Friday, November 22, 2013

The Experts Weigh In: Meal Planning 101 (Part 1)

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Welcome to my four part series on how to keep a healthy home and kitchen in this busy world we live in! It's a topic I feel so passionate about because I know that many people struggle in this area as they try to juggle work and family commitments. The truth is, life has become complicated! And overly busy! As a result, we have to find ways to save time. Unfortunately, many families are taking short cuts in the kitchen and have lost the ability to keep a clean and healthy home while also preparing fresh, healthy meals. Indeed this can have detrimental effects on your health and the health of your children.

There is nothing more important than your health, and this begins with what you put inside your body. Your health begins in your kitchen!


Hi, I'm Kirsti, a busy working mother of two. I consider myself a one-stop shop when it comes to food, nutrition, fitness, beauty and hair information, tips and tricks! I have always loved my food. I was so fortunate to grow up with my father (who was a self-taught chef) and my mother (who was an incredible home cook). My siblings and I grew up watching, learning, living and experiencing food - both at home and in our family restaurants. Food and cooking was always at the center of our lives and the essence of our conversations. We were directed, guided and influenced by food and, as a family, were consumed by our love and passion for it. Cooking became our expression of love, life and our culture. Nutrition, however, took a back seat. We just ate - we didn't consider nutrition. It was different back then. I grew up on all the things my children will never know about - white bread, white pasta, soda, candy galore and yes, lots of white sugar.

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Fast forward to today - one of my deepest passions in life is food, cooking and food's relationship to healthy living. When my father had a heart attack 11 years ago, healthy eating and living took center stage. I started to become curious about what I was feeding my body and my food's connection to my overall health and well-being. This put me on my current path of really understanding in a deep way the important connection between the food we eat and the state of our health - inside and out. 

We truly are what we eat.

Despite the busyness of life, I have made it a priority to prepare freshly cooked meals for my family - even on days when I barely have time to breath. It's been so important and a true priority of mine to educate them. I have been speaking the nutrition language to my children from day one and taking the time out to do so has totally paid off!

I am confident that with some guidance and proven tools, you too will be able to plan and implement ways to keep your family away from unhealthy processed foods because you have the tools to prepare simple (yet wholesome!) meals made from real ingredients. I want to leave you feeling confident about the how to plan, organize your kitchen and prepare fresh weekly meals without any stress. 

Ok, so let's break this down... Part one of the series will focus on the importance of planning and having a strategy to set you up for success. Part two will move into your kitchen setup, as well as supermarket tips and navigation. We will look at how to detox and stock your kitchen to churn out easy, quick meals. In part three, we will look at ways to build your meals, and in part four, I will give you some easy weeknight ideas that can be mixed and matched to create lots of new recipes for your repertoire. Once you have your system down, mealtime will be stress free! These practices will become second nature! But first, let's get a few things straightened out!


Creating a healthy home does not just happen. Hands down, one of the biggest barriers to eating healthfully is not having a plan. Most of us don't even know what we're having for dinner until late in the afternoon and early evening, let alone for the rest of the week! Once that late afternoon scramble sets in, we tend to head in the direction of convenience. It's easy to see why things usually go south from there! 

Unfortunately, these last-minute decisions usually include ready-made boxed and processed foods that are loaded with artificial preservatives, sodium, sugars and unhealthy fats - as well as additives, chemicals and all sorts of "nastys" that are less than ideal for anyone, especially growing children. Having a plan is essential and will give you the confidence and tools to meal plan with the best of them!

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The best way to start is to pick some time - either at night or during the day, just once a week - that you will be able to devote to planning and organizing yourself. For me, Sunday nights after the kids go to sleep works best. This way, I start the week feeling organized and ready. I go through my entire kitchen, throw out perishables that have seen their better days, and write a flexible weekly meal plan. From here, I compile my big grocery list based on things I have run out of during the week and items I will need moving forward. I decide when I will shop and which markets I will go to depending on my needs. I often visit multiple markets to get everything I need (Shopping happens to be very pleasurable for me, but I know for some, it's not. If it's easier for you to buy everything from one supermarket, then by all means, do so!).

