When starting out cooking there are several key things to keep in mind when planning a menu. You can follow these steps whether you’re cooking full recipes or just assembling a snack plate to have a balanced, healthy meal.
Think in threes
When planning a balanced menu, I think of 3 components: a vegetable, a protein, and a starch. Thinking in threes ensures that each meal has a balance of nutrients. It’s important not to cut out or restrict any food group as each food group provides important nutrients and minerals. Vegetables offer important vitamins, protein will provide satiety, and starches (like potatoes, grains, or corn) offer energy and fiber.
Consider color and texture
Eating a variety of colors helps give a wide range of nutrients. Color and texture also make a visually appealing meal. Think about your cooking methods to add variety. If you’re serving roasted potatoes, consider steamed broccoli instead of roasted.
Aim to make half your plate vegetables, a quarter starch (grains, potatoes, or corn), and a quarter protein (poultry, meat, beans or tofu). MyPlate can help you determine the recommended daily amounts based on age.
Another factor to consider is the cooking logistics. Planning ahead for how you’ll best use your kitchen is helpful in getting food done in a timely manner. Are you able to fit multiple pans in the oven if needed? Will your various foods cook at the same temperature? Can you boil green beans in the same pot that cooked your pasta? Thinking through your recipes will help you determine the best flow for your kitchen. If you’re working in a tight space you may need to do some prep work ahead of time. Or can one of your three dishes be hands-off with a long roast or using a slow cooker? Planning ahead will make cooking and clean-up easier.
What are your tips for planning a healthy menu? How many days do you like to plan for?