Sharpening your culinary muscles: 9 Meal planning strategies for professionals

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Recently, I have faced new challenges with feeding myself and my family. I work most days of the week, and I also have two kids in hockey and piano lessons which are scheduled over the time we would normally eat together.

My evening schedule, whether it is spent working or at my children’s activity schedule, makes mealtimes challenging on two fronts:

  • Preparation: We are outside the home during times when I would normally prepare a supper meal. If we come home from an activity at 5pm, my kids are usually ready to eat. If I don’t have something ready, they tend to get “snacky”. And while yes, I could offer them a snack, I find it does “spoil” their appetite when this snack is eaten so close to supper. They are still learning to manage their appetite so they can come to the dinner table hungry and ready to eat.
  • Eating supper: We are outside the home during times when we would normally eat a supper meal. If I haven’t packed something to eat, we are at the mercy of buying from a concession stand which does not always have great options, especially as it relates to foods needed for sporting activities.


Eat more minimally processed foods by strengthening your culinary muscles:

In August 2015, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada released a position statement on Saturated Fat, Heart Disease and Stroke [1]. Among its many recommendations was for Canadians to consume more natural and minimally processed foods at each meal and to prepare meals at home using minimally processed foods.

As a nutritionist and dietitian, I am thrilled to see this kind of health-promoting recommendation – eat real food. Foods have the power to move us toward mind-body health and create an internal environment for our bodies to age well.

I am sold on this message of eating real food…. But….I still struggle with getting decent food on the table. I often feel like a rat on a wheel, just trying to run to keep up with all that life is throwing at me. Life never stops, and it makes it challenging to eat home-prepared meals.

Rebecca Katz, a brilliant chef and nutrition professional, talks about going to the culinary gym. Just like you might go to a gym for some of your workouts, spending a bit of time cooking in the kitchen, allows your culinary skills to improve. The more you use your culinary muscles, the stronger and more proficient you will be in the kitchen.

I have asked other professionals how they manage. I am still working on streamlining my approaches to our busy evenings – but these are the meal-planning ideas that I, and other busy professionals, are using to eat more home-prepared foods.

Nine Meal Planning Strategies for Busy Professionals

  1. Shop with your suppers in mind. Just like you build a house with key materials, you build meals with basic ingredients on hand. Make sure you have some key foods at home from which you can build your supper meals.
  2. Create a standing pantry list. This will allow you to have some consistent staples in your home, allowing you to prepare a meal in a snap.
  3. Dust off your slow-cooker. Slow cooking is, in my mind, essential for dinners on the go. Cook crunchier, crispier food for nights when you are actually home to prepare food, like DIY chicken fingers or stir fry.
  4. Consider a new cooking gadget! This past summer, I purchased a programmable pressure cooker. It is brilliant, and allows me to create meals that would usually take hours in under 30 minutes.
  5. Change when you prepare meals – Rather than prepare and then eat right away, consider preparing your meal after supper, for the following day. Prepare your food and allow to slow cook while you are sleeping.  Or, cook in the morning.
  6. Change the quantities of food you prepare. Cook once and eat twice.  For example, for the last 2 Sunday nights, I have been cooking a salmon and a whole chicken. We eat salmon that night, and enjoy chicken the following night. Tuesday I make a soup with the left over chicken.
  7. Change the frequency of how often you prepare food – one friend suggested to cook Sunday evenings and Wednesdays. I haven’t gotten my prep down to this infrequent – but I thought it was a great strategy to try.
  8. Pack supper for the road. Heat up food and pack your thermos. Pack a bag of food – carrots + hummus, cheese sticks, mini muffins, fruit, dinner entrée.
  9. Choose better options when grabbing a take-out meal – While our family does eat out occasionally, we prefer to enjoy meals that we have prepared ourselves. However, sometimes we need to get by with a little help. On these nights, I will stop by my grocery store deli and build a balanced meal from the options there.

It is possible to eat whole, less processed foods on busy  evenings – and it doesn’t have to be difficult. But if you haven’t been working your culinary muscles, it will take some motivation, pre-planning, perseverance and a commitment to get back into the “culinary gym”. However, most clients I work with are glad they do – as they see immediate results in how they feel.

Need help with enhancing your culinary muscles? I offer a variety of cooking classes, in partnership with the Alberta Health Services Wellness Kitchen.

Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall
Kristyn Hall MSc, RD Nutritionist and Registered Dietitian Calgary, AB.

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