Meal Plans 101

There are a few basic ways I think about planning a meal for fun and variety:

  •  seasonality (summer: light, fresh; winter: heavy, warm, etc.)
  • ethnicity (Asian, Mexican, American, European/Italian, etc.)
  • color (red/orange, yellow/green, blue/purple)
And of course keep in mind the three main Food Properties:

  1. Carbs/Starches
  2. Fats
  3. Protein

 This chart show examples, then lists below further examples within each category. Use it if it is helpful.
Lean Protein
Low Starch
Healthy Fat

Whole Grain bread
BBQ Sauce
green beans
Coconut  Oil
Brown Rice
Liquid Aminos
 (soy sauce alt)
Snap Peas
Multigrain Pasta
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Millet or Quinoa
Lean Meat
Sweet Potato
Balsamic Vinegar

Lean Protein
• Poultry: skinless chicken and turkey
• Fish: salmon, sardines, halibut, cod, tilapia, flounder, and canned light tuna
• Shellfish: shrimp, scallops, crab, oysters, lobster
• Eggs: whole eggs and egg whites
• Meat, Pork, Lamb and Veal: lean beef (round, sirloin, tenderloin, rump), lean ham, Canadian bacon, lamb loin chop, veal chop, veal roast
• Soy: tofu, tempeh, edamame (soybeans)
• Lowfat Cheese

Low Starch Vegetables
artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, cucumber, eggplant, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach, summer squash, zucchini

Healthy Fat
avocado, coconut oil is the best (organic, cold pressed), flaxseed oil, extra virgin cold pressed olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, sesame oil, walnut oil, nuts (ex: pecans, walnuts, pistachios, almonds), nut butters (ex: natural peanut butter, almond butter) and seeds (ex: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseeds)

Starches Whole Grains, Whole Grain Products and Starchy Vegetables
- Whole Grain Ideas:  
  • normally gluten free: brown rice, oats, quinoa (complete protein), millet, buckwheat, oats (not quick-cooking), polenta
  • gluten: whole wheat, multi-grain pasta, barley, etc.

- Starchy Vegetables: corn, green peas, potatoes (white or sweet), turnips

Some Seasoning and Sauce Suggestions
• BBQ Sauce
• Salad Dressings (homemade or simple/natural ingredients are best)
• Fruit Preserves (homemade: fresh fruit with honey is great)
• Low sodium Teriyaki or Liquid Aminos (healthy soy sauce alternative with all the essential aminos in it)
• Tomato Sauce (make your own simple pasta and pizza sauces or taco sauces)
• Mustards (Dijon, Horseradish)
• Salsa (look for interesting flavors like black bean and corn, mango, pineapple, etc.)
• Vinegars (balsamic, rice wine, red wine, flavored vinegars, apple cider vinegar with the "mother" is best)

Getting Organized:
You'll find that planning five or six meals will be enough for most weeks. Make sure one meal is a dish that can be served on two days, with different accompaniments. On another night, you'll probably find yourself eating away from home, or using up leftovers. Include fun nights like Ethnic cuisine or Vegetarian meals.

Record/Organize Meals
Try keeping a record of every meal you prepare for a week or two. You can use this list as a basis for future meal plans. Organize your lists into types, so that you can see all your pasta or fish dishes at a glance. When you discover a new dish that your family loves, add it to your lists - otherwise, it's bound to be forgotten.

Gather Recipes
Get them from friends, from the Internet, from books and magazines. If you try just one new recipe a week, you'll have added 50 to your repertoire by the end of the year. Or, if you throw together a few simple ingredients and have a successful meal, write down what you made, and repeat the dish in future.

Extended Meals
Shop and cook with leftovers in mind. Yes, it's great to cook fresh food from scratch every night, but real life doesn't always allow you to do that. When you do have a bit of time, make a large quantity and freeze two or three servings for another time. Or cook more than you need for healthy leftovers, to give a break from typical lunches.

Stock Up
Build up your pantry and refrigerator/freezer stock of healthy standbys. Canned beans, rice, pasta, tomato paste, olives, frozen vegetables, dried herbs, spices, tuna and other fish - all of these can make the basis of a quick, simple meal to fit into your weekly meal planner. (see "Pantry Essentials" page for more ideas).

Simple meal planning helps add variety to your diet. If you wait until it's nearly time to eat before you think about what to have, you're not likely to start experimenting. Plan ahead a little, and you can try a new recipe, a different vegetable, an unusual way of cooking chicken - and your diet will improve.

In a typical week of healthy meal planning, include variety, such as two vegetarian meals, two using fish, one meal with poultry, and one with red meat. Buy a wide range of fruits and vegetables in different colors and in season if possible (local farmer markets or co-ops).

Plan these at every meal. Cut down on servings of meat or fatty foods, and add bulk with another portion of vegetables. Make a side salad a regular part of your meals. There's no need to stick to lettuce and cucumber - add fruit segments, vegetable sticks and nuts for variety and good nutrition. Try different vegetables and recipes. (using this website or others)

Indulge Yourself Occasionally
You can include one 'indulgence' meal each week if you wish. This could be a meal out, or a take away meal like fish and chips or curry.

Once healthy meal planning is established as part of your routine, you'll find it becomes second nature. Gradually, you'll build up a whole range of home-made meals that you can cook quickly and easily, and which are much better for your health than ready-made supermarket meals.