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Meal planning can limit grocery store trips

A common New Year’s Resolution is often saving money, and one way this can be accomplished is making a trip to the grocery store into a planned event that may happen only once a week or even less often.

Now is a great time to brush up on our meal planning. The following are some tips and ways to plan healthy meals while limiting shopping trips.

  • Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Make a list of everything and check expiration dates. Use items that will expire soon and those that have been in the pantry or freezer a while. Also be sure to use any fresh produce before it must be discarded.
  • Once your inventory is done, make a meal calendar or plan – nothing fancy, just map out each meal and what items will be used from your inventory.
  • Use your meal plan and inventory to help make your grocery list. By planning ahead and knowing exactly what you need, you can save both money and time.
  • When planning meals with your inventory list, try to plan meals that include at least three to five food groups from the MyPlate food guide. The food groups are fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy products.
  • The whole family can participate in the process. Perhaps the kids can plan one meal or one day of meals, and one parent can plan the snacks for the week.
  • Try to have healthy snacks available and reachable for everyone. Cut up fruits or vegetables and place them in the refrigerator or keep a bowl of whole fruits on the counter. This is a great way to ensure no produce goes to waste and to include fruits and vegetables in your diet.
  • Pull out the cookbooks that you have hidden in your closet. Find a recipe that you have all the ingredients for and try that recipe. You might be surprised how much your family will enjoy something new and tasty.
  • Make leftovers into something new or cook meals that will feed the family twice. Repurpose leftover cooked chicken into either chicken salad sandwiches or quesadillas, or make a big batch of spaghetti sauce or gumbo.
  • If you have a lot of breakfast foods in your inventory, do breakfast for dinner. Most kids will enjoy having breakfast at night, and they can assist you in the meal preparation.
  • Be flexible. What you planned for Tuesday’s lunch can be Thursday’s dinner, which is perfectly OK.
  • Hang your meal plan calendar either on the pantry door or refrigerator so everyone can see it.
  • Get kids involved by letting them wash vegetables, chop and measure ingredients, and locate items in the pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Older kids can help cook the meal with some supervision.
  • Take occasional breaks from cooking to support local restaurants.

Cynthia Clifton is the General Nutrition Agent for the St. John the Baptist Parish extension office of the LSU Ag Center. She can be reached at cclifton@agcenter.lsu.edu.