Food Planning for Busy Weeks

Do you ever feel like your busy schedule is getting in the way of eating healthy — and taking a toll on your wallet? Sometimes dining out or grabbing something quick during a hectic week can give you one less thing to think about. Having recently started a graduate school program while balancing work, school, running and a social life, I've found how taking time to organize and plan for the week ahead has become an important tool to be sure to fuel my body in a healthy way.
Eat healthy, save money and reduce stress all by simply taking a few minutes to organize your meals for the week!

#1 Plan Meals for the Week on Sunday
In the beginning of the week, think about what events will be going on for you and your family and identify those “hard to cook” times. Is it that you have a volunteer event on Tuesday, or your favorite Zumba class on Thursday? Be sure to have a plan for an easy recipe on those nights or the leftovers from a “cook once eat twice” recipe (see below). Try using a calendar to plan your weekly breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks for the week. Be sure to include any activities that might make it harder to cook on certain nights. Does it seem impossible to make dinner on Wednesday with everything going on? Plan ahead and choose a healthy meal to purchase from the Healthy Dining Finder or try purchasing a prepared salad from your local grocery store for that night. Being prepared for these situations will help you avoid fast food stops and straying from your food budget. Finally, grocery shop according to the breakfast, lunch and dinner options you have planned out for the week. Your meal planner makes it easy to prepare a quick and healthy grocery list as well as reduce the time you are grocery shopping!

#2 Use the Portion Plate
When planning your meals, be sure to use the “plate method” from  First, be sure that all of your meals incorporate a small portion of a lean protein such as skinless chicken breast, salmon or lean pork loin. Next include a small portion of a whole grain such as whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa or half of a sweet potato. Finally, plan for a large portion of fruits and non-starchy vegetables (at least half your plate). A MyPlate dinner example would be a 3-ounce piece of grilled salmon, a half of a sweet potato, 1 cup of steamed green beans and 17 grapes. Don’t forget to include healthy beverages! Avoid the sugary beverages that can increase weight, blood sugars and cholesterol levels such as sweet tea, soda and juice. Aim for water, unsweetened tea, sugar-free drink mix and seltzer water instead!

#3 Cook Once Eat Twice
Think the only way to make healthy meals is to cook them every night? Think again! Cook larger batches of food on nights where you have the time and plan to re-heat or pack the leftovers for those hectic and stressful days. For example, steam twice as much of zucchini and squash as you'll eat on Monday to be sure you include vegetables into your quick and easy meals throughout the week. Not sure what to bring for lunch? Try incorporating your leftover chicken, rice and veggies over a bed of lettuce and have a “leftover salad!” Or consider cooking larger portions of food to use in other recipes (see recipe).

#4 Plan for Snacks
Be sure to incorporate healthy snacks into your weekly meal plan and grocery shop accordingly. Try to eat a healthy meal or snack every 3 to 4 hours to prevent excess hunger and to fuel your body appropriately for your busy schedule. Try packing some almonds, half an apple and natural peanut butter or some baby carrots to help get you through the day. Healthy snacks can prevent the late-afternoon-sweet-tooth and keep your health and budget on track.

#5 Use Your Healthy Recipe Resources
If you are anything like me, you have cookbooks and magazines with sticky notes all over them indicating recipes you would like to try. To avoid a table full of recipe books, try photocopying, printing or ripping out these recipes and combine them into your own recipe binder. Divide the binder into categories such as snack ideas, chicken dinners, pasta dinners and salads. If you are on Pinterest, check out the USDA’s MyPlate Recipes page or the Food & Nutrition Magazine page for several healthy meal ideas.

I wish you all an organized, tasty, stress free and healthy week!


Turkey Vegetable Bake

Recipe adapted from Diabetic Living Magazine

Have leftover baked chicken or turkey from earlier in the week? Or have some left over veggies you want to get rid of? Try this cook-once-eat-twice recipe!

Serves 6

2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
¾ cup chopped red or yellow pepper
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons SmartBalance spread
¼ cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 cups skim milk
1 10oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups chopped cooked turkey or chicken breast
½ cup shredded low fat mozzarella cheese

  1. In a 12-inch skillet cook and stir mushrooms, sweet pepper, onion, and garlic in SmartBalance spread over medium heat until tender.
  2. Stir in flour, thyme, and black pepper.
  3. Slowly stir in milk; cook and stir until thickened and bubbly.
  4. Stir in spinach, rice, turkey, and 1/4 cup of the low fat cheese.
  5. Spoon mixture into a 2-quart rectangular baking dish.
  6. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  7. Bake, covered, in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake about 10 minutes more or until heated through.
  8. Let stand 15 minutes before serving and enjoy with a side mixed greens salad!
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Brittany Chin Jones
Brittany L. Chin Jones, MS, RD, LD, is the owner of Blush Nutrition, LLC and the Continuing Education Chair for the South Carolina Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (SCAND). Over the years she has served as the Piedmont Dietetic Association president, SCAND PR-Media Chair, and the Communications Chair for the Thirty and Under in Nutrition Dietetics member interest group. Follow her at and on Twitter and Instagram.