How Patients and Survivors Can Use Meal Planning to Make the Most of Their Grocery Store Trips
One oncology dietitian shares her expertise with patients and survivors of cancer on how to maximize their trip to the grocery store by planning their meals ahead of time.
BY Rachel J. Wong, RD, CSO, LD.
PUBLISHED May 26, 2020
For many patients with cancer and survivors, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned regular trips to the grocery story into stressful situations. But in a recent interview with CURE®, one expert offered tips on how to plan ahead and make the most of a trip to the grocery store while also staying healthy.
Rachel Wong, an oncology dietitian at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, relies on meal planning and starts by taking the expiration dates of her food into consideration when plotting her grocery store visits.
“If you are able to sit down before you go out to the store and take a piece of paper and pen, or even on your phone, and just really think about what kinds of meals you want to prepare in the coming, let's say, two weeks,” Wong explained, “individuals can spend less time wandering the aisles by creating a healthy menu ahead of time.”
To find new ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, Wong suggests starting with one fruit or vegetable in every meal – and not just as side dishes. “So that way you're not just saying ‘let's just make lasagna’. Let me think about what I can put in the lasagna, like some spinach, for example,” Wong explained. “That way, it'll help you stay healthy, and plan in a healthy way, and therefore get the right groceries you need.”
The first thing that comes into mind here is planning. If you are able to sit down before you go out to the store and take a piece of paper and pen, or even on your phone, and just really think about what kinds of meals do you want to prepare in the coming, let's say, two weeks? And that is just not just dinner meals; we're talking about breakfast and lunch and snacks that will help guide you to prepare good lists, so that way, you can be more efficient in the grocery store and you can get the foods you need, so you don't have to go back a second time or have to go back as frequently.
You want to think about fresh produce and things that go in your refrigerator, but also things that go into the pantry. Just trying to make sure that you have a balance of those nonperishable foods but also getting fresh fruits, too, because that's important to stay healthy, to get the vitamins and minerals you need. You can get them from shelf stable items like grains, but also, of course, from your fruits and vegetables, so making a list is key.
And also, more in-depth planning (is key) when you want to make your meal. So, you can think about, alright, I'm going to get a squash, which will last probably a couple of weeks from now, if you get one that's not too ripe. And I'm talking about butternut squash, for example, different from like the summer squash, which might not last as long. But those things you can put into your list so that way you can think ‘Alright, I'll make some of these foods later on. And then I'll make some of these other dishes that don't last as long, sooner’. And that can help you limit your time at the grocery store and take less trips.
But definitely back to the meal planning tips and suggestions. It's important to incorporate fruits and vegetables, of course, so make sure you put that on your grocery list and plan your meals in a way where I would suggest, you think about having a fruit or vegetable in the morning, and then maybe a vegetable in the afternoon and for dinner. That way, you're not just saying ‘let's just make lasagna’. Let me think about what I can put in the lasagna, like some spinach, for example. You can get frozen spinach, or you can use fresh or you can just prepare a side vegetable. But that way, it'll help you stay healthy, and plan in a healthy way and therefore get the right groceries you need.
And then also, just another tip to help with meal planning, is you don't have to make a new meal each time. You can repurpose your meals. For example, let's say you made a lemon chicken breast for dinner, with some rice and some asparagus. You can take the leftover chicken for the next day, chop it up and put it on your salad.
So, there are ways to reuse a meal so that you don't feel like you need to make one meal at a time and you can have a variety, and that's really key with following a healthy diet.