When planning out your week, consider the following...
  • Which nights of the week that you will be home for dinner?
  • Which nights of the week that you will be out later or won't have more than 20-30 minutes to prep?
  • Who else will be home for dinner on those nights? Your partner? Children?
  • Which day is realistic for you to get to the market for fresh produce?
Keeping these guidelines in mind...
  • A balanced week will look something like this (unless you follow a specific diet) - fish (1-2 nights), poultry (1 night), possibly lean red meat (1 night), vegetarian (the rest of the week)
  • Have one easy back-up for fussy eaters (I don't encourage giving too many options)
  • Try to plan some meals that will freeze well, make good leftovers or involve some advanced prep to make it easier come dinner time!

Once I know what nights I won't be home and which days look super busy, I can then start to plan meals according to their preparation speed. In other words, the easiest meals are placed on the busiest days. I try to consider ahead of time which days I might have a chance to get home during the day to do some prep work or which days I will have to pull things together prior to dinner time. If I can do any prep work in the early morning before taking the kids to school, such as marinating or chopping veggies, it is so helpful! I also leave sticky notes for myself to remind me of things that need to be taken out of the freezer either the night before or the morning of so I am not stuck with rock solid chicken 1 hour before dinner time! When you think about these things ahead of time, dinner will be smooth sailing!

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When designing my weekly plan, I make sure to consider balance and variety! Friday nights are excluded from my weeknight plans as we observe the Sabbath (and that means a traditional meal that requires no planning). Weekends are more lax. Sunday night is "free night" - here my kids get to decide what's for dinner. This is a wonderful tool for empowering them to have input into what they eat. I am more flexible with them on free night. They usually choose something like pasta, pizza, enchiladas, eggs on toast, grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches, BUT even free night meals are freshly prepared with raw and cooked veggies always added in!

So you see, it's really quite simple. Sometimes just having a game plan and asking the right questions is all it takes to set yourself up for success. Yes, you do have to take some time to figure it out, but hey, that's a small price to pay for getting on top of the meals that you are bringing to the table. You will want to kiss yourself for taking the time to get organized ahead of time. It's a wonderful feeling, when dinner revolves around knowing you have everything you need to put a wholesome, tasty meal on the table...

...and your family will thank you too!

Stay tuned for my second post next week where I will cover how to set up your kitchen for success and how to navigate the supermarket so that you are able to bring home the good stuff! Once you get these tips down, the "5 pm Dinner Scramble" will be a distant memory!

Kirsti Pesso is a Holistic Health and Wellness Coach (CHHC) and a certified ACE personal trainer. Currently living in Westchester, New York with her husband and two little daughters, she grew up in Australia where she spent much of her childhood in her father's professional kitchens. This instilled in her a deep connection and love for food. Her own personal journey and education has allowed her to merge her love for food with health and wellness. For the last 11 years, nutrition, fitness and holistic living have been a priority for her and her family.  With a deep passion for cooking healthy and clean meals, Kirsti has made educating her family on nutrition and healthy living, a priority. Also, having a background in psychology and social work has allowed her to connect her  extensive knowledge and education in the health and wellness fields, and help others who seek to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Kirsti has simultaneously been running a successful freelance hair colorist and styling business and has been in the industry for nearly 25 years in Australia and New York. She has a loyal following, due in part to her holistic perspective on hair. 'Healthy In Beauty Out' was born out of Kirsti's love, passion and deep understanding that beauty is an inside job. Her business reflects a culmination of many different pillars of wellness and beauty,  and combines her talent and education in the areas of nutrition, food, fitness and hair. In addition to her freelance services as a colorist and stylist, you can seek more of Kirsti's advice on healthy living, fitness and beauty, by visiting her Facebook page. To learn more about how you can live a clean, healthy and beautiful life, join Kirsti on her 11-day comprehensive Cleanse Program. To learn more, visit her at

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