Planning your Meals with Family Favorite Recipes

Planning your meals and using your meal plan to make a grocery list are a top tip for saving money on food. By planning your meals and using a list when you shop, you know exactly what you need to buy and are less likely to buy items you don’t need.

However, sometimes meal planning can seem overwhelming because you just don’t know what to make or you’re worried your family won’t like what you make and then the food (and money!) will be wasted. One solution to help with both of these concerns is to create a list of Family Favorite Recipes. By writing down recipes or meal ideas your family likes, when you sit down to do your meal planning, you will have a list of ideas to choose from and you will know that they are foods your family will eat.

We have recently added two Family Favorite Recipe sheets to our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. One is divided by different categories including breakfast, side, main dish, salad, soup, and snack. The other is divided by protein type including beef, pork, fish, poultry, venison, and vegetarian. After adding your favorite recipes, keep the list handy so when you are ready to plan your meals, you can use it for some inspiration.

Some of my family’s favorite recipes are Oatmeal Pancakes, Quick Pad Thai, Mexican Chicken Soup, Quick Black Bean Salsa, and  Energy Bites. Are any of these on your list of family favorites?

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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Meal Planning Tips for Easy and Healthy Meals

There are sixteen days until my kids start school! Along with school starting, my kids will also be starting football, dance, and piano so our schedule is going to get busy. One thing that helps me feel less stressed when life gets busy is meal planning. By spending 30 minutes on the weekend planning meals for the week, I spend less time worrying about what we will eat for supper each night. I know my family isn’t the only one looking ahead to a busy fall, so today I wanted to share three tips I use when meal planning that you might find helpful.

  1. Pick a theme for each night. Some common themes I’ve heard before are Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, or Pizza on Friday. When you have a theme, it’s one less decision you have to make. On Tuesday, you know you are going to have tacos so you just have to decide what kind of tacos you want. The ‘themes’ I use are a little different. I have a different protein food for each night. And one night is always leftovers or make your own. I stock up on meat, fish and chicken when it is on sale and put it in my freezer. Here are some Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipes for each kind of protein you might like to try. Not only does this make planning easy for me, but it also helps us vary our proteins which is important for good nutrition.
Slow Cooker RoastBroiled SalmonQuick Pad ThaiStuffed Pasta ShellsWraps “Your” Way
Beef and Vegetable Stir-FryBaked Fish and ChipsChicken FajitasVegetable Frittata
Sweet Pork Stir-FryFish and Noodle SkilletCheesy Chicken CasseroleVegetable Quesadillas
  1. Make one dish meals. I make a lot of one dish meals because it makes my life easier. There are fewer dishes to do afterward and the only other thing I have to add to the meal is some fruit and something to drink, like milk or water. My kids don’t eat a lot of vegetables so I always include a fruit I know they will eat.
  1. Keep side dishes simple. Even though I like to cook, after a busy day when everyone is hungry I need to get supper done quickly. So in addition to making a lot of one dish meals, I always keep my side dishes simple. We eat a lot of cut up fruits and vegetables as sides. Some of our favorites are apples, carrots, and pepper strips. I also use a lot of frozen vegetables that I can heat quickly in the microwave. In the colder months, I like to make roasted vegetables.

For more ideas and resources on meal planning, check out the menu planning section of our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website.

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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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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