Making healthy food choices can be challenging. But meal planning can help you prep nutritious and balanced meals to enjoy all week long. Try these easy steps to plan for delicious meals that can help you save time and money.
Step 1: Make a menu
- Decide how often you can make it to the store. Will this menu be a few days at a time, a week or a monthly menu?
- Consider whether you are preparing meals ahead and dividing them up. You may plan to reheat later on a certain day of the week.
- Are you prepping for multiple people? Consider any allergies or special nutrition needs for those eating the meals.
- Think about what items you may already have on hand in the fridge or pantry. This can avoid waste and help save money.
- Determine if meals will have leftovers that can be used to cut down on cooking time for future meals. For example, extra chicken breasts can be added to a salad, soup or made into tacos.
Step 2: Stock your pantry and freezer with the five food groups
Keep items on hand that you know you often use, especially those that are shelf-stable or frozen. Keeping foods from each food group can help make sure you’re able to provide a balanced meal with less effort. You’ll also be less tempted to choose an unhealthy option out of convenience.
Vegetables: Canned or frozen vegetables, dried mushrooms and canned tomatoes can easily be added to soups, stews, omelets or casseroles.
Chop dried herbs and freeze in ice cube trays with a small amount of water. You can add these to foods for a burst of flavor and antioxidants.
Fruits: Add fiber and flavor to your meals. Try adding raisins, cranberries or other dried fruits to your morning hot cereal or to your salad at lunch.
Create your own afternoon snack of trail mix.
Milk and dairy products: Powdered milk is a great back-up item to have on hand. You can use it so many ways. Try it in your coffee or mixed into yogurt or a smoothie. It’s also convenient for trips or camping. Boxed milk is also available in single-serving packages.
Evaporated milk is available in cans in the baking aisle. It can be used in place of liquid milk in most recipes.
Protein foods: In the pantry, stock up on canned or dried lentils, black, pinto, cannellini, garbanzo and kidney beans. Toss cooked beans in salads, soups, stews and other dishes. Keep meats such as poultry in the freezer. Portion or cut into serving sizes before freezing to save prep time.
Canned tuna, anchovies and sardines are a quick way to add protein, healthy fats and flavor to your meals.
Grains: Keep a stash of oatmeal, buckwheat and other wholegrain cereals in the pantry. Barley, farro, quinoa and other grains can also provide staples for healthy meals. Other items to stock in your pantry include various types of rice and pasta. Rice types include long grain, short grain, basmati and brown. Spaghetti, ziti, penne and other pastas are all good to keep on hand.
Give yourself an extra nutrition boost by buying whole-grain pasta or trying pasta made from legumes.
Step 3: Keep a running grocery list
- Keep a pad and pen handy to jot down items throughout the week as you use up staple items. This can help make your trips to the store more efficient and cost effective.
- As you decide on meal ideas, check your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. There may be items you already have and add additional items you may need to add to the list to round out a meal.
Meal planning may seem like a lot at first. But soon you’ll get the hang of how easy it can be. Along with reducing the stress of meal prep, you can be more in control of your choices, ingredients and portions. And that helps make healthy eating easier and stress free.
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