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.
Beef/PorkFishChickenVegetarianLeftovers
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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Menu Planning: Less Stress, More Money

menu planningMy son’s famous first words these days when we get home after work and school are “Mom, I’m hungry. Can I have a snack?” Since it is usually close to supper, I encourage him to go play and let him know that supper will be ready shortly. And since I plan my evening meals a week at a time, I can get supper on the table in a short amount of time. I know what we are having and have the ingredients on hand. Menu planning is a win-win for us. I’m not stressed out thinking about what we are going to have and my son doesn’t have to wait long to eat when he is hungry.

Eating a balanced meal and saving money at the grocery store are other benefits of menu planning. When you plan your meals, you can take the time to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and calcium-rich foods in your meals. And when you go to the grocery store, you can be sure to buy these items to have on hand and it prevents you from buying items you won’t need. Here are some tips to successful menu planning:

  • Determine what meals you will plan. Since the meal my family eats together is supper that is the meal I spend time to plan. However, you can plan for breakfast, lunch, supper or snacks. I go to the grocery store once a week so I plan my meals a week at a time. You might choose to plan them for more or fewer days.
  • Write the plan on a calendar. I write my meal plan on a calendar that hangs in my kitchen. This calendar includes other family activities so I know if we will be gone for a meal at night or have a really rushed evening. My husband knows to look at the calendar to see what we are having.

Another option is the 5-day meal planner on our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. Since weekends tend to be less structured for most people, the plan is for only 5 days. The meal planner also has a checklist of the food groups to help you plan balanced meals.

  • Check what you have on hand. Check your refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards for foods that need to be used up in the next few days. Think of ways to include these items in your meals. I always plan a night to have leftovers so they don’t go to waste.
  • Review the grocery ads for specials you can use. Save money by purchasing items on sale that you can pair with the foods you have on hand to help complete your meals.
  • Keep a list of the recipes your family likes best. Having a list helps make meal planning go really quickly because you can easily spot the recipes that use things you have on hand or are on sale. Some recipes my family likes are Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry, Quick Pad Thai, and Crispy Salmon Patties.

For more information on menu planning watch “How to Plan a Menu.”

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.

More Posts

Spending Less and Eating Healthier: Part 1 of 3

Meal Planning

Even if you did not make a resolution, I would bet many of you are thinking about spending less or eating healthier. The best way to do both at the same time is to use a menu and a shopping list.

I know planning menus sounds complicated, but it isn’t bad if you keep it simple.   There are many ways to plan meals, so just experiment to see what works for you.

Here is an easy way to get started creating some menus:

1.  On index cards or sheets of notepaper write down the main dish for meals you currently eat.  Involve as many members of your household as you can in this step.

2.  Go back and add foods you usually have with that main dish.  Check to see if you have something from each food group (protein, fruits, vegetables, grain, dairy) If not, fill in and make adjustments.If you have seven or more meals using this process, that is great.  You have enough for a week of planned meals and you can now create a shopping list. If you did not have 7 meals think what you would like to have.  Remember, keep it simple.  This is not the time to start paging through cookbooks, magazines or surfing the internet.  What about making extra one night and using it for another meal (like cooking 2 # of ground beef one night and making chili  from half of it and then using the other half or homemade pizza or sloppy joes; using your crockpot,  making a meatless meal, or breakfast for dinner.

3.  Save your menu cards and add to them as you go.  Then thinking of what to have will not be such a chore.

 

Next week: the grocery list

Here are some other resources and methods for menu planning with more details:

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