Meal Planning Made Easy

Often the hardest part about cooking dinner isn’t actually making the meal, it’s deciding what to eat! I know if I don’t have a weekly meal plan created I will end up eating peanut butter and crackers for dinner. I’ve designed a do- it-yourself meal planning guide to help you design balanced, delicious meals.

Here are the steps:

  • Look In Your Cabinets –  Make an inventory list of everything in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards. If possible, group foods into categories such as vegetables, dairy, protein, and grains (this will help with step #4 and #5). If you need ideas for which foods fall into each category, check out the Grocery List located in the Healthy Plate Education Handouts tab at
  • Find Meals You Enjoy – Make a list of meals you like to cook. Can you make any of your favorite meals with the ingredients you already have? 
  • Go Shopping – Identify versatile ingredients. Which foods could you use in multiple recipes? Add these to your grocery shopping list. 
  • Build your Meals – To meet your minimum daily nutrient requirements, aim to have at least this many servings of dairy, protein, grains, vegetables, and fruit per day: 
    • 3 cups dairy
      • 1 cup dairy = 1 cup milk, yogurt, soy beverage, or 1.5 ounces cheese
    • 5 oz of protein (mostly from plant sources)
      • 1 oz protein = 1 egg, 1 ounce cooked meat, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, 1/4 cooked beans, 1/2 ounce nuts or seeds
    • 5 oz of grains (mostly whole grains)
      • 1 oz grains = 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice, starchy vegetables or pasta, 3 cups popcorn, 1 small flour tortilla
    • 2 cups of vegetables
      • 1 cup vegetable = 1 cup vegetable, 2 cup leafy salad greens, 1 cup 100% vegetable juice
    • 1.5 cups of fruit
      • 1 cup fruit = 1 cup fruit, 1/2 cup dried fruit, or 1 cup 100% fruit juice
  • Fill out your meal plan using ingredients in your inventory or grocery list.
  • Start Coloring – To confirm you are meeting the basic nutrient recommendations, I suggest color-coding each food group. For Example:
    • Dairy = Blue
    • Protein = Purple
    • Grains = Yellow
    • Vegetables = Green
    • Fruit = Red

Highlight each food on your menu with its designated color, according to which food group it falls into. After highlighting each ingredient, you can better see which food groups you are missing in your meal plan. For example, if I only had one food highlighted green on Monday, I might want to add another vegetable to my lunch or dinner or increase the serving size to meet the recommended 2 cups of vegetables per day

My menu is lacking in pink. I might need some more fruit in my diet…

Here’s the printout version so you can make your own menu!

What’s your favorite family recipe?

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