Meal Planning 

For some families deciding what to prepare for meals can be stressful. Time is short for many people and it may feel hard to plan meals well. Many find they have an increase in stress when they wait until the last minute to decide what the family will eat at home.

When waiting until the last minute to decide what to eat it is easy to reach for what is fast and easy. More expensive, convenience foods will often end up on the plate. You and your family may not eat as healthy when meals are not planned. This is because a family may eat out more often or choose already prepared microwave meals. These foods are often high in fat, sugar and salt. Others end up making unnecessary trips to the grocery store and spending more money.

Meal planning is worth it for everyone and can make a difference for both the family’s health and the budget. Remember that nutritious meals don’t just happen; they are planned!

Advantages to planning your meals and snacks include:

How to Meal Plan

Preparation Activities

Create a Food Budget
Be aware of how much food you can afford each week. Shopping on a budget is important for many families.

Decide a Regular Time to Plan Meals
Pick a specific day and time each week that you can dedicate to menu planning.

Have Something to Write On
A spiral notebook with pockets allows you to keep track of past menus, recipes, coupons, grocery lists and the amount you spent on food.

Collect Ads and Coupons from Newspapers and Mailers
Local grocery and drug stores often have ads and coupons in the newspapers and mail. You can also try checking the internet for printable coupons.

Gather up Recipes
When looking for recipes select ones that your family will enjoy. Find recipes that contain ingredients you commonly use. See what foods at home need to be used up and what items need to be purchased.

Have a Copy of the Food Guide Pyramid
Go to to get a printable copy of the Pyramid. Having it in front of you can help you plan your meals and snacks with a healthy balance of all the food groups.

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Doing the Planning

At first it may take some time to get organized and create a menu and shopping list. But after some practice you will probably be able to get it done within 30-60 minutes.


Decide if You Will Plan Menus by the Week or Month
Some parents find it works better for them to only have a week’s meal plan at a time. Others find they would rather spend more time and do a menu for a month. Then they can have more time to find good sales on the food items they need.

Start by planning the main meals of the day throughout the coming week.


Try a new recipe.
Include a variety of shapes, textures, flavors and colors.
Plan the menu based on what you have in your kitchen already.
Have meatless meals at least 2 times a week.


Plan Out the Snacks


Remember to Plan Menus Around Your Schedule
Plan meals that will match you and your family’s lifestyle. If you are very busy it will make a difference on what meals will work best for your family.


Remember to Fit Leftovers Into Your Plan
There is no need to waste food that is leftover. You can find nutritious and tasty ways to use the extra foods.



Plan for an Occasional Dessert
Once all of the food groups are included in your menu, plan for a little bit of dessert or other treats now and then.



Include Eating Out or “Take Out” in Your Meal Plan
Decide how often you feel is healthy for your family to eat out. Remember, the money spent on eating out should be included in your monthly food budget.

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Making a Shopping List

From your planned menu, write down the foods that you will need to buy. Make notes about which foods you have coupons for or the sale price to look for. If you are going to shop at more than one store, make a shopping list of foods you will buy at each store.

If you find that the amount of food you plan to buy may cause you to go over your food budget, try using substitutes and alternatives. For example, most meat recipes can be adjusted to half meat and half bean. This can help you save money.

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Links about Meal Planning

10 Tips for Successful Meal Planning
Food Network

Diabetes and Meal Planning
Cleveland Clinic

How to Plan a Balanced Meal
Busy Cooks

Meal Planning

Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program

Real Life Solutions

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Community Resources about Meal Planning

Family Nutrition Program
Utah State University Extension

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