Nutrition-wise blog

Menu planning: Save your diet and save time

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. October 24, 2009

Menu planning can do more than save your diet — it can save you time and money. Planning a week's meals will organize your shopping list and lessen your time at the grocery store. Stick to your list and you'll also avoid overspending.

There's no perfect way to plan menus. Some people like to look at cookbooks or Web sites for recipes. Others look for sales and coupons and build meals around the sale items.  My personal approach is a little different: I like to build meals from the staples I keep in my pantry and refrigerator. I then use garlic, seasonings, low-fat dressings or salsas to add variety and flavor.

My weekly grocery list typically looks like this:

  • Fruit — what's in season or on sale plus family favorites
  • Veggies — salad greens, carrots, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and any others I need for specific recipes
  • Whole-wheat tortillas, bread or rolls
  • Skim milk and low-fat yogurt
  • Meat, fish and nuts — what's on sale
  • Canned items — veggies, fruit, fish, beans
  • Starches — brown rice, potatoes

From just these foods I can make a variety of meals, such as:

  • Traditional dinner: Roasted meat, sautéed or steamed veggies, whole-wheat roll or small potato (with skin) or rice pilaf, and a side of fruit
  • Tacos: Tortillas filled with beans, grated cheese, veggies and perhaps meat or fish, with a side of fruit
  • Salad: Spinach or other salad greens with leftover meat, veggies, fruit and beans or nuts, with whole-wheat dinner rolls or bread
  • Stir fry: Veggies, with or without meat or fish, over brown rice, and a fruit and yogurt parfait for dessert

I just add a glass of milk or some yogurt, and I've got four dinners that not only please my family but are also nutritionally balanced.

Leftovers? I've got lunch for the next day.

So what do you do? Are you a planner? Does menu planning help you eat healthier meals, spend less or save time? Have you had success getting your children, spouse or other family members involved?

Thanks for sharing,

Katherine

Oct. 24, 2009