Meal planning can help limit grocery store trips

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Making a list of what items you have on hand can help with the meal planning process. Photo by Mandy Armentor/LSU AgCenter

By Mandy Armentor | LSU AgCenter registered dietitian and area nutrition agent

BATON ROUGE, La. — For many people, the coronavirus has turned a trip to the grocery store into a planned event that may happen only once a week or even less frequently.

Now is a good time to brush up on meal planning. Most of us went from eating only one to two meals at home daily to now three meals and snacks a day with everyone at home. Undoubtedly our food budgets have increased, and eating away from home or entertainment budget areas have decreased since the stay-at-home order.

The following are some tips, tricks and ways to plan healthful meals while limiting grocery store trips.

— Take an inventory of your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Make a list of everything and check expiration dates. Try to 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. It doesn’t have to be fancy — just map out each meal and what items will be used from your inventory. The following link has a printable one you can use, or you can make something similar on paper: https://bit.ly/2XInKy6.

— Use your meal plan and inventory to help make your grocery list or pickup order. 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. Those food groups are fruits, vegetables, protein, grains and dairy products.

— The whole family can participate in the process. Perhaps the kids get to plan one meal or one day of meals; maybe one parent gets to plan the snacks for the week.

— Try to have healthful snacks available and reachable for everyone. Cut up fruit or vegetables and place them in the refrigerator, or keep a bowl of whole fruit 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 might be hidden somewhere. Find a recipe that you have all the ingredients on hand for and try a new recipe. You might be surprised and find a new family favorite.

— 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 and eat at least two meals from it. Check out the LSU AgCenter’s “Cook Once, Eat Twice” video series for tasty recipes: https://youtu.be/25FM6_Si5hQ and https://youtu.be/8zUbDULKKXg.

— If you have a lot of breakfast foods in your inventory, mix things up and do breakfast for dinner.  Most kids will enjoy having breakfast at night, and they can get in the kitchen to assist you in the meal preparation.

— Be flexible. Maybe what you planned for Tuesday’s lunch ends up being prepared on a different day, and that is perfectly OK.

— Hang your meal plan calendar either on the pantry door or refrigerator so everyone can see what will be offered at meals. This also will help remind you once it is time to start preparing meals.

— 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 an occasional break from cooking and support local restaurants. In our house, once a week since the stay-at-home order, I get a break from cooking and we support a local business by ordering takeout. We eat our takeout and then do a family movie night or game night.

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Mandy Armentor can be reached at marmentor@agcenter.lsu.edu.