Plan Ahead for Healthy Meals at Home

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UW Health nutritionists offer tips to help you eat healthy at home.

Gone are the days of home-cooked meals! Or so it seems in today's busy world.


Meal patterns have changed over the past several year. Families are preparing fewer meals at home and choosing more convenience foods and dining out, in fact a recent survey showed that adults eat 5 meals a week in a restaurant.


The consequence of these patterns is that diet quality decreases and risk for obesity, heart disease and other chronic diseases increase. Many convenience items are higher fat, saturated fat, and sodium - all dietary attributes that if eaten in excess, puts us at risk for heart disease.


Research shows that children and adolescents eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy when they eat family meals at home. Additionally, young adults who report preparing meals at home also report higher diet quality. However, parents and young adults report that time, meal planning, and food preparation are major barriers to family meals.


Tara LaRowe, UW Health clinical nutritionist says, "This is a very common issue. Patients often tell us that they could eat so much healthier if only they had the time to plan ahead."


Plan a Healthy Plate


"The good news," she says, "is that with just a little effort and planning, eating healthy at home can be quick and easy."


An easy way to begin planning meals is to visualize a plate at a meal. Building a plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein will ensure balanced nutrition. Find out how you can build a healthy meal with our Healthy Plate tips


Stock a Healthy Pantry


Part of planning also means having a well-stocked pantry with healthy base foods. This is especially important when we have limited time to prepare a meal. It will also prevent going through drive-thru or reaching for convenience foods. View our handout for items to stock in your pantry: Prepare your pantry for quick and tasty heart-healthy meals (pdf)


Plan and Prepare with these Tips


When your pantry and refrigerator/freezer are stocked with staples, it is easy to start mixing and matching to create a balanced, healthy meal. La Rowe recommends these tips for planning and preparing meals:

  • Look for recipes that use only 5-7 ingredients. These are quick and easy.
  • Some meal items can be prepared in advance; pre-cook on days when you havetime
  • Double or triple up on recipes and freeze meal-sized containers of soups and casseroles or divide into individual portions
  • Try a few meatless meals by substituting with beans and peas or try "no-cook" meals like salads
  • Incorporate leftovers into a subsequent meal, like in this Roast Chicken/Salsa Chicken Chili recipe
  • Be creative with a fruit or vegetable and use it in different ways during the week
  • Have a healthy quick 'go-to' meal that you can fall back on if you are short on time or ingredients