Meal Planning for the Health of It

Last week Rachel shared five red flags to look out for when considering diet advice. In the blog, she
mentioned learning new skills that can improve your health, like meal planning, instead of focusing
solely on weight. Meal planning is a popular practice; especially at the beginning of the year when
people are trying to eat better, save money and be more organized. It can help you check off all three!
Today I’m going to share with you five tips for meal planning with health in mind.

  1. Include foods from each of the food groups. This allows you to get a variety of nutrients provided by
    each of the food groups needed for good health. Our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet has a checklist at
    the bottom to help you determine if you included something from each food group.
  2. Balance the food groups throughout the day. Aim to have 1-2 food groups at snacks and 3-4 food
    groups at meals. For example, at breakfast you might have a scrambled egg, slice of whole-wheat toast,
    an orange, and glass of milk. Then at snack you have celery sticks with peanut butter.
  3. Include two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables. This is a general guide for each person
    per day. An example would be a banana for breakfast, an apple and broccoli for lunch, and vegetable
    soup for dinner. To determine the specific amount you need and for information on what counts as a
    serving, visit
  4. Include whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber, which is important for health. It is recommended
    to make half your grains whole grains. Therefore, if your family prefers white pasta, balance that out by
    including other whole grains in your menu plan like brown rice or whole wheat bread.
  5. Include both plant and animal proteins. Animal proteins are a good source of iron while plant
    proteins are higher in fiber. If you have chicken at lunch, consider having lentil tacos for supper. Or mix
    both beans and meat with pasta instead of just meat.
    If you’re new to meal planning, use our sample meal planning calendar to help get started. We also have
    a new sample vegetarian meal planning calendar.

Next week Justine will share a recipe for Cheesy Chicken Casserole that you just might want to include
on your meal plan!

Jody Gatewood

Jody Gatewood is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys spending time in the kitchen baking and preparing meals for her family. She does lots of meal planning to stay organized and feed her family nutritious meals.

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Add Some Fiber to Your Day!

Has all of our talk about fiber this month got you thinking about adding more fiber to your meals? I sure hope so! Today I have two meal plans to share with you. Both include three meals, one snack, and 25-30 grams of fiber.



Meal Plan 1: (Fiber in grams)



  • 1 1/2 cups Zesty Whole Grain Salad (5)
  • 1 sandwich with
    • 2 slices whole wheat bread (4)
    • 1 slice cheese
    • 3 ounces deli meat
  • Water



Total grams of Fiber: 29 grams


Meal Plan 2: (Fiber in grams)





  • 4 cups popcorn (3)

Total grams of Fiber: 25.5 grams


Note:  If you need more or less fiber depending on your age and gender, adjust amounts of food up or down to meet your personal needs.

Justine Hoover

Justine Hoover is a Registered Dietitian and mom who loves to cook for her family.

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Save Money on Holiday Groceries

The holidays bring lots of festive fun and time with family and friends, but they can also mean extra expenses. I love it when I get the chance to prepare special meals and plan parties, but it can get very expensive. Grocery stores often offer sales and specials around the holidays that can help if you know how to use them.

Here are some tips to help you spend smart while you shop for holiday cooking.

  1. Check your cupboards and refrigerator before you shop. Holiday cooking sometimes involves ingredients we do not use very often. Knowing what you have will help you avoid buying a duplicate while you shop.
  2. A sale price only saves you money if you know you will use the item you purchase. Avoid buying food products just because they are on sale if they are not part of your meal plan. That could lead to wasted food and money.
  3. Remember that sales are used as advertising for a product. The sign may be large and inviting, but the price may not be as good as it seems. Check the unit price to make sure it is really saving you money. You can learn more about unit pricing on our website and our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app has a unit price calculator built into it. You can download the app free from your app store.
  4. Occasionally stores will have deep discounts on holiday items like turkeys or hams immediately before and after a holiday. I review the grocery store ads to make my meal plan for a couple of weeks after the holiday. This allows me to work these discounted items into my plan and know they will not go to waste.

I hope these tips help you save a bit of money and stress this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. Team!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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Plan Meals from Your Cupboards

Every couple of months I take stock of what is in my refrigerator, freezer, and cupboard and try to eat out of them for a week or more without buying anything but milk. I know it’s time for the “cleanse” when my freezer gets so full that packages start sliding out when I open the door. The refrigerator isn’t usually a problem because I can keep on top of that. I have a small cupboard, so that can’t get too out of control either. Yesterday I emptied out my refrigerator/freezer and made a list of everything. I don’t bother to list the individual portions of soups and meat packets I use for lunch, because I keep them in a plastic tub so they are contained. Before I put everything back, I wiped out the shelves and emptied the ice bin because with the automatic defrost, the ice gets stale. I reviewed stock of the cupboard and didn’t find lots of duplicates.

The inventory process took about a half hour. I found 3 full bags of frozen vegetable mixes plus several partial bags. I also found some round steak that had been in there for 6 months and some hamburger that I had repackaged, but forgot to date. It took another half hour to come up with meals using only what I have on hand.  All I have to buy this week is milk!
Our 5 day meal planner is in the PLAN section of the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.

I wonder how long I could go without buying anything but milk and fresh vegetables…

-pointers from Peggy

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