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Meal Planning (Lesson 13)


Are your meals at the end of the month as good as they are at the beginning? Or do your food dollars run out before the month is over? Learning to plan your menus and shop only for what you need will help you have good food throughout the month. You will also save both money and time! 

        You will learn:
  • The six types of nutrients in foods and why they are important for your body.
  • The five groups in MyPlate and why you should eat foods from each one.
  • Tips to help you plan a healthful meal.

A sample seven-day menu also has been included, along with a shopping list, recipes for most foods on the menu and a list of common serving sizes for different foods.

Food is made of six important nutrients:

Carbohydrate, protein and fat -- called macronutrients. (Macronutrients are nutrients needed in large amounts.)
Vitamins & minerals -- called micronutrients. (Micronutrients are nutrients needed in smaller amounts.)

Carbohydrates give you energy and are especially important for fueling your brain. They are found in most types of foods, except meats and pure fats (butter, oil). About half of the food you eat should come from foods that contain carbohydrates.

Protein is found mostly in animal foods, such as meats, dairy products, eggs and seafood. Protein also can be found in plant foods, such as beans and peas, nuts and seeds, and soy foods. Protein is used to build your body parts. Cells, organs, tissues and muscles – all are made with protein. Most Americans have no problem getting their daily protein requirement, which is about 15-20 % of your daily diet.

Fats are not all bad! You need some fat to keep your body functioning. Fat helps your body use vitamins and minerals (the micronutrients) and provides you with extra energy. However, if a person does not use the extra energy, the body can store it as fat. Some fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are heart healthy; however, saturated fat and trans fat can clog your arteries.You should eat fat in moderation; 30% or less of your total calories each day should come from fat. Many foods contain fat, so read the Nutrition Facts labels to see what you're getting!

Vitamins and minerals (the micronutrients) are found in all types of foods. Fruits and vegetables are very good sources. Vitamins and minerals also help keep your body functioning. Some important vitamins are vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. Important minerals include calcium, iron and potassium. Sodium is a mineral you should eat in moderation – not too much each day! This is another nutrient to read about on the Nutrition Facts label because sodium is found in many different foods, especially processed meat, canned foods (including vegetables and soups) and frozen dinners.

Water is a drink, but it is also part of most foods. Your body needs water to live, so it is considered a nutrient. Fruit is a good example of a food that has lots of water in it. Water is what makes the fruit so juicy. The juicier a food is, the more water it contains.

This is a visual representation of MyPlate. Each colored part of the plate represents a different food group that is important in your diet.

Remember when everyone used the six food groups to plan a balanced diet? Now we use MyPlate to help people follow a balanced diet consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

MyPlate is a tool to help us get all the nutrients we need for good health. You can use MyPlate as a basis for planning healthy meals. Use more of the whole, unrefined foods in each group to plan your meals.

MyPlate is divided into five groups and two subgroups:

1. Grains Group
2. Vegetable Group
3. Fruit Group
4. Dairy Group
5. Protein Foods Group

The main idea of MyPlate is balance, variety and moderation. Eat a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods from all the food groups, but remember to eat in moderation – not too much of any one group. When planning meals for your family, keep MyPlate and the Dietary Guidelines in mind. Try to plan meals that include each of the food groups but contain only moderate amounts of fats, sweets, and oils. The amount of food you will need from each group depends on your age, sex, and your level of physical activity you do each day.

The next sections review each of the five food groups that make up MyPlate.

The Vegetable GroupTOP

Vegetables contain the nutrients that help prevent chronic diseases and keep you healthy. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or 100% vegetable juice, or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.

It's important to eat a variety of vegetables and include dark green and orange veggies in your meals throughout the week. To save money and still have a healthy, satisfying meal, include dry beans and peas in your meal planning. Purchasing seasonal vegetables (and fruits) from the produce market can be a way to stretch your food dollars.

Here are some examples of what counts as a cup equivalent of vegetables:
  • 1 cup chopped broccoli
  • 1 cup cooked spinach, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, or kale
  • 2 cups raw lettuce,spinach, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, or kale
  • 1 large baked sweet potato (2 1/4" or more in diameter)
  • 1 cup cooked dry beans and peas
  • 1 cup yellow or white corn
  • 1 large raw whole tomato (3" in diameter)
  • 1 cup tomato juice

So if you were to eat 1/2 cup of red beans (1/2 cup) with rice, 1/2 cup steamed broccoli (1/2 cup), a salad made of 1 cup of lettuce (equal to 1/2 cup), and 1/2 cup of chopped tomatoes (1/2 cup), you would have eaten 2 cups total of vegetables in one meal!

