Before you begin menu planning, visit the website of the United States Department of Agriculture. There is some good information about the five basic food groups, and how to use them. It’s always a good start to know that you’re covering your nutritional bases.
There is a health benefits section that talks about good dietary choices for someone with conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Start with Favorite Foods
Menu planning also depends upon several factors like the number of people eating, meal times, special dietary concerns, budget, available foods, and recipes on hand, and likes and dislikes of everyone who will be eating.
Begin by choosing foods and recipes that you like and know how to prepare well and that fit into everyone’s dietary plans. If one or more people have special needs, like diabetics, plan ahead for substitutions either in the food preparation or food substitution for that individual or for those individuals.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
There are a few things to note when making meal choices and menu planning. First, some foods may be advertised a certain way, but that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment.
For example, sausage and eggs can be used as a main dish for dinner, and whole grain waffles can be topped with fruit instead of butter and syrup that can pack a calorie and sugar wallop.
It makes it more fun when you have a lot of variety. Kids love macaroni and cheese and since it is a pretty straightforward recipe, they may be able to prepare it without help.
Switch up different vegetable and fruit combinations, and it’s also a good time to try out some new casseroles. A casserole can be your best friend when you’re worn out from a hard day at work. Prep it ahead of time, and just put in to bake and you’re ready to eat.
To help with family food budget concerns, clip coupons from newspapers, weekend inserts, and any place you can find them. Download coupons from the Internet to save money, too, from places like Coupon Cart. Refunding Makes Cents offers an affordable subscription to a neat print magazine for coupon deals, trades and lots more, with a secret code to their website for Internet coupon-codes for lots of online companies like Amazon.com (cookware) and Barnes and Noble (cookbooks).
Watch for Specials and Stock Up
Also note seasonal food selections for savings. Create menus and meals based upon what’s on special that week or month. Hint: stock up and store or freeze specially-priced items and family favorites when possible and storage room and the budget allows.
If you’re feeding a large family, stock up at some of the club stores such as Sam’s Club™ or Costco. ™ Pay attention to expiration dates, because you don’t want to purchase so much food that it goes to waste.
One fun idea that you might consider is trading coupons with friends, family, neighbors or someone in your church group.
Food cooperatives and farm markets available in your area may offer special pricing to groups or for large purchases. So team up for better purchasing power and split everything up between group members.
If you’re not into that much organization, go one-on-one with a neighbor, other friend or relative. Buy a huge bag of potatoes, onions, oats, and/or other foods, then share.
Limit Fast Food
One unfortunate fact about buying food is that the unhealthy options are usually cheaper than healthier food. This is especially true with fast food. You can buy off the dollar menu at McDonald’s and spend less money than buying the ingredients for a healthy meal.
Lean beef costs more than high-fat beef; and a ready-made sugared cereal like Frosted Flakes™ costs more than the more nutritious cereals such as All-Bran. ™
Compare prices at different stores, and become a coupon clipper. It may take some extra legwork but you’ll be able to cook healthier foods without blowing a hole in your budget.