avoid those times you just need to indulge a bit. 

Finally, it’s worth noting that studies show that folks who cook at home often tend to consume more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains than those that eat out more. This is significant because this type of clean eating is the foundation of a healthy baseline for good habits and reduces the risk of many dangerous conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. Meal planning and preparing those meals does not mean you have to be overly strict or never indulge in certain foods, but in the long run, these lifestyle habits can be a smart way to maintain good health and reduce risk factors for disease. Food is meant to be thoroughly enjoyed, but this can happen around the dinner table at home just as much as it can at a restaurant, and you’ll feel better knowing you’re committing to smarter eating choices!

Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey
Debra Caffrey is the writer/editor of the Education and Infant & Pregnancy e-newsletters for Fredericksburg Parent and Family. She also writes the monthly Practical Pantry column, sharing her recipes and tips on being a home cook, grocery shopping, and smart meal planning. Debra is the proud mother of an almost-teenage son. When she's not writing, cooking, or parenting, Debra enjoys working out, yoga, running, hiking, traveling, and reading.

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