Meal planning made easy


We all know that cooking is much healthier than frequent eating out or take out because a home cook is more in control of the ingredients and portions. Unfortunately, it can be much easier with a busy schedule to do the latter. I have many clients that struggle with planning, shopping, and cooking during the week, when the schedule is fast paced and time is limited.

As a nutritionist, I try to come up with practical solutions that can take the stress out of cooking with some simple strategies. You will also find that cooking at home is more cost effective, so you will be saving money and time!

It’s best to plan meals and snacks for the week ahead on the weekend when there is some extra time available. Look at the calendar or your planner, and then glance at the week ahead. Jot down some meal ideas for each day, and then take a quick inventory to see what you already have and what is needed for the planned meals.

Refer to any grocery store circulars to see if there are any sales on needed items or even to get inspired based on the week’s sales. Once you have taken inventory, create a shopping list. Always shop from a list to stay focused on needs of the household rather than impulse buying.

I also recommend that you get the whole family involved with the meal process by involving them in the planning, shopping, and cooking. Keep the shopping list in a visual place so everyone can contribute to meal ideas.

Flipping through cook books, magazines or websites can also give you great meal ideas.  Try one new recipe per week if you feel like you’re in a meal rut. Some great websites for recipes include,, and

Choose simple, healthy recipes for meal planning that make extra for leftovers. Try to include a lean protein, vegetables, leafy greens and a whole grain like brown rice, quinoa, or whole grain pasta. If you are trying to lose weight, you can leave out or portion a half cup cooked serving of the whole grain starch. Enjoy some fresh fruit for dessert.

Try to do some cooking ahead of time such as roasting a big batch of vegetables and using them for multiple meals. Cooking soups, chili, or casseroles can be good for leftovers or to freeze for future meals. If you choose to freeze any leftovers, make sure to label them with the date. You can marinate or season the night before for extra flavor and then just cook the meal when you get home. Your dinner will taste great because the entire flavor will have infused into the food overnight! Cooking doesn’t have to be complicated, keep it simple and tasty with lots of seasonings like garlic, onions, citrus, etc.

You can also check out some meal kit delivery services that send the recipe, instructions, and foods needed for a delicious, healthy meal. These services can be very helpful when you need new meal ideas or just a bit of extra help on busy nights.

As a home cook, it will feel good knowing you are using fresh, quality ingredients that the entire family will love!

If you are interested in meeting with a nutrition coach to learn more about a wide range of personalized services including menu planning, refrigerator makeovers, supermarket shopping, advice about what to order in restaurants, personal chef referrals, lunch box ideas, collaborative cooking instruction, and recipes, please contact Joe Juliano, DTR, Nutrition and Wellness Manager, at 201-447-8093 or [email protected].

Janet Brancato

About the Author

Janet Brancato, MS, RD, Dietitian, The Valley Hospital