Meal Planning Makes Healthy Eating Easier
Get started with a few tips and tricks — and 10 low-calorie weeknight recipes (lean protein and plenty of veggies make these keepers!).
Whether you’re trying to stick to a New Year’s resolution or you just want to eat more vegetables, home cooking will help you get there. Research shows that people who eat home-cooked meals take in fewer calories, less sugar, and less fat than folks who eat out a lot. Seriously. So what’s the best way to make sure you cook at home, and cook nutritious meals? Healthy meal planning.
Set yourself up for success
If you know in advance what you’ll be making during the week, you’ll have plenty of time to get the right components in place. I lost 100 pounds many moons ago, and planning and tracking made the endeavor so much easier.
• Plan ahead. Devote some time on the weekend or one evening to choose recipes. The Yummly Meal Planner tool makes it easy. See details below.
• Shop ahead. Every Sunday afternoon, I like to shop for the ingredients I’ll need for the next work week. (If you use the shopping list function that’s integrated into the Meal Planner, you can access the list on your phone from the grocery store.)
• Prep ahead. With my own diet-conscious meal plans, I like to take things a step further: When I get home from the store, I spend a few minutes doing healthy meal prep, cleaning and chopping as many of the week’s vegetable ingredients as possible. Having pre-diced onions and pre-washed spinach ready to go pretty much guarantees I won’t change my mind at the last minute and order in.
Create a healthy eating plan
With the Meal Planner tool, building a healthy weekly meal plan is a snap. But before you launch it, here are a few ways to begin filling the planner with healthy recipes that are customized just for you.
• Update your food preferences so Yummly's database will start populating the planner with gluten-free or kid-friendly recipes, for example, if you’re looking for those.
• Look for ideas. Under Browse on Yummly, I like to start with the Healthy category (part of Diets). From there I can look for vegetarian recipes, say, and use the filter at the top to select Nutrition and Time to home in on low calorie, high-fiber options that are on the table quickly. To save a recipe to my meal planner, I click it open and tap on the notebook icon that appears on the upper right of the page.
• Search for and save a recipe. Say you’re in the mood for Indian palak paneer. Type “palak paneer” into the search bar at the top of a Yummly page. Click on a recipe option that you like, and then tap on the notebook icon on the upper right of the page to save it to your planner. You can also search for recipes by ingredient such as kale, for example.
To give you more ideas for your healthy meal plan, I created this sample collection of 10 weeknight options. Each recipe provides lean protein and plenty of vegetables and nearly all land on the table in 45 minutes or less (the exceptions are the frittata, which takes a tad longer, and the slow-cooker recipe, which doesn't require much hands-on time). Choose five for this week and five for the following, and you’ve got half a month of healthy weeknight meals covered.
As a bonus, most of these recipes are Yummly easy step-by-step Guided videos. Click on the photos to see just how simple they are to make!
Healthy Salmon & Veggie Sheet Pan Dinner
Salmon boasts plenty of heart-healthy fat, and it cooks so quickly it’s perfect for weeknights. Roasting baby potatoes and asparagus spears with a little olive oil alongside the fish means you only dirty one pan, and a sprinkling of fresh dill adds flavor without adding many calories.
Grain-Free Zucchini Boats
This low-carb recipe gives lean ground beef an Italian accent with tomatoes, garlic, and Italian seasoning (a handy pantry staple). You’ll combine a few simple ingredients, then stuff the mixture into scooped-out zucchini halves and bake. A little bit of cheese adds a hint of indulgence, but each serving has just 280 calories.
Quick Stir-Fried Ginger Chicken
Takeout Chinese food is likely to have way more oil and sodium than your body needs. Good thing making your own stir-fry is so easy. This one combines tender pieces of boneless chicken breast, crisp green beans, and carrots with classic Asian flavors: soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, plus plenty of fresh ginger. Serve it on quick-cooking brown rice noodles, and grab your chopsticks.
Hearty Italian Beef and Vegetable Soup
Weeknight soups are one of my favorite ways to eat lean—the extra liquid makes it filling for very few calories, and most of the time you’ll use plenty of vegetables. In this case, carrots, celery, roasted tomatoes, and Swiss chard plus cannellini beans make for one bountiful, delicious bowl. Serve with crusty whole wheat bread, and don’t forget the grated Parm on top.
Palak Paneer with rice
That’s right, you can make your favorite vegetarian dish from the local Indian restaurant at home. A substantial amount of spinach cooks down with tomatoes, ginger, and plenty of spices into a thick, creamy sauce. It’s the perfect foil for chunks of browned paneer, the Indian cheese. (Can’t find it? Swap in Mexican queso fresco or queso blanco.) I know, creamy sauce + cheese hardly sounds like a weight loss idea, but this miraculous recipe has under 300 calories per serving.
Easy Sheet Pan Greek Chicken with Grape Tomatoes, Artichoke Hearts, and Red Onion
With briny kalamata olives, salty feta cheese, and an herb-flecked Greek dressing, the flavors in this one-pan dinner virtually explode off your plate. Canned artichoke hearts are not only easy to use, they’re also loaded with fiber—which means this dinner will leave you satisfied for hours.
Honey-Soy Marinated Cod with brown rice and steamed asparagus
One of the beautiful things about mild white fish like cod, aside from its healthy protein, is how quickly it soaks in the flavors of a marinade. A simple mix of soy sauce, honey, garlic, and ginger takes just 30 minutes to flavor the fish (though you could leave it in the fridge for up to 8 hours, if that’s easier). That marinade cooks with the fish, so you’ll have plenty of sauce to drizzle on your rice and asparagus.
Cheesy Vegetable Egg Bake with whole-grain toast and a green salad
Yes, it’s billed as a breakfast casserole. But with all those vegetables (we’re talking mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, bell pepper, and red onion) plus three kinds of cheese, it makes a remarkably good dinner. If you happen to have some fresh herbs on hand, toss in a handful, finely chopped, when you stir everything together. You can serve fresh fruit on the side instead of salad if you prefer.
Easy Slow-Cooker Chicken Tacos with Quick Pickled Red Onions
With a slow cooker and a splash of prepared barbecue sauce, you can make the filling for these soft tacos with almost no effort. I really like the zing of pickled red onions to contrast the creamy avocado and crunchy cabbage; if you get the sliced onions into the brine just before you shred the chicken, that’ll give them enough time to embrace their pickle-ness.
Sesame Fried Egg and Mushroom Quinoa Bowls
Few things make me (and my picky kid) happier than grain bowls. You can really pile on the vegetables, but if any element doesn’t appeal to you, just leave it out. Cooking the quinoa in a combo of broth, mirin, and soy sauce makes it yummy enough to eat on its own, but with that fried egg on top, the browned mushrooms, the roasted seaweed, the green onion and edamame, the sesame seeds… Yowza.
Want more tips and tricks for meal planning? Check out all our meal planning articles.