Best weight loss plan: Planning ahead

There's no magic bullet, local experts say

Lawrence resident Liz Black lays some potatoes in her cart as she shops with her 2-year-old daughter Arie on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at The Merc, 901 Iowa.

But I don’t have time!

When it comes to managing your weight (and your kids’), cooking at home can be a big difference-maker — and planning ahead is key.

Below, the U.S. Department of Agriculture highlights common stumbling blocks to cooking at home and ideas for getting over them.

“I don’t have time to cook a big meal every night; it is easier to just order out.”

Try prepping dishes the night before or in the morning; prepping the salad or the side dish can help save time after work.

Also try cooking a big meal on Sunday and then eating it as leftovers and freezing extras. Buying frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can also save prep time.

“My family prefers to eat out; when I cook at home, they complain.”

Changing a family pattern is difficult at first. Start by eating one more meal at home each week than you normally do. You may save calories and money!

To mix things up, try a new recipe. It’ll help keep your family excited about dinner at home.

“I’m tired of being the only one that cooks.”

Make cooking a family event by getting your children involved with the prep work. Not only will they learn about healthy eating, it’s a good way to spend time together.

Or have an occasional potluck, where you invite friends and have everyone bring their favorite healthy dish.

— Source:

More resources A nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, focusing on cooking simply, using fresh foods. Features include the “7 Habits of Highly Effective Food Shoppers,” plus grocery lists to ensure you have staples on hand that will make cooking easy. An American Academy of Pediatrics site featuring articles on fitness, nutrition and obesity prevention for families and children. U.S. Department of Agriculture resource with guidelines and tips for healthy eating, exercise and weight management for all ages, with many resources in both English and Spanish.

Megan Hemphill, Lawrence, browses the selection of fruit as she shops for groceries with her daughter, Lena, on Tuesday, May 22, 2012, at The Merc, 901 Iowa.

A group of senior citizens works out at Holcom Park Recreation Center, 2700 W. 27th St., as part of the city’s Slimnastics program. Using the buddy system or signing up for a class can make it easier to stick with a workout program, says Jo Ellis, recreation instruction supervisor for the city of Lawrence.

They say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

For managing weight the healthy way, simply planning ahead is one of the best ways to prevent the need to “cure” unwanted pounds.

Everything from having healthy snacks on hand for Saturday’s soccer tournament to sticking to an exercise regime can benefit from a healthy dose of planning, said Anne Van Garsse of Lawrence’s Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, who runs a clinic for overweight children and teens.

Without it, she said, “life gets in the way every single time.”

Van Garsse and other experts say the same principles apply for adults and families with children alike: Plan your meals and snacks ahead, grocery shop accordingly, find forms of exercise you enjoy, and map out where and when you’ll do them.

A week’s worth of meals

Our “hectic, American way of doing things” doesn’t always lend itself to healthy food choices, said Patty Metzler, clinical dietitian for Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

“You have to make extra efforts,” she said.

Metzler suggests sitting down once a week and planning your meals seven days out — breakfast and lunch included. Make a grocery list with everything you’ll need to have on hand, then shop.

“When you go to the market, you know exactly what you’re going to buy,” she said. “You save time, you save money, and that makes your week flow.”

At the end of a busy workday, people are tired and don’t have time to cook, much less go to the grocery store and then cook. Hitting the drive-thru starts to seem awfully appealing.

“You’ve got to have things there you can pull together quickly,” Metzler said.

Contrary to common beliefs, she said, meals don’t have to be complicated, and recipes aren’t required.

Cooking up some brown rice, tossing a hamburger or veggie burger on the grill and adding a generous helping of vegetables — even canned or frozen — makes for an easy, well-balanced meal, she said. An equally easy meat-free option Metzler might be found eating is whole-grain noodles topped with olive oil, parmesan cheese, basil and oregano.

For lunch, try tuna salad sandwiches, she said. For breakfast, whole wheat toast with peanut butter or oatmeal topped with a banana.

In her effort to lead a healthier lifestyle, the menu-planning approach helped Lawrence resident Jennifer McVey, 32. Eating breakfast at home helped her fill up, making those donuts at the office easier to resist. After a long day, knowing she had chicken thawing in the fridge for dinner helped her avoid fast food.

“It’s easier to stick to the plan when you already have something set up,” McVey said. “It was harder to deviate.”

Smart snacking

Not having healthy snacks on hand when kids are hungry — such as after school or at the end of a long day at the sports fields — is another way to find yourself with a handful of potato chips or hitting the drive-thru, kids in tow, Van Garsse said.

Don’t forget to put snacks on the list for your weekly shopping trip, she said. Fruits, vegetables and low-fat cheese are good for after school.

And if you know you’ll be at the ballfields, for example, buy snacks that can be eaten throughout the day. That morning, pack them and take them with you.

Metzler suggested water or juice instead of sugary sports drinks. Apples, bananas, cheese sticks, whole-grain rolls or crackers, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and homemade trailmix are portable but satisfying snack options, she said.

“As adults, we are gatekeepers for what our kids eat,” Metzler said.

Plan on exercise

For McVey, a personal trainer helped her set up workouts and stick with them.

McVey worked with her trainer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she did workouts her trainer had written down for her.

The accountability of having plans in writing helped encourage her not to skip workouts, McVey said. Plus, she said, “it made me feel good to look back and say, ‘You know what? I’ve done a really good job this week.'”

Jo Ellis, recreation instruction supervisor for the city of Lawrence, said finding an activity you enjoy is a good starting point for sticking to an exercise regime.

Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department offers guest passes for fitness classes, enabling you to “try it before you buy it,” she said. The city offers a variety of classes for senior citizens through children, ranging from Zumba to stationary bikes.

Planning ahead by signing up for classes or agreeing to meet a friend for a workout makes it harder to skip exercise sessions, Ellis said.

“I think the buddy system is a big thing,” she said.

Van Garsse suggests an hour of play (hard enough to elevate heart rates) daily for children.

Parents should schedule that time in advance, even if activities aren’t particularly structured — a family walk, a trip to the park or a game of pickup soccer in the backyard all fit the bill.

“It works for family togetherness time,” she said, “but it also gets everybody moving.”