The Grains GroupTOP

The grains section of MyPlate is divided into two subgroups - whole grains and refined grains. The amount of grains you need to eat each day depends on your age, gender and level of physical activity. At least 1/2 of all the grains you eat should be whole grains. Examples of grain products are bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas and grits.

So what counts as an ounce? In general,

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal

If you were to eat a sandwich for lunch, you would be eating 2 ounces from the grain group.

The Protein Foods GroupTOP

Foods in this category are not all meat and beans! Seafood, nuts and seeds, eggs, peanut butter or other nut butters, and soy foods also are included in the protein foods group of MyPlate because they contain high amounts of protein like meats do.

One ounce of beef, pork, poultry, or fish, 1/4 cup cooked dry beans and peas, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds is considered to be a 1-ounce equivalent from the meat and beans group. Foods from this group provide protein, vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, zinc, and magnesium. These vitamins and minerals are necessary for proper function of enzymes and hormones, muscle development and function, red blood cell development, to protect our cells from damage, and helps the immune system function properly.

Other meat alternatives equivalent to 1 ounce of meat include:

  • 1/4 cup of lentils or split peas
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • 1/4 cup roasted soybeans
  • 1/4 cup baked or refried beans

This is also a food group that contains saturated fat and cholesterol, so try to find lower-fat choices, such as the leanest cuts of beef (round steak, roasts, top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts) and pork (pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham), beans and peas, skinless chicken and turkey, or fish (including water-packed tuna fish).

The Fruit GroupTOP

 Like vegetables, fruit contains the nutrients and fiber you need to stay healthy.

Be sure to eat a variety of fruits each day, and go easy on fruit juices since they are less filling and contain less fiber than the whole fruit. Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and 100 percent fruit juices are all included in the fruit group.

Some examples of 1 cup equivalent of fruit are:
  • 1/2 large (3 1/4" in diameter) or 1 small (2 1/2" in diameter) apple
  • 1 cup diced or 2 medium wedges (1/4 of a medium melon) canteloupe
  • 1 cup or 32 seedless grapes
  • 2 halves of canned peaches
  • 1 large (8" to 9" long) banana

The Dairy GroupTOP

dairy group
Foods from the dairy group provide calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein that are essential for good health. Foods such as milk, milk products, yogurt, soy products and cheese are included in this group. Because some milk and dairy foods tend to be high in fat, you should try to eat the lower-fat varieties, such as 1 percent or skim milk, non-fat or low-fat yogurt and low-fat or fat-free cheese.

Most people don't eat enough foods from the dairy group. A diet rich in milk and dairy products can reduce the risk of osteoporosis (bone-thinning disease) and helps to maintain healthy blood pressure.
Adults should get 3 cup equivalents of dairy products per day.

What counts as a cup/equivalent?
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk (choose low-fat or skim)
  • 1 cup (8 ounces) of yogurt (choose low-fat or skim)
  • 1/2 cup evaporated milk
  • 1.5 ounces of natural cheese (i.e.Cheddar, Mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)
  • 2 ounces of processed cheese (i.e. American)
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup pudding made with milk (choose fat-free or low-fat milk)

Food is made of six different nutrients. Carbohydrate, protein and fat are called macronutrients. Vitamins and minerals are called micronutrients. Water is also a nutrient, in a class by itself. MyPlate can help you plan healthful meals for you and your family. MyPlate is made up of five food groups. You should eat foods from each group every day.

The key to healthy eating is balance, variety and moderation: Eat a balanced meal with a variety of foods, but remember to eat in moderation (not too much fat and sugar!)

Planning your menus ahead of time and shopping for what you need can save you time and money, while helping to stretch your food dollars.








Scrambled Eggs
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Roast Pork
Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans
Fruit Cobbler

cinnamon or jelly
two pieces

Tuna Salad
Lettuce, Tomato
Gelatin with Canned Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk


Seasonal Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Vegetable Soup
Cheese Sandwich
Apple Slices
Graham Crackers
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Carrot Sticks
Celery Sticks

Red Beans
Low-Fat Sausage
Dark Greens, Choice
Cornbread Muffins
Mixed Fruit Salad


Canned Fruit
Toast (Cinnamon or Jelly)
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Baked Potato
Chili and Cheese
Green Beans
Leftover Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Cornbread Muffins

