Food & Nutrition Column

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross
County Extension Director
Extension Educator Health Human Sciences
Purdue Extension Elkhart County

Meal Planning

As I have been presenting programs and participated in meetings I have been a part of conversations asking, “What are you making for dinner?” This often leads to a variety of conversations and comments. This question provides me with the opportunity to talk about meal planning and all of the benefits. Benefits to meal planning are you can eat healthier, you might not over eat as much, and your money goes farther.

You can eat healthier and be wealthier by being wise about planning meals and shopping with a plan. The process begins by choosing a positive attitude about meal planning. Communication on the subject is important for making meal planning work for your family. Once you have talked about the changes that are going to be made it is time to plan menus. Many of you plan your meals around meat, and leave vegetables, fruit, grains and dairy food groups as after thoughts.

According to MyPlate the bulk of your meal should be made up of vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as whole wheat bread and pasta, grains like oatmeal and rice. For more information on the healthy eating make sure and visit At this web site there are computer tools that can help you make detailed meal plans based on your age, gender, weight and activity level.

Meats and dairy foods, should be treated more like side dishes where smaller amounts are eaten. The plus to this is that this is healthier and the bonus is that it makes your money go farther. Some easy examples are stir fry vegetables with lean meat served with brown or whole grain rice, or how about chili with lots of tomatoes, beans and some lean ground meat served with a salad and corn bread.

When it comes to menu planning and shopping you need to have discipline and a game plan. Your game plan should include what you’re going to buy and where you’re going to shop. This will work best if you plan meals and snacks for a week, then write out your shopping list and stick to it. As you develop your menus look at the store ads and design ways to incorporate these sale items into your menus. Food dollars will usually go farther when you shop grocery stores, discount food stores, and bulk food stores. The food dollars won’t go very far if you shop at convenience stores.

You need to have a plan when you are in the store. If you are wandering down each aisle of the store without a plan of action, you will for sure spend more than you planned. Research has shown that you are likely to spend more money the longer you are in the store. So, using a list can save you time and money!

To help you and your family with your meal planning we a handy meal planning form that you can print off and begin to put your plan in writing. The front side has the seven days across the top and then there the meals and snacks along the side. The back side has helps and tips. If you prefer to use technology, there are several meal planning apps available; most are free of charge or have a minimal purchase price. Whatever method you prefer, have a plan and make it work for you.