Meal & Menu Planning: Where to Start

First, what is a balanced meal?

There are a LOT of different food plates or pyramids. Not all of them are created equals or with the health of the consumer in mind (more big business and who is donating the most money). The most current MyPlate that is from the USDA is much better compared to years ago. Integrative Nutrition Plate is the plate I learned while attending IIN and the plate I relate to most personally as I can’t do Dairy. A heavy focus on vegetables, fruits, grains, proteins, & healthy fats with lots of hydration; which is a slight variation of the MyPlate guide. The consensus is “Just Eat Real Food”.

Second, what things should be factored in?

The number of people eating, meal times, special dietary concerns, budget, available foods, recipes on hand, likes and dislikes of everyone who will be eating. Begin by choosing foods and recipes that you like and know how to prepare well and that fit into everyone’s dietary plans.

Third, what are some other tips?

We may have an idea in our heads of what each meal should be. Meatloaf is only for dinner, not for breakfast. It is okay to break this way of thinking, especially, when special medical diets, food allergies, or sensitivities come into play. For instance, eggs and sausage can be served for dinner, not just breakfast. And waffles can be made from healthy wheat grains and eaten for lunch with fresh fruits instead of sugary syrup and heavy butter for breakfast.

Plan your vegetables first, grains next, and then your protein. Oftentimes a meal plan looks like, Steak & Potatoes for dinner, where are the veggies? Then your plate is made up of more protein, not the green and colorful veggies we need. Yes, technically potato is a vegetable, but not full of the nutrition, vitamins, and minerals we need.

Add variety, too. Have other family members jump in and prepare meals some nights and on weekends. Homemade pizza night is our favorite, everyone gets involved, fresh ingredients, little to no complaints.

Fourth, what should my plan look like?

There are a few ways to do this. You could plan for each meal for each day of the week. Get a planner or paper and write it out. You could also come up with 5-7 meals you want to make that week and pick each day, the key here is to make sure you have everything you need and make the meals with fresh produce first - so there is no waste.

If you don’t mind eating the same thing multiple times a week. Cook enough for leftovers, less cooking, and more meals. Then use leftovers for breakfast or lunch.

How to stay on budget?

Make a plan, stick to the list & plan. Food waste often is a result of failure to plan or follow through. Create menus and meals based upon what’s on special that week or month. Hint: stock up and store or freeze special-priced items and family favorites when possible and storage room and the budget allows. But don’t overdo it, too much stocking up can make it easy to go over budget.

Shop seasonal when looking for fresh produce. Shop local when looking for high-quality meat protein. Grass-fed beef is going to cost more at a grocery store, than at a local meat store or purchasing in bulk from a local farmer. Organic produce is higher in cost, know the dirty dozen, and decide what is important to you.

Other Tips:

If your budget allows, try a service like Misfit Market - allows you to get all organic produce that might not be pretty enough to make it to the store shelves at a discounted price. Save 25%-30% off your first box with referral code: COOKWME-HA2FHY

Check out my other post for more tips:

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