10 Expert Tips on Planning a Great Meal

Overwhelmed at times trying to figure out what and how to cook dinner? You’re not alone. Planning a fantastic meal doesn’t have to be time-consuming and difficult.  These 10 tips will make it easier.

  1. Plan a Few Meals– consider the ingredients you will need for the meal a few days ahead of time so you have time to gather everything you need. Make sure everyone you’re serving has something included they like. When introducing a new food to your family, pair it with an ingredient they already like. For example, if they like spring mix, dried fruit and nuts and you’re introducing quinoa, make a quinoa salad with chopped greens, toasted pecans, dried cherries and their favorite salad dressing.
  2. Don’t stress – even a well-balanced and delicious meal can be made simple, an egg and veggie omelet with whole grain toast, a rotisserie chicken with stir-fried frozen brown rice and frozen vegetables with minced garlic or canned refried beans and veggie tacos served with salsa, low-fat cheese, lettuce and Greek yogurt in place of sour cream.
  3. Use what you have on hand – it is okay, and can even be fun, to improvise a recipe when cooking. Combine left-overs to make chicken or vegetable wraps with hummus, or left-over frozen veggies reheated with couscous or brown rice and beans that you have in the pantry. Ran out of fresh or frozen veggies? Keep glass jarred artichokes, olives or bell peppers in stock. These are great served sliced in sandwiches, salads, and wraps or offered as a side.
  4. Think about how the flavors and textures on the plate will compliment each other – create mouthwatering meals by mixing sweet and savory like curry with pineapple, or cold, fresh and crunchy veggies with a creamy yogurt dip or lean poultry or fish with a mango or peach salsa.
  5. Get colorful –  incorporate foods of different colors to excite the eyes, because we all know, we get hungry with our eyes as well as our stomachs! Plan your meals by evaluating which colors you have left. For example, if you had blueberries and red raspberries for breakfast, choose green lettuce and yellow onions at lunch. Aim for 4 colors a day of different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds. Don’t forget spices and herbs have colors too and they are jammed packed with antioxidants and phytochemicals (plant compounds that protect against disease). Keep a spice/herb blend on the kitchen table like Trader Joe’s 21 Salute Seasoning or Mrs. Dash.
  6. Enlist help – get your children, spouse, partner or roommate involved in setting up or cooking the meal. It’ll get the meal on the table faster and everyone will appreciate the finished product.  Small tasks like scrubbing vegetables, setting the table or washing dishes can be easily delegated.
  7. Select seasonal foods – use fruits and vegetables that are in season to get the fullest and most robust flavors that will taste amazing. These foods are often less expensive at both the farmer’s market and grocery store.
  8. Think outside the box and try different pairings of foods and/or spices – Like canned pumpkin mixed into tomato sauce served with your pasta and parmesan, tomato, basil mozzarella and watermelon salad, or try having breakfast for dinner.  Who can say no to pancakes anytime of day?
  9. Use your freezer – many food items can be stored in the freezer for months, such as tomato sauces, soups, stews, dough, fruits and vegetables. Make ahead the more time-consuming ingredients of a meal so that you can defrost and use it when time is limited. Label, date and seal carefully to avoid freezer burn. Reserve one shelf for frozen meals you prepared, so they don’t get lost in the freezer abyss.
  10. Have fun! – Meal planning shouldn’t be stressful. Just think of it as an opportunity to be creative while putting together a nourishing dish for your family.

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