Meal planning is the cornerstone of healthy eating. When you have a plan in place, it may help:

  • Guide your choices both at the grocery store and in your own kitchen.
  • Save you money with smarter shopping.
  • Help you reduce your food waste.
  • Make meals can be more relaxed and enjoyable.
  • Prepare you to answer to the eternal question: “What’s for dinner?”

It takes some time to create your plan, but once created you will be rewarded in the end! Here are some tips for creating your menus, meals, and grocery lists. Watch the video with Cathy McIsaac, RD, or read her tips below.

See what you already have on hand.

Look in your freezer, cabinets, and refrigerator. You can save money and reduce waste by using these items in the upcoming week’s meals.

Think about your schedule for the week.

Choose meals you can easily prepare when you don’t have a lot of time. Save more complex recipes for your days off. Prep some foods in advance when you can. For example, grill up extra chicken for a salad or quesadillas. You also can prepare meals in advance to heat and serve on your busiest days. Take into consideration special events during the week, including when you might enjoy dinner out.

Try a worksheet to plan your meals.

The Create a Grocery Game Plan Worksheet is great for planning your week and figuring out what items you may need to buy.

Create your list of favorite recipes – and some new ones, too.

Find new ideas for healthy and low-cost meals based on what you have on hand, foods your family enjoys, and foods that are good buys. You may want to create “theme” nights that help narrow down choices. Some ideas include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday for Latin-themed foods, and Prince Spaghetti Wednesday for Italian-themed foods. Or, make up your own!

Visit What’s Cooking? for recipe inspiration.

Search recipes by ingredient using the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl. It’s an interactive tool to help with healthy meal planning, cooking, and grocery shopping. Be sure to include some family favorites along with the new recipes.

Try an app.

Yummly allows you to search recipes by ingredient(s), which makes it easy to use up items you have on hand

Keep a running list of items that you use routinely. Add the things that you have used up to that list, too. You may want to check out what’s on sale at your local markets. Needed allows you to share lists for shopping. Cozi combines a shared family calendar with to-do lists, including shopping lists.

Plan to use leftovers.

Think about larger recipes with enough servings for multiple meals. This can reduce the number of ingredients you need to buy, and save you time preparing another meal. Brown bagging leftovers for lunch can also save money and reduce food waste.

Share the meal plan with family members.

Enlist family to help with shopping and meal preparation. For some, the plan can be posted on a white board or a calendar posted on the fridge, others may use a sharable electronic document, such as on Google Docs. An electronic shopping list can be especially helpful if the responsibility for grocery shopping is shared.

Want more tips on healthy eating? Visit JustOneSmallThing.org, offered by the UVM Health Network.

Cathy McIsaac, RD, is a registered dietitian at The University of Vermont Medical Center. She enjoys both Alpine and Nordic skiing and tries to get outside as often as she can. Her favorite moment was spending her birthday in fresh powder at Smuggler’s Notch last year.

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