How to Plan Balanced Meals
Coming up with shopping lists that include foods from all the food groups can seem like an endless process. To keep meal planning interesting and easy while providing balanced meals the whole family will enjoy, try asking yourself these questions:
- What season is it? In summer your family might tend to do more grilling and in winter more stews and casseroles.
- What do we have in the pantry? Try to keep the cupboards, refrigerator and freezer full of nutrient-rich foods.
Using these questions, come up with a few entree ideas for the week and create a shopping list to accommodate the menu and fill up the pantry.
Balanced meals include one food from each food group- Milk & Milk Products; Vegetables; Fruits; Grains and Meat & Beans. The new MyPlate icon is a good representation of a balanced meal because all five food groups are included. When planning a meal, try to include "five of five." Here are a few examples of how to do it:
- Spaghetti is a frequent menu item for many families. Spaghetti includes ground meat, vegetables (onion, mushrooms and marinara sauce) and grains (spaghetti). What food groups are missing? Milk and Fruit. Pour milk to drink and add a fruit salad (maybe even as dessert) for a balanced, nutrient-rich family meal.
- When the weather turns cold and the family meal menu includes Beef Stew with meat and vegetables, then balance the meal by serving dinner rolls (grains), sliced fruit (whatever is in season) and milk to drink.
- If you're serving oatmeal made with milk for breakfast, then consider adding yogurt and fruit to add flavor to the oatmeal, and maybe a hard cooked egg to boost the protein. Another option would be to add a scrambled egg with salsa.
- When deli sandwiches are on the menu for lunch, add cheese to the sandwich, a side of fruit and baby carrots.
By taking a balanced approach to planning meals you make sure your family is getting adequate nutrition. When options from every food group are available at every meal, then even picky eaters are likely to find something they will want to eat. As children get older, use the balanced meal approach to add more interest and variety to your healthy family meals. For example, try adding more vegetables into a casserole or adding fruit into a quesadilla or green salad.
Does every meal need to be perfectly balanced? Of course not. However, this rule of thumb for menu planning is a simple way to plan healthy family meals.
Free Resources to Help You Plan Balanced Meals