Save Time and Money – and Improve Your Health – With These Simple Meal Planning Tips

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March 25, 2022


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There are many reasons for meal planning but the three most important are that planning your meals saves you time and money and it’s better for your health. Meal planning simply means knowing what’s for dinner every day and there are some simple steps you can take to make it easier.

Saves you time
When you know what you’re going to cook, you reduce the number of trips to the grocery store and spend less time walking the aisles. You can even reduce the number of times you cook by making extra quantities of family-favorite recipes that can be frozen and enjoyed later.

Saves you money
By making use of what you already have on hand and purchasing only what you need – and reducing the number of times you order in or get take-out – you’ll save quite a lot on your monthly food and dining expenses. Estimates show that restaurant meals are about five times more costly than home-cooked meals.

Good for your health
Preparing your meals at home makes it much easier to eat healthy. If you’re on a specific diet for hypertension, diabetes, weight loss or just want to eat healthy, meal planning gives you the opportunity to adjust ingredients and portions to meet your needs. You’re also able to control for food allergens and sensitivities.

Meal planning basics

Here are some simple steps you can take to take your meal planning to the next level:

  • Pick a day to spend a little time in the kitchen. Weekend days are very popular. Make sure you have time to shop for groceries before the week gets started. 
  • Take inventory of what you have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. Prioritize fresh, ready to expire and leftovers. This allows you to use foods efficiently before they go bad and reduce food waste.
  • Select recipes. On average, families eat an average of eight or nine dinner meals. For those busy days, keep the meal simple with recipes you already have on hand or know by heart. Leftover day is a great way to save time, money and clear your fridge of all the extras left behind from previous recipes.
  • Create a grocery list with the ingredients you need. Try to use what you already have on hand, especially the perishables. Organize the list according to the layout of your store, if possible. Stick to the list. 
  • Resist the temptation to buy extra just because it is on sale. Chances are if the item isn’t on your meal plan, you may end up throwing it away later.
  • Batch- or bulk-cook family favorites that freeze well, such as soups and casseroles. 
  • If you’re tired of the same old meals and need some new recipes, search online for recipes that are “heart-healthy,” “diabetic-friendly,” “healthy,” “easy” or “budget-friendly.” You can also search for recipes using specific ingredients you already have on hand (i.e., “recipes with pasta, broccoli and lemon”).
  • Resources to help you succeed at meal planning are available online. There are apps with weekly meal planners, inventory and grocery lists, and printable forms for those who prefer to write it down. 

Want to add some diversity into your meal planning?
Ready to explore new spices and cuisines, but you have picky eaters at home? Try batch-cooking. With batch cooking you can incorporate new flavors and ingredients into your weekly meal plan and please all the different palates in your household.

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The main trick is to prepare staple foods in bulk without adding seasonings, spices or other ingredients that will alter the flavor. Staple foods include starches, grains, legumes and fresh starchy and non-starchy veggies. 

With these basic ingredients already prepared, you can create a flavorful Asian-inspired rice dish on Monday and Cuban-style rice and beans the following day. Keeping the main components of the meal simple allows you to add different spices, sauces and condiments, creating tasty meals every day of the week. 

If you already have a new cuisine or new flavors you want to try, take a moment to inventory your spice rack and make a list of the spices you’ll need. You may be surprised at how many you already have on hand. You’ll also notice that many cuisines use some of the same basic vegetables and herbs, known as aromatics, in the preparation of a variety of dishes. Onion and garlic are two of the most common vegetables – imagine a Latin sofrito without this dynamic duo!  

Terry Ochoa, MS, RDN

About the Author
Terry Ochoa MS, RDN is a wellness dietitian at Baptist Health South Florida. She developed the nutrition component for an intensive lifestyle modification program available to employees. For the past eight years, she has provided nutrition counseling and education to its participants. Ms. Ochoa has collaborated on several research projects that examine the effects of intensive lifestyle intervention programs and their long-term effects on health-related behavior modification. Her study results are published in several reputable journals. Terry is involved with Homestead Hospital’s Healthy Homestead initiative and the system-wide Plant Strong initiative. Ms. Ochoa practices what she preaches. She doesn’t sacrifice taste or nutrition and exercises daily as a part of her routine. Her goal is to inspire and support those seeking to live a healthier and happier life. She earned her bachelor and master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition at Florida International University.

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