Menu and Meal Planning

Create a weekly meal plan.

Want to save money and time spent cooking?  Plan your meals and menus.

First, create a weekly meal plan. Then design a healthy menu for each meal on your plan.

This tip gives ideas for how to:

Also Check out Food Hero recipes - every recipe has a "Make it a Meal Section" in the text box under the recipe photo where you can get ideas!.

Eat better.

Planning your menus each week pays off in many ways:

  • Reduce stress: After a busy day, it’s great to know your kitchen is stocked with the ingredients you need to make a quick, healthy dinner.
  • Save money: Cut down on last-minute trips for fast food or takeout.
  • Waste less: Planning helps you buy the right ingredients — and use them up.
  • Save time: Planning menus saves you from rushing around as much before each meal. You can also chop things ahead of time, plan for leftovers and pack lunches.
  • Eat better: You’re more likely to use healthy ingredients if you have a plan.
  • Enjoy family time: Making and eating meals at home lets you spend more time with family. You can also teach kids how to help cook.
  • More options: You can plan ahead to try new recipes and ingredients.
Make a shopping list.Make a shopping list.

Menu Planning: One Week at a Time

Although some people prefer to plan their meals for a whole month, most people find weekly menu planning easier.  Here are some ideas for getting started.

Check off the ones you do already or the ones you'd like to try with your family.

Take an inventory. Look inside your refrigerator, cupboards and freezer. Check for things that need to be used soon, before they go bad. Think of ways to use those items.

Consider your budget. Think about how much money you have to spend on groceries this week. (See Food Hero’s guide to making a food budget for help.) If money is tight this week, plan to include several meals using staples like dry beans and pasta that you already have on hand.

Check for sales. Learn what day your grocery store prints weekly specials so you can plan menus using foods on sale. Tuesdays and Wednesdays are popular days for new specials. Scan your weekly newspaper ads to find sales. Look on your grocery store’s website — most stores have flyers and coupons you can download. See more tips under Shop for Less.

Consider your schedule. Think about how much time you’ll have during the week to prepare meals. If it’s a very busy week, you’ll need to have some quick meals planned. Check out this link to Food Hero quick recipes. If you aren’t as busy one week, you can prepare foods that take longer to cook and even freeze meals to eat later.

Consider family members’ schedules and preferences. Check family members’ schedules. Are there nights when a family member won’t be eating dinner at home? Also, try to include meals that you know most family members enjoy.

Invite your family to help. Sit down together and choose some recipes from the Food Hero collection or any set of healthy recipes your family likes. Invite family members to come up with themed meals such as Asian night or Friday night pizza.

Take it easy. Don’t plan too many complicated meals in one week—especially on weeknights! Include some "quick to fix" recipes, such as grilled sandwiches with a salad, for busy days when you know you won’t have much time to cook.

Save prep time. Include two or three recipes that all share the same common ingredient. If you have an ingredient on hand try searching Food Hero by its name for recipe ideas.  For example, plan to cook extra rice with Wednesday’s chicken creole to use for Thursday’s rice salad. Or include three meals that call for chopped onions and plan to do all the chopping at once.  Keep leftovers in the fridge for use within three days.

Plan to use leftovers. Think about ways you can plan to use a food more than once. Monday’s leftover baked chicken could go into Tuesday’s stir-fry. Make enough soup, chili or stew to use for a second meal. These foods often taste even better the next day, and they freeze well.  See more tips under Leftovers.

Plan healthy meals. Find out how to put together healthy menus on the next page.

Make a meal calendar.  Now you’re ready to write down what you plan to serve for each meal this week. Use the Weekly Meal Planner if you wish.

Make a shopping list.  Make a list of the ingredients you’ll need to buy to make all the meals on your Weekly Meal Planner. Try out the Food Hero shopping list. Just include the ingredients you’re missing, and leave off those you already have at home — they may go on sale the following week! Learn tips for how to shop for less here.

Design Healthy Menus

How can you tell if the meals you’re planning to serve your family are healthy? Try these tips:

  • Get inspired. Look at health and fitness magazines and vegetarian and low-fat cookbooks to get new recipe ideas for healthy meals . Save recipes and menus that your family enjoys, and trade your favorites with family, friends and neighbors.
  • Go meatless. Recipes that use vegetable proteins like beans, lentils or tofu are usually cheaper to make than recipes that use meat. They’re also usually very healthy!
  • Stay balanced. Include all food groups in each day’s meals and snacks: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and protein. Try planning a meal using the food groups. When you’re done, try the SuperTracker to see how healthy it is.
  • Surf the Web. Check out Food Hero recipes - every recipe has a "Make it a Meal Section" where you can get ideas!  Also visit the “Sample Recipes and Menus” page at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Last updated: 12/15/12

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