Meal Planning

What if I told you making your own meals and snacks is easy, AND they will make you feel great?! Goodbye microwave dinners, hello Instagram-worthy dishes.

Transitioning to fresh foods doesn't have to be scary, or even done all at once. Instead, here are some baby steps you can take to slowly ease your way into wholesome meals and snacks. First, choose which situation describes yours best:

I live with my parents

Start with mastering the first step, then move onto the second and third. You'd be surprised how these small changes can lead to big effects on the quality of your diet.

Step 1: Eat with your family

  • Whenever you can. Start with once a week on your least busy night. Then slowly increase how much you do this;
  • When you all eat together, you are more likely to eat regular meals and healthy foods like vegetables and fruit and whole grains;
  • Eating together will give you a positive outlook on food, so you will enjoy your meals more and be more confident in other areas of your life; and
  • Take this a step even further by having everyone put away their technology during meal times.

Step 2: Snack on vegetables and fruit

  • Start adding one fruit or vegetable to your normal after-school snack;
  • Then, try adding more and more vegetables and fruit each time you eat;
  • To make it easier to remember, you or your parents can buy your favorite vegetable or fruit. You can then wash it, cut it up, and leave it somewhere you know you will see it. This means you will be more likely to reach for this instead of other less healthy food.

Step 3: Pack your own lunches and snacks

  • Packing a lunch is often healthier than buying one, and it saves you money!
  • If you always buy your lunch, start with trying to pack it once a week. It is best to pack it the night before, so choose the night of the week you are least busy and have your packed lunch the next day;
  • Do this for a few weeks until you get more comfortable, then try packing a lunch for more and more days of the week.

The end result: you'll be eating regular, home cooked meals and snacks filled with vegetables and fruit.

I live on my own

Start with mastering the first step, then move onto the second and third. You'd be surprised how these small changes can lead to big effects on the quality of your diet.

Step 1: Eat regular meals and snacks

  • Your body needs energy at all times throughout the day, so it is important to give it fuel at all hours;
  • Eating often also means you won't get too hungry throughout the day. This means you will be less likely to overeat, or to have less healthy foods when you do eat; and
  • Add more meals and snacks in one by one. Say if you normally only eat dinner, try adding in a snack in the afternoon. Eventually try to add lunch, then breakfast in there too.

Step 2: Add vegetables and fruit to meals and snacks

  • Start with making sure to have one fruit or vegetable as a snack during the day. If you can, keep what you want to eat out on the counter so you remember to pack it for lunch or reach for it at home;
  • Then, slowly start adding more and more vegetables and fruit into your meals; Eventually work up to having at least one every time you eat;
  • The final goal is to have most meals and snacks be at least 50% vegetables and/or fruit (think half your plate).

Step 3: Cook meals at home and mostly from scratch

  • Now, this step sounds scary, but it really isn't! Start by choosing one night a week to experiment with cooking. Make sure this night is one where you have the least going on;
  • First, try adding something homemade as a side to the take out or microwave dinner. For example, cut up veggies or make a salad to go with a store bought or frozen pizza;
  • Then, start making meals where there are only a couple things to assemble. For example, pasta with premade sauce and sliced up veggies;
  • After you've mastered this for a few weeks, try meals with a few more components. For example, try making a stir fry by cooking your own rice, vegetables and meat. Pour a premade sauce (like teriyaki or butter chicken) over top;
  • When you've mastered these types of meals, try to do them more frequently. It is okay to eat out, but try to make your own meals more often than you go out;
  • Sauces and dressing you buy in the store are high in salt, sugar and additives. Once you are comfortable in the kitchen, the final step is to make sauces and dressings from scratch as well. For example, salad dressings can be made by adding spices and lemon juice to oil;
  • For more help, see Tips to help you become a master chef [link to this page].

The end result: you'll be eating regular, home cooked meals and snacks filled with vegetables and fruit.

Tips to help you become a master chef

For Instagram-worthy lunches:

  • To decide what to pack, take a look first at what you have in your house. Sandwiches are a good start since they're easy and filling. Add a piece of fruit and you have a great, healthy lunch!
  • Leftovers are easy and fast. Try to make more than you'll eat at dinner so you can put them into containers for lunch;
  • Always keep food safety in mind...
    • Pack your lunch in an insulated bag
    • Keep hot food hot using thermoses
    • Keep cold food cold using freezer packs

To keep you and your followers interested:

  • We live in the information age! Resources are all around you for healthy meal and snack ideas. For example:

For speedy meals

  • Plan the meals!
    • Plan for the next few days (always remembering how much your fridge can hold). Take a look at Canada's Food Guide and plan meals with 3 to 4 food groups each;
    • Choose recipes that use familiar ingredients and methods.
  • Organize!
    • Some ingredients can be prepared before hand, so take time to cut and cook up any of those ingredients;
    • Divide your prepared recipes into portions. The ones you will eat within a few days can go in the fridge, or put some in the freezer for quick meals in weeks to come.
  • Keep Track!
    • Keep a note on your phone, or file on your computer of recipes that you've liked. This way you can look at it for fast ideas in later weeks.

To avoid breaking the bank

  • Plan your meals (see above)
    • Make a grocery list from this plan so you are only buying what you need.
  • Look for sales
    • Check out flyers and base at least some of your meals around the sales;
    • Use free apps like Flipp - it has flyers from many stores in your area, so you know you are always getting the best deal;
    • Take the flyers and app with you - some stores will price match with other stores, so you can get the best deal while saving some gas or bus money;
  • Buy frozen or canned foods. They are often less expensive, but just as nutritious. Choose canned foods with no added sodium, or rinse the food before using it);
  • No name? No problem! Buy the store brand, since they are just as nutritious, and are often less expensive than name brands;
  • Don't throw your cash in the trash - store food appropriately so you don't waste it! Look at the packaging before putting it away to make sure you are storing it properly. As for vegetables and fruit, this video does a good job of showing how to store them; and
  • Check out what's happening in your community. For example Ottawa has 3 initiatives that offer fresh produce at discounted rates.

So you don't give your date food poisoning

  • Foodborne illness is caused by microorganisms in food that has not been handled or cooked properly;
  • There are steps you can take to decrease your risk of getting sick. Learn these now, since even amazing cooking skills won't impress your date if you make them sick;
    • Wash your hands before and after cooking and after touching raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood;
    • Wash all vegetables and fruits before using;
    • Cook meats to the proper internal temperatures
    • In the fridge, keep uncooked meat at the bottom and in a separate bag from all other foods. This makes sure the rest of your food stays safe if the juices were to leak;
    • Wash all countertops, cutting boards, utensils etc. after each use;
    • Only keep leftovers for 4 days, if it doesn't get eaten within this time throw it away;
    • If food has been sitting at room temperature for more than 2 hours, throw it away;
    • When in doubt, throw it out - if it looks, smells, tastes, or feels funny don't eat it;
  • There are many websites for more information, including Dietitians of Canada and Be Food Safe;
  • There is an app for that! The app Is My Food Safe can quickly answer all your food safety questions.

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