By Trisha Gedon
Some days, it can be a scramble to get a healthy dinner on the table due to sports practices, dance lessons, club meetings and other activities. Dinner time can be hectic without a plan.
Jessica Riggin, Oklahoma State University Extension educator and Lincoln County Extension director, said meal planning is a good way to serve healthy meals and save money on the grocery budget.
“With a meal plan, you determine the menu for the week and make a shopping list. When shopping, buy only what’s needed for those planned meals,” she said. “You save money with less impulse shopping and also save time by not making extraneous trips to the store throughout the week.”
Riggin suggests meal planning for your family’s biggest meal of the day, which for most people is the evening meal. Without a plan, it can be easy to fall into the habit of pizza delivery or drive-thru meals, which typically aren’t as healthy and are more expensive.
Riggin said she plans an entire month of meals at a time, but someone just starting out could start with two or three meals a week and work up from there. Print off a blank calendar page to keep track of the planned meals.
“The great thing about meal planning is it’s catered to the specific needs of your family,” she said. “Look at your calendar and determine what nights you or your children have activities. Activities can influence what kind of meal to plan for that evening. Do you need something quick so you can make it to the ballgame? A slow-cooker meal could be an option. You can even put a drive-through meal or pizza delivery on your calendar. The point is you’ve planned for it.”
Consider theme nights to ease the planning process, such as soup night, sheet-pan dinners, slow-cooker meals, breakfast for dinner, grilling night, etc. Riggin said if possible, cook a bigger meal on the weekend and plan to repurpose the leftovers another night during the week. Be sure to plan side dishes along with the main course.
“Try oven roasted vegetables for a different taste. A little olive oil and seasonings can change up the flavor and may entice picky eaters to give it a try,” she said. “Sometimes, it takes several exposures before a child develops a taste for a particular food. Frozen vegetables are just as healthy as fresh, and the quality is good all year long. However, do take advantage of fresh in-season fruits and vegetables.”
Vegetables can be served in a variety of ways, such as steamed, roasted, raw, in a stir fry or with a sauce. Each cooking method changes the flavor and texture. Someone may not like raw broccoli but can’t get enough of it roasted.
Get the family involved in choosing recipes, shopping for ingredients and cooking the meals, said Riggin. These are good life skills for everyone to have. Look at online recipe sites for new ideas. Be sure to read through each recipe to ensure it fits your health goals and lifestyle.
“Another great tool to help with meal planning is the USDA’s MyPlate website. It offers guidance for all age groups as well as healthy recipes on a budget and helps with setting personal goals for healthy eating,” Riggin said. “Consumers can also sign up to receive tips, recipes and more through email that can be incorporated into your meal plan.”
OSU Extension offers additional nutrition information online. Contact the nearest OSU Extension county office for more tips on meal planning, health and wellness.
Watch Riggin demonstrate healthy cooking tips and recipes on OSU Agriculture’s Oklahoma Gardening television show.