Why Meal Planning?

Have you ever bought more fruits and vegetables than your family could possibly eat, only to end up throwing them away? Or have you ever drawn a blank when faced with the question of what's for dinner? Or, worst yet, have you given up trying to prepare fresh foods because of a lack of time, instead relying on pre-made processed meals or the drive-thru? As a registered dietitian, I have encountered numerous people, including clients, coworkers, and friends, who blame a lack of time, knowledge, or resources for their nutritional shortcomings. This blog was developed in response to my growing realization that these people are in dire need of a plan—are you one of them?

Meal planning saves time and money while improving the nutritional quality of foods served in the home, and I hope that by showing you how to formulate a weekly meal plan, you will feel more comfortable and confident preparing meals for you and your family. So how do you do it?

  1. Schedule it: Set aside 20 to 30 minutes each week to write down the meals you plan to prepare during the upcoming week. Do you know you have an especially busy day coming up? Consider preparing a dish in your slow cooker before you head out that morning, or prepare an entrĂ©e in advance and store it in the freezer. Don’t forget to plan for breakfasts, lunches, and snacks!
  2. Consider your options: Save time and money by looking through your pantry and refrigerator to see what ingredients you already have on hand. Also, keep a recipe file of healthy meals that your family enjoys or new recipes you’d like to try. Are you a cooking novice? Master a few basic recipes, but keep them fresh by varying the ingredients—try shrimp instead of chicken or brown rice instead of pasta.
  3. Master the balancing act: Make sure your family is enjoying healthy, balanced meals made up of lean protein, vegetables and/or fruit, and fiber-rich carbohydrates. Good sources of protein include fish, skinless poultry, beans and legumes, eggs, low-fat dairy, and lean meats such as pork tenderloin, pork loin, flank steak, or sirloin. All vegetables and fruits are great, but aim to eat a variety of colors to get maximum health benefits. Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains and starchy vegetables round out the meal.
  4. Make a list: Now that you know what you’ll be making, create a grocery list so you'll have all of the ingredients stocked and ready to go. Shopping with a grocery list saves money and decreases food waste by preventing unnecessary purchases.
  5. Start cooking!
Each week, I post my meal plan for five dinners. You can use that plan as a guideline for setting up your own meals for the week, or adopt the plan as your own and cook the meals along with me.

By spending a small amount of time planning your meals, you can reduce food waste, decrease your grocery bill, and be ready to face each week with a plan for nutritious and delicious meals that fit within your schedule, budget, and comfort level in the kitchen. You can enjoy delicious foods at home that are also nutritious and affordable—all it takes is a plan.