Salmon Croquettes
Mashed Potatoes
Copper Pennies
Apple Crisp


Dry Cereal
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
Celery Sticks
Carrot Sticks
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Yogurt and Raisins
May add some dry cereal

Tomato Soup
Hamburger Patties
Macaroni and Cheese
Broccoli Spears
Seasonal Fruit


Seasonal Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Bean Burritos
Whole Kernel Corn
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Graham Crackers

Roasted Chicken
Mashed Potatoes
Canned Peas
Bread Slice
Fruit Cobbler


Canned Fruit
Cheese Toast
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Leftover Meat Sandwich
Tortilla Chips
Gelatin with Canned Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Peanut Butter Snack Loaf
One slice

Taco Salad
Mixed Vegetables
Seasonal Fruit
Graham Crackers


Seasonal Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Homemade Pizza
Garden Salad
Leftover Fruit
Low-fat or Skim Milk

Celery Sticks
Tuna Fish or Peanut Butter

Hamburger-Macaroni Casserole
Whole Kernel Corn
Garden Salad
Canned Fruit

Menu Planning Tips:

1. Read the Nutrition Facts labels on food products to determine how much of each nutrient is in the food. You can find out how many calories, fat grams, milligrams of sodium and amounts of other nutrients are in the food you are about to eat.

The label also tells you what type of ingredients the product is made of. Juice is a good example: if you were looking for orange juice and Juice A had orange juice as its first ingredient and Juice B had water and high fructose corn syrup as its first ingredients, you would know that Juice A had a lot more real fruit juice than Juice B. Juice B would be more of an orange drink than an orange juice. Because real juice has more vitamins and minerals, this would be the better choice. By law, Juice B could not be labeled orange juice. Use the labels to help you make the most nutritious selections.

2. Find the Sell by … and Best by … dates on food products, especially meat, dairy and bread products. This tells you when to purchase them so that you buy the freshest foods available. Fresher foods keep longer in the refrigerator and pantry.

3. Read the front of the food label to find out the weight of the food. This tells you how much food you get in the package. For example, if you were looking for noodles and saw two different packages, you could look at the weight to find out which package contained more noodles.

4. Plan your meals for the week (or two weeks if possible), make a shopping list and buy only what you need. This will save both time and money. You will know what you need at the grocery store, so you won't buy foods you don't need. You will also know what to prepare and won't have to figure out what's for dinner every night.

Take advantage of specials or coupons on foods you know you will need. Prepare some foods early and freeze or refrigerate them until time to eat.

5. Plan meals with foods that vary in shape, color, texture, temperature and flavor. This produces a plate that is pleasing to both the eye and the palate. For example, if you serve spaghetti and meat sauce, a cool crisp salad is a good complement, along with some French bread. Or, vegetable soup served with a cheese sandwich and an apple would be another good combination of texture, temperature and flavor.

6. To avoid waste, serve foods that most of your family enjoys. When introducing new foods or less popular items, serve them with more acceptable choices and encourage your family to taste some of each food offered.

7. When trying to provide the suggested number of servings of each group, remember that combination foods can contribute servings of several different groups.

For example, a serving of spaghetti with meat sauce will provide about one bread and grain serving, one meat serving and one vegetable serving. A couple of slices of pizza may equal two grain servings, one to two dairy servings, one to two protein servings and one-half to three-fourths cup of vegetables. (Remember: this food also gives you some extra fat!)

Even some desserts, such as fruit cobbler, can contribute bread, fruit or milk and dairy servings.

8. Store dry goods, such as flour, cornmeal, rice, grits and oatmeal, in air-tight packages in the refrigerator to prolong shelf life. Keeping these products cool decreases the chance for weevils or other pests to infest them.

1. Practice planning a three-day menu for your family that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack. Make sure that the menu for each whole day includes at least two servings of meat, two servings of dairy foods, two servings of fruit, three servings of vegetables and six servings of breads and grains.

Make a shopping list, purchase the foods on your list and actually use the menus for three days in a row. Is it easier to prepare meals when you know what you'll serve and have all the ingredients on hand?

2. Practice using correct serving sizes when you eat. Measure your portions using measuring cups or weighing food if you have a scale so that you will know what a portion should look like. Are these the portion sizes you normally eat?

If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, this might help you!

3. Explain how MyPlate works to someone else. This will help you understand it even better.

4. Use the Thrifty Food Plan to plan nutritious meals within a modest budget. The lesson "Managing Your Food Dollar" includes more information on the Thrifty Food Plan, 2000.

Websites to visit:

Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals

Got milk?

Last Updated: 9/23/2015 8:09:34 AM
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