If the hours before dinner most evenings include a hunt through your recipe box and a mad rush to the grocery store, menu planning can simplify your life and help you make better meal choices for your family. When you make a menu plan, you write down what you will serve for each meal so there is no question when the time to cook rolls around.
Create a Balanced Diet
When you plan a menu for the week or month ahead of time, it is easier to see whether your family is eating a balanced diet. When you look across the plan, you should see that each meal includes a vegetable, grain and protein and that you are serving a variety of options in each category. For example, although dark leafy greens provide vitamins, you should not serve them every night, because nutrients in yellow and orange vegetables are also important. Plus, when you have a plan, you are less likely to order takeout or choose another unhealthy alternative to cooking at home.
After you create a menu plan, make a grocery list and get all your shopping for the week done at the same time. This saves you time by limiting the number of trips you need to make to the store. If you are on a tight budget, one idea is to look at the sales in your grocery store's weekly ad and build your meal plan around the items that are on sale. If you shop just once each week, put the meals with ingredients that spoil quickly, such as delicate vegetables and fresh fish, at the beginning of the week and save the heartier ingredients for the end of the week.
Plan Around Your Schedule
When you plan a menu, you can assign quick meals to days when your schedule does not leave you with much time to cook. The meals that involve long hours of simmering or baking can go on days when you know you will be at home all afternoon. You can also select one day during the week to do most of the chopping for the meals you have planned for later in the week.
Some meals always leave you with leftovers, and if you make a plan, you can use those leftovers in meals later in the week. For example, if you make a beef roast one day, you can chop up what is left and use it for stroganoff a day or two later. If you're cooking chicken breasts for one meal, cook a couple extras and slice them to serve cold on a fresh salad topped with creamy dressing for dinner the next night. Or, combine leftover veggies with eggs and ranch seasoning mix for a delicious frittata.
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