Smart Shopping, Label Reading & Meal Planning
Do you ever go to the grocery store, spend over your budget, and still feel like you can't find anything to eat at home? If so, it's time to do a little meal planning. Having a simple plan and grocery list can help you purchase only what you need, and save money on impulse buys along the way.
Each meal should be balanced with:
- Lean Protein: fish, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, or soy.
- Vegetables and/or Fruit: Choose colorful non-starchy vegetables, and enjoy fruit for dessert.
- Something Starchy: Whole grains and starchy vegetables count here.
- If you are cooking for one, or if weight loss is your goal, one type of starch is sufficient. Whole grains and starchy vegetables (i.e. peas, squash, corn, and potatoes) are good choices.
- If you are cooking for a family, everyone at the table will have different nutrition needs. Try to offer two starches so that everyone gets enough to eat. If you are offering two grains, make one of them “whole” grain if possible. Example: whole grain spaghetti and regular white dinner rolls. Or, they can both be whole grain.
- A Little Fat: A meal that is completely fat-free will not be satisfying. Have at least one food that includes a little oil, butter, avocado, cheese, etc. A little bit goes a long way.
Plan one week ahead:
- Before you begin, look at your calendar. Write in any commitments you have and plan to make a simple meal those nights. Sandwiches, leftovers, soup & salad, or a slow cooker meal. You might even plan to dine out one night.
- Be realistic. Decide how many nights you can and want to cook.
- Start with the main dishes, then fill in the sides. Use the plate shown here as a guide.
- Use family favorites and keep the cooking methods simple during the week. Plan to try a new recipe occasionally.
- If time allows, plan to cook more on the weekends and use the leftovers throughout the week.
Remember, meal planning should take only a few minutes before going to the grocery store. Don’t set up such a complicated plan that you can’t keep up with it!
Is there enough variety?
Review your entire week of meals. Ask yourself…
- Is there a variety of protein foods? These include fish, chicken, turkey, pork, beef, eggs, and beans.
- Do I have fish on the menu at least once? This is great for heart health.
- Is there a “meatless” meal, using beans or eggs for protein? This is a healthy habit to do once a week, and a money saver too.
- Is there a variety of vegetables and fruit? Try for a lot of color!
- Are the meals repetitive? If you have some type of sandwich planned for three days in a row, you might want to consider a different option.
- Is this realistic? If not, plan to cook only a couple of days, or use simpler menus. It’s ok to use some convenience items. Take advantage of frozen or canned vegetables (no-salt-added if needed). Use pre-cut fresh vegetables, instant rice, and seasoning blends.
- Can I cook once and eat twice? If you are having chicken on two days, can you cook it all at once, then save half for later in the week?