Menu Planning Master Class for Healthy, Balanced Eating

As you read this, it’s a good bet that within the last few weeks you have been reading all about how to overhaul your diet in 2018. New Year’s resolutions about changes in eating seem to have become part of the modern rituals of the beginning of a new year.

This year I want to teach you something that may help you not only lose a few pounds, but also help you acquire a skill that I believe has been lost in the middle of the journey. This “lost skill” is part of the problem that got some of us into trouble with our day to day eating habits. I would like to teach you the art of menu planning, which can help you enjoy more family time and master a skill that you can pass on to the next generation.

Get organized – Planning for what you will be eating during the week will take you to new heights of organization in your household. Nothing compares to the joy your family will experience when they enter your kitchen and smell the aromas of a home cooked meal – it is like love at first sight. Spend a few minutes over the weekend or in the morning outlining your meals for the next week or day. Think about ways you can make a family favorite a little better for you; such as replacing full fat ingredients or reducing added sugars. So, let’s get to creating some meals for the week while considering these time management tips:

  • Organize your kitchen.
  • Assemble all ingredients before cooking.
  • Learn the art of multitasking. For example, while something is baking or cooking, make a side dish, a salad, or a beverage.
  • Clean up as you go.
  • Ask for help from your family members. Outsource chores like setting or clearing the table.
  • Prepare a large quantity or double the recipe at one time and freeze some for later.
  • Evaluate the use of convenience foods for when you are pressed for time.

To get you started, I have created a one-week meal plan, which includes many of my family’s favorite meals; see below. Just be sure to be mindful of portion sizes.

Creating a meal – Putting a meal together may be a challenge for some of you, so here are some tips to help you put a meal on the table:

  • Get ideas from your family members. They will be happy to share their favorite meals or have fun picking recipe ideas from magazines, cookbooks or online websites such as the or
  • Preparing a balanced meal should include a minimum of three different food groups. For example, a grilled cheese with tomato soup includes foods from the grain group (bread), the dairy food group (cheese), and vegetable group (tomato soup).
  • Want to make healthier meals? Start by utilizing healthier cooking methods – baking, broiling and grilling use less fat than frying. Swap ingredients to cut the calories, but not the flavor. You can significantly cut calories from sugar by replacing it with a low-calorie sweetener such as one of my new favorites: SPLENDA® Naturals Stevia Sweetener. This product provides a delicious sweet taste, without artificial ingredients, an aftertaste, or any calories.
  • Keep it simple. A main dish, a side dish filled with veggies, and a small beverage is all you need. A dinner could be as simple as spaghetti with meatballs, a green salad, and a glass of low-fat milk. Just pick foods from three different food groups when creating a meal; and from two different groups for your snacks.

Smart shopping – Start by keeping a running list of the staple pantry items you are missing along with the ingredients needed for the weekly meals you will be preparing. I prefer writing the grocery list on my phone notes as I often forget the pinned grocery list on the refrigerator. Keep your list wherever you prefer, and modify it as needed.

Eat meals together – The benefits of sitting down with your loved ones for a meal are priceless. Take your time eating and enjoy each other’s company.

Track your progress – As you develop weekly meal plans keep them in a notebook or in a computer folder so that they are handy, and so that you can refer to them the next time you plan your week. Next month you may just need to make a few meal modifications based on seasonality or family requests. Also, if you would like to track your weight loss progress, do your menu planning, and keep your menus at a certain calorie level, I recommend using one of my favorite apps –

Small steps – You don’t have to sprint to win the race; with small steps you too can master the art of meal planning. A little planning and with a mighty commitment, you and your family will be on the path to improved eating together.

Sample Meal Plan for Menu Planning (view PDF)


I have been compensated for my time by Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog with Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.

Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, MS, RD, LDN, CPT is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, Inc., a nutrition and food communications consulting company. A Hispanic native who is a leading expert in cross-cultural Hispanic cuisine as it relates to nutrition and health, Sylvia uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. For more than a decade, Sylvia has been a consultant for major food, beverage and pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations.