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Food Forethought

Tips to create a meal plan for the week

You know how it goes. When you don’t plan ahead, you end up stopping for fast food, grabbing unhealthy snacks, or filling up on convenience foods. A busy schedule may make it hard to plan ahead, but a lack of time is all the more reason to be careful about what you eat. Making a meal plan isn’t just helpful for avoiding diet pitfalls. It also helps ensure you’re getting balanced nutrition.

Before your next trip to the grocery store, take a few minutes to plan out your week’s meals. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Think Ahead

Look at your calendar. What nights will you be home, in a rush between appointments, or out and about? How many breakfasts and lunches need to be made for the week? Take into account work schedules, social events, and after school activities for each person in the family. You don’t want to plan and buy food for seven dinners if you’re only going to be home for five.

As you consider which meals to prepare, be careful not to be overly ambitious, especially if you’re new to meal planning. Look for recipes that fit your lifestyle.

Do you have extra time, a big food budget, and like cooking? Then lengthy recipes could work for you. Most people, however, should choose simple recipes made with everyday ingredients that are quick to prepare. Late nights or busy days may call for leftovers or quick recipes that can be made ahead in the slow cooker.

Select Recipes

Have trouble coming up with recipe ideas? Do online searches for the type of recipe you’re looking for. Examples could be “low-calorie,” “family-friendly,” or “slow-cooker.” As you try recipes, compile a list of ones you’d like to make again. Post the list inside a kitchen cabinet door or use an app for go-to meal ideas.

Place recipes you find in magazines or get from friends in a recipe binder or filing box. Use tabs to organize recipes by type (meat, pasta, sides, salads, fish, appetizers, etc.). Online tools are also available to organize and save your favorite recipes.

Make a List

After you’ve chosen your recipes, it’s time to make a grocery list of ingredients you need to purchase. Many people find an easy way to do this is with a master list of all the foods you typically buy. Keep multiple copies of this list on hand and check the ones you need to buy for the week. To avoid unnecessary purchases and food waste, check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for ingredients you may already have on hand.

Many people are so familiar with the layout of their grocery store they can make a list based on where the foods are located. Canned goods may come first, then packaged foods, dairy, meat, produce, and so on. Making a list this way helps grocery shopping go quicker and helps you avoid forgetting important items.

Go Shopping

A meal plan won’t work if you don’t have food to make the meals. Once a week or every other week use your list to go shopping. Having a list and sticking to it keeps you from buying on impulse. Cookies and candy aren’t on the list? Then don’t buy them. Plan to go shopping when the store’s not crowded and you’re not hungry. This way the experience will be more pleasant and you won’t feel like eating everything in sight.