5 Ways Meal Planning Can Contribute to Better Health

Poor eating habits are a known factor in the U.S. obesity epidemic wherein one-third of American adults are considered obese and around 17.5 percent of kids and adolescents, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The HHS goes on to report that poor dietary habits can even harm people who have a healthy weight, increasing many serious health risks, including illness, and in some cases, even death from osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and particular kinds of cancer.

As important as everyone knows it is to eat healthy, it is not always so easy to do. People have busy lives with demanding schedules and often find themselves hungry before they have had the chance to think about what to eat, left to grab the closest food item they can find just to satisfy their appetite. Such behavior can produce a vicious cycle of unhealthy impulse eating leaving a person nutritionally unsatisfied and hungrier, sooner. The alternative to this downward spiral is meal planning. Taking the time to plan out your meals, whether at home or on the go, breaks the pattern of poor eating habits, ensuring you receive your complete daily supply of nutrition. Remember, the advantages of a better diet include, increased energy and clarity, improved sleep, better and more stable moods, and a healthier weight. A healthier diet also contributes to lowered blood pressure and lowered risks of diabetes and certain types of cancer.

1. Prevents Haste

When people are in a rush, they make poor decisions. In regards to people’s appetite and its satiation, these poorer decisions can lead to poorer health and reduced quality of life. Imagine that you have not planned your meals and you are out shopping when hunger strikes. What do you do? Chances are, you head to the mall food court or a nearby fast food restaurant, which includes any restaurant where you are served food over the counter. All of this food is subpar, nutritionally, even many of those that purport to be nutritious. Over-the-counter foods tend to be packed with sugar, fat and calories, regardless of their other healthy claims. Here is another example. You are at work and did not bring your lunch. So, when your coworkers invite you to join them at the sit-down restaurant for lunch, of course you accept. The problem here is that these meals, too, contain a lot more sugar, fat and calories than you may realize, in part because of the overlarge portion sizes. Moreover, all the breads, appetizers, sides, drinks and desserts that come with these meals are adding calories you can do without.

2. Ensures Complete Nutrition

When you plan out your meals ahead of time, you can make sure that each meal contains the necessary nutritional components to be complete. The United States Department of Agriculture created the MyPlan system to help you do just that. MyPlan shows exactly how many grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy, protein and oils you need to eat each day for optimal health. Use these guidelines to develop the plans for you full days’ worth of meals and you can be sure to receive the full nutrition you need each day. Convenience foods are also frequently packed with additives, including preservatives, coloring agents and fillers. Planning your own meals made from whole food ingredients can eliminate many of these unhealthy elements from your diet.

3. Socialization and Lowered Stress

Planned meals are usually more relaxing meals than those consumed on a whim. Whether you spend time eating alone or with coworkers, friends or family, this time is usually quality time, or it can be. How you spend your meals can impact how you live your life. Would you rather live life on the run or would you rather stop and smell the roses? Another significant health benefit of this quality time taken to eat and be with yourself or others, is that it can significantly lower your stress levels. There has also been a link found between a parent’s food preparing habits and stress that suggests, by meal planning, you can lower your stress and elevate your mood out of a depressed state.

4. Money Saved is Money to Put Towards Your Health

Meal planning saves you money, which can then be applied toward other aspects of your health. How does meal planning save money? Convenience foods cost more than meal ingredients, especially when you break it down into how many portions, or meals, you get out of the ingredients, how much nutrition you get from the meals you make and how long it satisfies your hunger.

5. Weight Loss

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, research has found that it is not the number of calories you consume that make you feel full, but simply how much food you eat. This means that low-calorie fruits and vegetables will fill you up just as much as the same amount of a high-calorie food. Given that the foods eaten in planned meals tend to be lower in calories than convenience foods, by meal planning, you can fully satisfy your hunger without any guilt. Additionally, you can be proud knowing that, even while you feel just as full as had you eaten a burger and fries, you are actually maintaining a healthy diet.