By Shane Solomon-Gross
Have you ever spent way too much time dwelling over the question, “What’s for dinner?” You’re not alone. Often when this problem arises, you’re already in the thick of a “hangry” episode, wherein you’re too hungry and angry to make a healthy choice for your next meal. The choice that follows is one of convenience – a prepared option that may or may not be what you’re craving, probably isn’t the most healthy, and will likely cost much more than if you planned ahead and prepared the meal yourself.
As with your coursework, the famous Benjamin Franklin quote “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail” also applies to your diet. Meal planning and food preparation are fantastic life hacks designed to save you time and money, reduce your food waste, and put you in charge of your nutritional goals.
Time management is crucial to a successful college career. At the University of Baltimore, a school that caters to the nontraditional student, students must build course schedules that are conducive to other various demands at home and work. Managing all of these activities together is a juggling act. Classes one night per week, typically running from 5:30-8:00 PM, can put a serious strain on dinner time if you aren’t prepared. For many, the solution is too often found in a drive-thru after class.
There’s a better way, and it’s not that difficult!
If you’re not confident about your cooking abilities, meal planning is a fun way to ease your pain in the kitchen. Meal planning encourages you to reconsider your relationship with food and teaches you how to construct your shopping list with purpose.
So how is it done? It’s easy! Just follow these five simple steps:
- Consider the inventory you already have on hand – If something has been sitting in your fridge or cupboard for a while and you just haven’t been able to find a purpose for it, take the opportunity to work it into your meal plan for the week. Obscure items can be fun, and the challenge of incorporating unconventional ingredients keeps the process creative. If this step doesn’t interest you, consider donating your non-perishable goods to the UB Campus Food Pantry.
- Look at your schedule for the upcoming week – Effective meal planning requires you to think ahead. When planning meals for those nights when you have a late night class, consider preparing enough for dinner the night before so you can pack leftovers!
- Choose your meals – There are limitless resources online where you can find recipes to suit your nutritional goals. One of the best resources for meal planning is allrecipes.com, an online recipe aggregator that allows you to search for recipes based on meal type, dietary restrictions, and most importantly, ingredients (here’s your opportunity to use that obscure ingredient). Search for recipes with common ingredients to shrink your shopping list. Many different cuisines incorporate the same ingredients as a base to develop vastly different flavors. When you employ variety in the same ingredients, you’re less likely to fall off the meal planning wagon. Common dynamic ingredients include onions, rice, garbanzo beans, bell peppers, and eggs. The possibilities are endless! Excellent options for meal prep are recipes which require little to no preparations on the day of. If you have a slow cooker at home, look for recipes to put it to use. A favorite recipe of mine is overnight oats, a simple and healthy breakfast option.
- Shopping – Create a list of all the ingredients needed to create your meals for the week. Cross off any items you already have on hand, and hit the store! Try to have a snack before you go to the store, warding off hunger that can lead to impulsive and excessive off-list purchases. Avoid buying pre-cut or prepared food. These options tend to be much more expensive than their unprepared counterparts. Purchase in bulk whenever possible and always be mindful of specials. If you find a cheaper substitution to an item on your shopping list, don’t be afraid to change your it.
- Food Preparation – Save time by preparing as much of your meals as possible beforehand. If you can, chop your vegetables and fruit, and portion out your snacks for the week as soon as you return home from the store. If you have items such as rice, chicken, or beans that typically take a while to cook, you can do so ahead of time to reduce your time in the kitchen later on.
These guidelines are far from exhaustive, but will serve as a great starting point for those interested in meal planning.
For additional resources, check out the UB Campus Food Pantry in Room 202A in the Student Center. It’s a free resource available to all UB students, faculty, staff, and alum!
Overnight Oats Recipe
½ Cup rolled oats (may substitute grits if gluten-free)
½ Cup non-fat milk (may substitute almond or soy if vegetarian/vegan)
½ Cup non-fat plain yogurt (may substitute greek yogurt or peanut butter)
1 Cup fruit of your choice
Add oats to your container of choice and pour in milk before layering fruit. Refrigerate overnight and enjoy in the morning!