Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #8

Plan your meals.

This is something to start small with, but it’s a very necessary step for most people who want to eat a healthful diet based on whole foods.


-Eating spontaneously leads to poor food choices. When we’re hungry, we don’t usually want to fuss with making something that might take a bit of preparation, we just want to eat.

-Meal planning means have all your ingredients to-hand, while eating on the go means more shopping trips, which make it easier to overspend on groceries and make less ideal food choices.

-It gives you a road map for food preparation, so you can plan time to eat healthfully and meet your nutritional goals.

-It relieves a lot of the stress around meals. Once you get used to doing this, meal times become much more fun and easygoing than having to come home from work, figure out what you’re going to make, run to the store, and then try to cook everything in 15 minutes so you’re not eating at 9PM.


-Start small. Make a list of 10-14 dinners (depending on how your weekends usually go) that you (and your family) will eat. This is your starting point. Some people, such as ourselves, like to decide which meals will go on which nights. We tend to have kind of erratic schedules, so it helps us to plan who is cooking on what night, what meals will best fit our available preparation time, etc. But, some people do just find with having weekly dinners set up and the groceries purchased, and deciding between those meals each night. Find what works for you.

-Once you have this laid out, you can start adding or switching dinners to your lists each week. Use your meal lists to make your grocery lists.

-Each week, look at your list and assess how healthful the dinners are. If they could use some tweaking, try to do one or two meals a week with simple things, like adding a vegetable or switching from white to brown rice. This makes the transitions a bit easier than trying to do it all at once.

-Allow children who are old enough to help with the plan. They’re more likely to eat healthful foods if they help plan and prepare them!

-Once you’ve got the hang of making a dinner plan, try either breakfasts or lunches, whichever makes more sense for you. We plan most of our dinners to give us leftovers for lunches, which works well for us, but it may not work as well for others.

This will take some getting used to. Most of us are used to eating on the fly, and eating “what we’re in the mood for.” Unfortunately, that’s one of the ways we’ve gotten to be such an unhealthy nation, and it needs to change. Make a solid family commitment to meal plan for at least one month of dinners, and by the end of it, you may find yourself thinking “how did I do this any other way?”


8 responses to “Back to Basics: Nutrition Rule #8

  • kater

    we started this plan while stationed overseas in 1999. it made more sense to make one “staples” shopping trip to the military base 2 hours away and catch our dairy & produce locally. now in a house of six, (with three tweens and a teen!) our “staples” shopping trips are still every other week to three different stores just to keep the pantry stocked. we have to go more often for the dairy and produce to keep up, but i would rather buy fruit every couple of days than a warehouse box of cupcakes. everybody in the house helps plan the meals and sticking to the list no matter what saves us a LOT in impulse buys.

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  • shwankie

    Kater, thanks for sharing your story! It’s so difficult for people to get started on a meal plan, and hearing success stories is really helpful.

    Thadd was really resistant to starting a meal plan when we moved int together, but has come to absolutely love it, too. It saves us so much time, stress, and money. I can only imagine the savings in all of those when you’re cooking for 6!

  • Christie

    I really like your comment about people eating what they’re “in the mood for.” You’re absolutely right. I never thought about it that way, but people are often impulse eaters, and usually they’re not healthy impulses! I’ve definitely found that switching to a fruit and vegetable heavy diet has reduced my urges or cravings to eat.

    One question, how are you handling meal planning with a locavore diet? I’m finding it harder to plan ahead, because what we eat depends on what’s available at the farmer’s market or what comes in our farm box. Maybe once I get a repertoire of recipes built up I’ll be able to plan ahead more easily…

  • shwankie

    Christie, you’re definitely correct that it can be more challenging to plan a seasonal, local diet than a box-store one. We do a couple of things to help meal plan with a locavore diet (your mileage may vary, but his works for us):

    -We have a deep freeze, so we keep meats on hand. This means we can plan for what meat we have, and just fill in veggies and starches around it.

    -We keep track of what should be in season, and plan meals accordingly. To do this, we’ll often put a list of meals together for the week that includes 3-4 more meals than we’ll be eating. We shop the markets and farms first, and then use what we get to determine which of the meals on our lists fits, or to readjust before we head to the grocery store if we need to. It is some planning on the fly, and definitely having a store of recipes helps.

    -We keep track of our farms and what they plant. Lots of farms are on facebook or twitter, or their markets are. Between that and what should be in season (, it gives us a good idea what we’ll have to work with.
    -Quantities in farm boxes can be more difficult. When we get farm boxes/CSA shares, we do meal planning on the day we pick it up, or the day after, to incorporate as much as we can (and we try to preserve the rest). We haven’t found a better way to do this yeet.
    -We plan some generic meals that we can toss easily modify to include almost anythng. Italian polenta, homemade pizza, dinner salads, veggie soup, curry, roasted vegetables, etc. are great, because you can use almost anything from markets or farm boxes in them. We put them on our menu (we keep our written and visible near on a white board near the kitchen), and once we get our veggies & fruits we just plug them in.

    Hope that helps!

    • Christie

      Thanks so much for your response! I like the idea of adding a few extra meals to your “potential list” and then seeing what you end up with. I’ve been surprised that it hasn’t been as difficult to come up with meals as I thought it would be. I will definitely be putting my freezer to use as well. I think it’s the biggest tool in the locavore tool belt 🙂

  • Tad

    I’m with kater (literally!); she’s been doing this planning for our family for years now, and it is easily the most important rule in this series. Even if you intend to follow a few or all of the other basic nutrition rules, this one will make or break your intentions.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, she asked me to prepare the chicken for tonight’s dinner. 🙂

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