The best ways to plan menus

Source: livestrong.com
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Source: livestrong.com

8/22/2012 2:00:23 PM -

A doctor's orders, a spouse's request or just a personal need to feel and look better are all motivations to make lifestyle changes.

Following a healthy diet is an essential part of overall well-being, but this is often easier said than done. By having specific menus in place, you will make your transition a lot less arduous. Be advised that menu planning takes a moderate amount of organizational skills and discipline.

Determine the specifics
The first thing you need to do with meal planning is determine who you are making meals for, what everyone likes and the duration of the menus. If you have a family of four, for example, everyone might like something different.

Take a consensus and arrange your meals in a way that satisfies all interests. This step will be a lot easier if you just have to prepare meals for yourself or for you and a significant other. Refer to a cookbook or online resource like FoodNetwork.com if you need help creating meals. Once you have recipes together, draw up a shopping list and get all the supplies you need for one week, two weeks or whatever duration you intend to follow with your plan.

Vary your meals
Eating the exact same meals every day might be convenient and get you into a groove, but it can also become boring. By writing out a list of multiple breakfast, lunch and dinner options, you will prevent tedium. Assign each meal to a different day, and base it on fare that you and your family enjoy.

Include foods with a high nutrient density like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Nutrient-dense foods contain a high amount of vitamins and minerals per given amount of calories.

Colorful fruits and vegetables are especially beneficial because they contain powerful antioxidants, which help fight off renegade cells called free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Create a balance
Protein, carbohydrates and fat are macronutrients, which the body needs in high amounts for proper function. Protein is used for muscle repair and tissue formation, carbohydrates give the body energy and promote nervous system function and fat helps with vitamin absorption and cell membrane maintenance.

Chicken and turkey breasts, eggs, lean beef, bison, salmon, tuna and venison are proteins; brown rice, barley, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, beans, pasta and couscous contain carbs; and olives, olive oil, avocados, seeds and nuts provide fats.

Include a portion of each macronutrient in your meals to make them balanced. Since fat is the most calorie-dense, use it in smaller amounts. As a rule of thumb, use your open hand as a guideline for a protein serving; your cupped hand as a guideline for carbs like grains, pasta and beans; and the tip of your thumb for fats, such as oils and butter.

Factor snacks into your menus
If you wait long hours between meals, you run the risk of becoming ravenous, which can lead to over-indulging. Eating healthy snacks between meals is one of the best ways to stave off your hunger until your next meal rolls around, according to MayoClinic.com.

Your objective is to eat just enough food to hold you over, instead of gorging yourself. Choose snacks that have a high fiber content, since fiber helps fill you up and keeps you feeling satisfied for a long duration.

Apple slices with peanut butter, celery and carrot sticks with hummus dip and whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese are healthy snack options.

Put it all together
Once you have all the specifics of your menus together, organize them in a way that is easy and user-friendly. Document them in a notebook, print out a spreadsheet and place it in an area that you have easy access to or input all your data into a phone app. Every night, look over your menu for the next day so you know exactly how to plan and what to expect.

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