8 Steps to Meal Planning
What’s for supper?
It’s hard to find time to plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for a week’s worth of groceries. But coming up with a meal on the fly every evening can be frustrating, expensive and downright unhealthy if you often resort to convenience foods or carry out.
- You’re in control of what’s in your food. You can use higher quality, unprocessed foods, and you know how much butter, salt or sugar is added.
- Your food dollar goes further. Even if you order off a fast food dollar menu, you’ll spend $15-25 to feed a family of 4. You’ll spend half as much to cook a healthy, balanced meal at home.
- It’s easier to balance your meals. At home, chicken nuggets can be served with a bag of steamed vegetables, carrots and ranch dip, or a whole grain roll. At a fast food restaurant, those nuggets usually come with a side of fries.
- Your kids benefit from family meals. Kids whose families often sit down and eat together are more likely to feel important and like they belong, more likely to do well in school, more likely to maintain a healthy weight, and less likely to use tobacco or drugs, or consider suicide.
So how do you get started?
- What do you eat now? Take a week or two and write down what you eat for supper. From this list, you can see what is easy and familiar.
- Start small. Pick two meals, and get all the ingredients for those.
- There’s room for improvement. Figure out what you can add to your familiar meals to make a balanced plate: a salad, a bag of steamed broccoli, brown rice, low-fat yogurt, a piece of fruit for dessert. Add nutrition to the meals your family already likes.
- Check your calendar. Know how much time you’ll have to prepare supper and eat, and plan accordingly. Plan something easy, like sandwiches, for nights when you won’t have much time. Save the complicated meals for less busy evenings.
- Use the crock pot to eat in shifts. No time when the whole family is home? No problem. Crock pot or slow cooker meals can help make family suppers happen even in busy households. Even if just 2 people are home at once, turn off the TV and eat together at the table.
- Be realistic. Plan the nights when you know you’ll eat out, and write them into your schedule.
- Be flexible. Last-minute schedule changes happen. But if you have all the ingredients you need for your planned meals, you can shift things around and make a quicker supper, or switch your planned fast food meal from one day to another.
- Turn leftovers into plan-overs. Sunday’s turkey dinner can become Monday’s stir-fry and Wednesday’s soup. By planning how you’ll use leftovers, you’ll save money and less food will go to waste.
Visit the Healthy Eating Learning Center in our Health Encyclopedia.