Meal Planning Made Easy

Food dollars are the most important dollars you spend. They can be spent wisely buying nourishing meals for the family or they can go for spur-of-the-moment purchases.

Nutritious meals don't just happen; they are planned. Planning meals helps you think about what to eat before you are hungry. Planning meals ahead can save you time, provide healthy meals for your family, and include foods your family likes.

Meal planning also saves money. If you sit down and plan meals for a week and make a list - you will know what you need and can take advantage of advertised specials. And with planned meals and a list, you'll make fewer "quick" trips to the grocery store. Those "quick" trips can be costly to your food budget as you often pick up things you don't really need.

To get started planning nutritious meals, base your meal planning on the Food Guide Pyramid. Each day, try for at least:

6 servings from the Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group
3 servings from the Vegetable Group
2 servings from the Fruit Group
2 servings from the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group
2 servings from the Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group

Here is a basic meal plan to get you started.

Fruit or Juice
Bread of some kind and/or cereal
(Some people occasionally add meat and/or eggs)
Milk or Yogurt

Main dish (sandwich, salad, soup, or casserole)
Fruit or Vegetable


Main dish (usually contains meat, but not always)
2 vegetables (or vegetable and fruit)
Bread and/or Rice or Pasta


Meal Planning Tips

  • Include a variety of foods each day. Try a new food sometimes
  • Include different flavors, textures, colors, and shapes in your meals.
  • Include foods from at least three or four of the five food groups at each meal.
  • Make a collection of nutritious recipes that your family enjoys.
  • Save menus from one week to the next, especially those the family liked. It makes meal planning easier and faster.
  • Be sure to plan for nutritious snacks from the five food groups. Be sure the family knows which foods are food snacks and which foods are for meals.
  • Avoid foods high in fat, sugar and salt for better health.
  • Prepare a shopping list. A shopping list based on planned meals saves time and money. Keep a piece of paper near the refrigerator for writing down items as you need them.
  • Planning meals will not only provide healthy meals for you and your family, but will also save you time and money.

Written by Barbara Farner, Nutrition and Wellness Educator, University of Illinois Extension Manteno Extension Center.

Edited by Katherine J. Reuter, Consumer and Family Economics Educator, University of Illinois Extension Countryside Extension Center.

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