Meal Planning 101: Scan, Plan & Cook

Thanks to a sponsorship by Tillamook County Wellness partner, Oregon Dairy & Nutrition Council, we will periodically feature articles and recipes from Judy Barbe, author, columnist and nutrition expert. As a registered dietitian nutritionist and food enthusiast, Judy offers realistic food solutions to help people “live their best.” Judy was a featured speaker for the Tillamook County “Year of Wellness” in 2016.

By Judy Barbe RDN, LiveBest
It’s 5 o’clock. Somewhere.
That means it’s time to kick back and relax. Right?
Somewhere. But not after work when the kids want attention and the dog demands even more. And you’re trying to get dinner on the table.
If you want to control chaos, save time and money, and reduce wasted food, meal planning is your ticket. Here are three steps to get you going.

Before you grocery shop, scan your cupboards, fridge and freezer. Are there foods on hand you can use to start a recipe? Tomatoes (canned or fresh) can be simmered with olive oil and garlic to make a pasta sauce. If you have a can of olives, tuna or clams, add those. Do you have vegetables you can repurpose into a salad, soup, or salsa?
Plan at least 3 meals you can make this week. Check the grocery promotions to see what’s on sale and what’s in season. Seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables taste best and cost less. Ask the store produce manager to learn what’s in season. Plain frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also good options. Keep high-fiber foods in mind. Fiber is found in plant foods such as beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Think about how you can use what you’re cooking in another meal. Cooking ground beef or turkey? Cook extra and freeze for another meal. Baking salmon? Save some for a salad with lettuce, avocado, cucumber and orange slices. Cooking quinoa? Make extra to add to soups, chili, or toss with black beans, corn, mango, green chiles and a vinaigrette.
Set aside a power hour for meal prep that will last all week.
Set the oven to 350° F. to bake nuts, vegetables, or chicken. Potatoes can be reheated later and topped with broccoli and cheese or chili. Add chicken to salads or casseroles.
While the oven is heating, chop vegetables for side dishes, snacks and lunches. Keep some raw and store them at eye level, in a clear container in the fridge. When they’re the first things you see, you’re more likely to eat them. Toss some with 1- 2 teaspoons of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake until just tender. Add to tacos, pizza, salads, or a frittata.
Simmer a pot of soup. Split pea soup, Peruvian Quinoa or white bean chicken chili can give you a night or two of meals.
Hard cook eggs. Perfect for breakfast, lunches, and snacks. Add in salads, such as canned beets, toasted walnuts and blue cheese crumbles or curry egg salad.
Cook a whole grain such as quinoa, bulgur, or wheat berries. This is an easy way to boost fiber and protein in salads or stuff a pepper. Yogurt and fruit are another way to enjoy whole grains.
Blend bean dip or hummus for a high-fiber snack that’s ready when hunger strikes. Pack it with veggies and whole-grain crackers for lunch.
As you finish, pack foods in airtight containers, label and place them in the fridge or freezer. The more you plan, the easier the routine becomes. You’ll also appreciate when the 5 o’clock rush is more like “I’ve got this!”

Registered dietitian Judy Barbe specializes in realistic food solutions. She is author of Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being. Visit her website