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EWG presents a series of guest articles by Culinary Nutritionist and Author of “What the Fork Are You Eating?” Stefanie Sacks exploring the link between a healthier diet and a healthier environment while offering straightforward advice and encouragement to anyone looking to improve their nutrition and protect the planet.
Growing up, my family thrived on chaos. I learned to cope by bringing organization into the unpredictable day-to-day – arranging then rearranging my bedroom, journaling and making lots of lists. That measure of stability helped then, and it helps me now, especially when teaching people how to adopt a healthy food lifestyle, even with busy lives.
A little organization can set you up for success.
Presumably, you have time to schedule work meetings, tea or coffee get-togethers with peers, playdates for the kids, even date night – right? Each takes thought and time. If you can make room in your schedule for them, it’s probably easy to take 15 or 30 minutes to plan your nourishment for a week.
Food isn’t a difficult topic, but for many people, it can still be highly emotional. The suggestion of changes may be triggering. My aim is to walk you through a process that could very well make the small changes in your everyday eating digestible and actionable. My style is systematic and efficient but always with flexibility and adaptability.
Although food and cooking fascinate me, I’m not suggesting they need to for you. But gathering inspiration might connect you to nourishment and may even inspire you.
If you use social media, add “plant-based recipes” to your interests, and you’ll find some amazing accounts with wonderful ideas. My social channel of choice is Instagram. A few accounts I go to for ideas: My New Roots, the Korean Vegan, Cooking with Ayeh, the Feed Vegan, Canelle Vanille and Bryant Terry.
- Start following some of these Instagram channels and browse for others.
- Download one or both recipe apps and start exploring them.
Seeking a ‘sacred space’
Do you have a “sacred place” in your home, or outside it, where you can get things done without too many distractions? If so, start your weekly food planning there. If not, find some other quiet place to do this work.
Once you’ve mastered it, you may be able to map your food on the fly, like I do, but until then, try this approach.
- Identify your sacred space in your home or out, like the local library or coffee shop.
To offer some perspective, I run my own business, have two teenage boys and when my elder was 10 years old, he started playing travel hockey. Since the hockey season is roughly 80 games long, this meant that for several years, we were constantly on the road. Add life’s ups and downs to our daily routine and the concept of “finding time” was hard to come by – but I did.
I’m telling you this to give you hope that you’ll also be able to find time for meal planning.
- Choose one day a week where you can put 15 or 30 minutes aside to plan for seven days of nourishment.
- Block off that time in your calendar, repeating the event weekly, and make sure to add an alert.
Planning your menu
What you eat for breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day are as important as dinner. Whether you use the downloadable charts below or take notes another way, the results will be the same – you’ll have a roadmap for your nourishment.
- Using the chart below, for dinner, come up with ideas for seven vegetables (from raw to cooked), seven starches (from sweet potatoes to quinoa); ands even types of protein (from lentils to tofu). Don’t forget to tap into the sources of inspiration above, as well as some of my favorite meatless recipes.
- With your food ideas, you can mix and match each column into balanced meals, using the following chart as a guide. If you’re used to eating out or ordering in, this approach will simplify your cooking adventures. Either way, try to plan your meals and devote at least three nights a week to cooking dinner.
When you know your weekly food needs, it’s easy to draw up a shopping list. You’ll need to buy perishables, like certain fruits and vegetables, weekly. But you can get non-perishable pantry basics – beans, grains, oils, vinegars, etc. – for the month.
- Organize your list by aisle and category – dry goods (from beans and grains to sauces and condiments); refrigerated (from plant milks and yogurt to tofu and tempeh); and frozen (from fruit and vegetables to veggie burgers and dumplings).
- Dedicate one day a week to food shopping. For example, I shop for food every Wednesday, something my whole family counts on every week.
- If you have kids, enlist their support while food shopping, putting groceries away, or helping with food prep and cooking.
Over the years, these tactics have helped hundreds of people I have worked with. Take all or part of my guidance, and perhaps nourishment will feel a little less chaotic, a little more systematic and even enjoyable.
Practice makes perfect – or almost perfect. Commit yourself to adding this new nourishment habit to your week, and it should soon become routine.