This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by Janis G. Hunter, HGIC Nutrition Specialist, and Katherine L. Cason, Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, Clemson University. (New 07/09.)
Many of today’s children and adults are part of a generation that has grown up in restaurants and fast food eateries. Preparing and eating meals at home is a better choice for many reasons.
Taking the time to plan basic simple meals for the week saves time, money and stress. In fact, preparing a simple meal at home takes about the same amount of time as driving to a fast food restaurant or ordering a pizza.
Learning how to plan menus may save more money on your food budget than any other skill, allowing you to buy other necessities with the money saved. Here are some benefits of having a menu plan.
Making a meal plan is easier than most people think. Although it takes a little time up front, it can save time in the long run. Once you get used to it, making a weekly meal plan will seem easy. All it takes is a few easy steps.
A Simple Meal Plan: Here is an example of a simple meal plan, or menu writing system, to help you get started.
Sunday: Lunch at Grandmother’s House
Monday: Meatless Monday
Tuesday: Dinner in a Crock Pot
Wednesday: Soup & Sandwich
Thursday: Pasta Night
Friday: From the Grill
The main dish, which is the base around which the rest of the menu is planned, should provide a serving of protein (e.g. lean meat, some beans or a low-fat dairy product). Choose side dishes that go well with the main dish and contain plenty of raw and cooked vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (e.g. bread, pasta, rice or cereal). Serve milk and another hot or cold beverage. A dessert, such as fresh fruit, yogurt or pudding, is optional.
Include at least one “planned-over” meal per week to use leftover food from another meal.
Recipes: When you serve your family members’ favorite foods, you make meals more enjoyable and avoid waste. Most cooks rely on a core of about 10 favorite recipes for family meals. These should be nutritious, tasty, easy to make, and quick to prepare and cook.
Collect several low-cost, nutritious recipes for main dishes to put in your rotation, and serve them often. Include a variety of lean beef, poultry and fish and at least one meatless dish. Find recipes for fruits and vegetables that the family likes, even the child who is a picky eater. Assemble the recipes in a recipe file or box, or put them in a loose-leaf notebook.
Healthy foods provide more value for the money. Develop healthy meals and snacks for you and your family according to MyPyramid, USDA’s latest food guide pyramid. It shows that foods from all groups are needed daily for good health.
MyPyramid is a healthy eating plan that:
Food Groups & Numbers of Servings: Menus for meals and snacks should provide the required number of servings from these MyPyramid food groups:
The amount of food you need to eat from each group depends on your age, sex and level of physical activity. To learn more about MyPyramid, refer to HGIC 4010, MyPyramid or go to www.mypyramid.gov.
The New American Plate: To be well balanced, two-thirds or more of your plate should contain a variety of plant-based foods (e.g. grain products, beans, fruits and vegetables). The remaining one-third or less should contain protein, including foods from animal sources (e.g. meats, meat alternates and dairy foods).
Mini-Meals: Your family’s on-the-go lifestyle may mean that you “graze” on several mini-meals daily instead of three meals and two snacks. Eating five or six mini-meals can be as healthful as three meals a day. This is the customary eating style in many places outside the United States.
It has been said that “we eat with our eyes.” Create visual appeal and prevent boredom in your meals by including a variety of foods from every food group. This is also the best way to get all the nutrients your body needs daily. Choose foods of contrasting colors, textures, flavors, sizes and shapes.
Whether you spend all day or only 15 minutes preparing a meal, its presentation makes it a success. Follow these guidelines to give your meals more plate appeal.
Color: For visual appeal, try to use two colorful foods in every meal. A meal of turkey, green beans, whole-wheat bread, orange slices and milk looks better on the plate than monotone turkey, rice, cauliflower, white bread, pears and milk.
Generally color is a clue that fruits and vegetables are good antioxidant sources. Eat the most colorful fruits and vegetables to increase the nutritional value of your diet and to make meals more visually appealing. Choose red, orange, deep-yellow, purple and some dark-green leafy vegetables every day. Color groups of foods may help the body in the following ways.
Blue/purple: lower risk of some cancers; urinary tract health; memory function, and healthy aging.
Green: lower risk of some cancers; vision health, and strong bones and teeth.
Yellow/orange: lower risk of some cancers; a healthy heart; vision health, and a healthy immune system.
Red: lower risk of some cancers; a healthy heart; memory health, and urinary tract health.
Texture: To add interest to the meal, include foods that are crisp, soft, crunchy, chewy and smooth. For example, a crunchy green salad compliments a plate of spaghetti and meat balls.
Flavor: This can range from sweet to sour, bland to spicy or savory. Combine a bland flavor with a zesty one. Bring out the taste of food with spices, herbs and other flavorings. However, limit the number of mixed dishes served at one meal. Serve sliced tomatoes instead of a tossed salad with a main dish casserole.
Sizes & Shapes: To make meals more attractive, use a mixture of sizes and shapes, such as big, small, round and square. To accomplish this, serve foods whole, sliced, cubed, shredded or mashed.
Temperature: Choose from cold, warm, cool and frozen. Provide a contrast in temperatures. Serve hot foods with a cold food (e.g. baked chicken with chilled fruit salad).
Aroma: Prepare foods that smell good. Appetites are stimulated by smelling spices such as cinnamon, onions sautéing and bread baking.
Balance: Serve some light dishes and some hearty ones. If the main dish is a hearty stew, accompany it with a fruit, such as strawberries or pears.
Arrangement: Food should look good, delicious and appealing on the plate. A pleasant table setting greatly enhances the appearance of food.
Choice: Select foods you know your family will eat and are within your budget. Use fruits and vegetables that are in season or on sale. Serve different forms of foods: fresh; canned; frozen and dried. Don’t be afraid to try new foods.
Portions: Serve portions that follow the recommendations in MyPyramid, USDA’s latest food guide pyramid.
Foods that are fast and easy to prepare can be nutritious, also. By taking short cuts, you can save time and energy and still serve your family healthful foods. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Stock up on Quick-to-Fix Foods: Think convenience. “Speed-scratch” meals are easy to prepare if your pantry, refrigerator and freezer are stocked with quick-to-fix foods. When your schedule is hectic, you can make a meal in minutes with some pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, canned green beans, fruit, and bread toasted with butter and garlic powder.
For a basic list of versatile staple foods to stock in your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, refer to HGIC 4225, Stocking the Home Pantry for Quick Meals.
Prepare Your Own Ingredients Ahead of Time: Cut up vegetables, fruits and meats, because precut foods are generally more expensive. Cook lean ground meat and refrigerate or freeze it to make tacos, spaghetti sauce, etc.
Use Quick Cooking Methods: Select recipes with few ingredients and that use quick cooking methods (e.g. broiling, microwaving or stir-frying).
Do “Batch Cooking”: Cook when you have extra time, such as on weekends. Make soups, stews or casseroles to freeze for the next week.
Cook One Dish Meals: A variety of items from different food groups can be combined into one dish (e.g. chicken stir fry with noodles, ham and spinach quiche, or chicken/broccoli/cheese casserole).
Use “Planned Overs”: Cook extra food as “planned-overs” for later use. Using leftovers saves time and stretches your food budget. Besides, leftover food often tastes just as good, or better, the second time around!
HGIC 4240, Quick Meals has more ideas on making meals in minutes.
To learn more about saving money on food, refer to: HGIC 4220, Stretch Your Food Dollars Part 1: Before Going to the Store; HGIC 4221, Stretch Your Food Dollars Part 2: At the Grocery Store, and HGIC 4222, Stretch Your Food Dollars Part 3: At Home.
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