Planning Meals and Snacks

You eat in a variety of places – your home, work, restaurants, maybe even your car. With planning, you can have healthy options in any of these places.

Meals at Home

Planning meals to prepare at home is a good way to improve your food choices. Planning can also help you avoid less healthy drive-through meals.
A good place to start is MyPlate Plan. This tool calculates daily food group targets based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. You can also download My Food Diary [PDF-127KB] to track your meals.

Woman reading dairy label

Once you’ve planned your meals, make a grocery list.  While shopping, choose healthier ingredients for the meals you will prepare at home. Here are some ideas:

  • Use low-fat cheese and low-fat, low-sodium soups.
  • With sharply flavored cheese, such as cheddar and parmesan, you can usually reduce the amount in a recipe without sacrificing flavor.
  • Try a non-stick cooking spray or a small amount of cooking oil for sautéing instead of a solid fat.
  • If you’re using ground beef, look for a low-fat variety or try using skinless ground turkey breast. Once you’ve browned the meat, drain to remove excess fat.
  • Check out frozen vegetable side dishes. Avoid ones with added cream, butter, salt, or cheese sauces. You can steam these vegetables quickly in the microwave.
  • Add beans to vegetable soups and chili to improve the nutritional value.
  • If you are making enchiladas, rinse a can of black beans and add these to the ground meat.
Online Recipes

National Institutes of Health offers heart-healthy recipes with information about serving size, number of servings, calories, and other nutrients.

MyPlate Kitchen provides recipes that can be searched by nutrition, food groups, cuisine, cooking equipment needed, and total cost. Users can log in to save recipes or cookbooks.

When your meal is ready, pay attention to portion size. For example, avoid adding too much butter or salad dressing. Also, serving food on individual plates instead of putting serving dishes on the table may discourage second and third helpings.

Over time, you will figure out short-cuts, and it will become easier to make healthy meals at home.

Meals At Restaurants

Before you go out, check the restaurant menu online. Look for healthy choices ahead of time rather than choosing a meal at the restaurant.

Many restaurants serve more food than one person needs at one meal. Consider splitting an entrée with a friend. Or ask for a “to-go” box and use it for half your meal as soon as a server brings food to the table.


How to Avoid Portion Size Pitfalls

Stock up on nutritious snacks at home so you have a healthy option to grab on the go. You might also stock your office cabinet or car glove box with healthy, shelf-stable treats if you snack in these are places. Consider the following:

  • Fruit such as apples, oranges, bananas, grapes, and canned fruit without added sugars.
  • Washed and chopped celery, carrots, and cucumbers.
  • Low-fat and fat-free yogurt without added sugars, milk, and low-fat cheeses.
  • Whole-grain crackers and breads.
  • Proteins such as nuts and seeds.

To avoid consuming too much of your favorite snack, do not eat straight from the package. Instead, put the amount that you plan to eat into a bowl or container. Also, store less healthy foods out of sight, like on a high shelf or at the back of the freezer. Move the healthier food to the front at eye level.

You’ll find it’s easier to make better choices when you have a good variety of nutritious foods available in the places where you eat.

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