The Mood Boosting Benefits Of Meal Prep & Planning

When I was in college, I only pulled one all-nighter. I’m just not a last-minute person. For me, it causes too much anxiety and uncertainty. I really like to plan and be prepared, especially when it comes to meals. I find it helps save money, save time, and reduce stress. It also helps me build a sense of pride and accomplishment. Here are five tips for helping people you work with do a bit more meal preparation and planning.

1. Make two lists before grocery shopping
Two lists? Yes! Encourage people to not only make a list of what they think they need to shop for but also an inventory of what they currently have on hand, especially when it comes to perishable fresh produce. I like to make my lists on my smart phone versus on paper so I can reuse the list for items I frequently buy. Doing a quick inventory of foods already in the refrigerator can help reduce food waste, which not only helps the environment but can also reduce the guilt people feel when good food goes bad and ends up in the trash. The PBH Hacks To Habits research shows food waste guilt is more common for people who eat the most fruits and vegetables. Why? Because they are the ones most likely to select and buy more fruits and vegetables at retail.

2. Prep fresh produce after shopping
This is an especially powerful habit to help people develop. The PBH Hacks To Habits research showed that people who have a shopping habit don’t necessarily have a consumption habit. They may be good at buying fruits and vegetables, but once they bring them home, they may not actually eat them. Why? There are many likely reasons, but ease and convenience at the likely top reasons.

Taking some time to prep produce when you bring it home can make it easier to cook with and eat it later in the week. Cutting up fresh veggies and placing them in sealed containers in the fridge makes it easy to use them. It may also prompt family members to grab a fruit or veggie snack if the work has already been done for them. I love to listen to smooth jazz music while I’m prepping my produce. The music is soothing, which gives my brain time to contemplate how I’ll use the produce in meals the next few days. But what if you work with people who don’t like cutting and chopping? Simply encourage them to buy fresh-cut produce as well as frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.

3. Use online tools for inspiration
I love creating meals from foods I have on hand, but many people find this a very intimidating task. Online tools like Yummly’s Pantry Search tool allows you to enter ingredients you have on hand to find recipes that use those ingredients. Simply Recipes, a recipe website that promises “Less Stress. More Joy.” has a What’s for Dinner section of their site that offers endless inspiration for stressed home cooks pressed to answer one of the most annoying questions a mom can ask herself at 4 pm on a busy weekday.

4. Stock your pantry with staples
Savvy home cooks always keep a variety of ingredients in their pantries or kitchen cabinets that can make last-minute meal prep easier. Items like canned tomato products, diced chiles, canned chickpeas and beans, dried fruit, dehydrated potato flakes, biscuit mix, spice blends, vegetable stock, California extra virgin olive oil, and jarred salsas, olives, pepperoncini and pasta sauces, as well as rice, many shapes of dry pasta, and canned tuna are just a few examples of the items you can almost always find in my pantry. I’m embarrassed by how large my spice collection has grown, but I’m also humbled by one of my favorite “flavor fix” spice blends that can make a pantry meal of pasta, pureed tomatoes, and beans an exciting offering in my home and that’s taco seasoning mix. I often also rely on Italian seasoning and chile-lime seasoning to boost flavor in many plant-forward meals.

5. Have a plan for the days when the plan falls apart
Life happens, right? Some days, no matter how hard you’ve prepared and planned, issues crop up that can wreck a great plan. When this happens encourage people (or yourself) to breathe for a moment, and then either grab the phone to place an order or grab the keys and go out to eat. Eating well doesn’t mean only eating at home. Restaurants offer convenience, enjoyment, and entertainment, and many of them are striving to boost fruit and vegetable consumption. Restaurants also offer opportunities to try new fruits and vegetables, or familiar favorites prepared in new ways that can inspire new culinary creativity in future home meals.
For all of us working to inspire people to eat more fruits and vegetables more often we can never lose sight of the powerful impact our words and actions can have on people’s emotions. Fruits and veggies can boost happiness and using multiple strategies to prepare and plan meals that incorporate more fruits and vegetables in all their glorious forms can reduce stress, save time and money, and instill powerful feelings of pride and confidence. I look forward to hearing how you are promoting the mood boosting benefits of meal preparation and planning!

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