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Your Health

Advance meal planning reaps nutrition dividends

When it comes to meals, do you plan ahead? It might take a little extra time and effort but be well worth it. Advance planning can make it easier to put nutritious food on the table. This can help you maintain a healthy weight and even help you better your health.

Planning a few days or even a week's worth of meals saves time by cutting down on daily trips to the grocery store or drive-through. It also can give you more control over portions and ingredients and help cut down on food waste.

Following general guidelines and meal-planning shortcuts can help you provide tasty, healthy fare, whether you are cooking for one or feeding a family.

Think balance and variety

Balance and variety are keys to a healthy eating plan. According to the American Heart Association, these recommendations may help reduce your risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity—three factors that can raise your risk for heart attack and stroke.

  • Choose a variety of nutritious foods from all food groups
  • Eat lean meat, poultry without skin, and fish
  • Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads and cereals, and fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products
  • Limit foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol
  • Cut back on foods high in salt, added sugar, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil

Time-saving shortcuts

If you are cooking for family members or others as well as yourself, start by asking for menu ideas. People are more likely to help with meal preparation and eat what you prepare if they have input.

Gather recipes from cookbooks or online recipe sites. One good online source for healthy recipes is www.livestrong.com .

Make a list of ingredients you'll need to prepare the meals you select. Determine what you have on hand and what you need to buy.

Keep a supply of healthy staple ingredients in your refrigerator and pantry. You can pull together quick meals from things you normally have on hand such as pasta, tomato sauce, rice, and canned tuna.

Plan simpler meals for weekdays when time is short. Leave more involved recipes for weekends when you have more time.

Remember, you can still enjoy "less-healthy" foods every once in a while if you balance them with healthier meals.