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Solve the what is for dinner challenge

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At the end of a long day, there are so many ways a hungry person can go wrong. Maybe the fridge is empty or filled with wilted vegetables. Chopping something sounds exhausting. Or last-minute schedule changes make the drive-through irresistible.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Experts say that whether cooking for one, two, or an entire family, a little advance meal planning can ease the relentless pressure of life’s most enduring riddle: “What’s for dinner?”

Try these nine tips for working healthy eating into your week:

  1. Get out the family calendar. Start small by looking at just a few days at a time. Once you know which nights people are going to be home, decide what you want for three or four meals.
  2. Do a quick inventory. Check the pantry, fridge, and freezer to see what’s already on hand. Are you low on staples like rice, quinoa, and pasta, the kinds of foods that mix-and-match with many proteins? How about eggs, milk, and yogurt? It’s also likely there is too much of some items, so concentrate on using them before restocking.
  3. Plan for no plan. On any given night, dinner can get derailed. Have some ideas for several “do it yourself” meals, like single servings of frozen leftovers, wraps, or canned soup.
  4. Make a list. Armed with what you need, what you have, and some DIY alternatives, resist the temptation to wing it. Research has shown that people who routinely shop with a list have a better diet and maintain a healthier weight than those who don’t.
  5. Get chopping. Once you’ve shopped, take time to prep all your produce. You’re more likely to cook if you’ve already diced the onions or eat a salad if the peppers and cucumbers are pre-sliced. Once you’ve prepped your vegetables, store them so they are visible in the fridge so they don’t go to waste.
  6. Start a tradition. Whether it’s meatless Mondays, taco Tuesdays, or Friday night pizza, designating a day or two each week to the same kinds of meals makes planning easier—and you can vary foods while sticking with the theme.
  7. Cook in batches. Double up on recipes like chili, soup, meatballs, and casseroles and use Tupperware, plastic bags, and masking tape to store, label, and date leftovers. Cook other simple recipe components, like plain chicken and ground meat, in advance which can easily be thawed and added to recipes later.
  8. Think beyond dinners. Make breakfast foods, like breakfast burritos or healthy muffins, in enough quantities to freeze.
  9. Go on. Be lazy. Buy frozen vegetables that are recipe-ready, such as chopped onions, cubed squash, or stir-fry medleys. The more easily you can throw a recipe together, the more likely you are to make it.

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