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How to Plan a Meal



Scrambled Eggs

Linda Larsen Old Food Pyramid

Old Food Pyramid

U.S. Department of Agriculture Chicken-Parmesan.jpg

Chicken Parmesan

Linda Larsen

Meal planning can be intimidating for beginning cooks. Take a few minutes to organize your recipes and read through this article to help you begin, and soon meal planning will be second nature.

On January 12, 2005, the FDA released a New Food Pyramid, with some changes. The changes aren't significant, except for stressing exercise and increasing the number of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that you should eat every day.

Plan meals to meet your family's nutrition needs. The old way of planning meals was the Basic Four: Meats, Vegetables and Fruit, Grains, and Dairy. After many nutrition studies, the USDA has created an updated Food Pyramid that should be used as a guideline. This graphic is courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The range helps the Pyramid fit into anyone's caloric needs. For serving sizes, see Thrifty Living.

Meals used to be planned around a chunk of protein, plus a starch like potatoes or rice, a vegetable like green beans, and a glass of milk. Today, meat is considered more of a condiment or flavoring, and diets should be based more on grains, fruits and vegetables. That doesn't mean you can't have a steak or fish fillet for dinner! It just means that you should add more whole grain breads, pastas, vegetables, fruits, rice, and cereals, and reduce the amount of meat served. To begin, here are three key words you should remember every time you plan a meal: color, temperature and texture. The meals you plan should be full of color, the recipes should vary in temperature, and include textures from smooth to crunchy.

First, go through your recipe box, files, cookbooks and other favorite sources and choose 10-20 recipes that you know you can make and that your family likes. Then consider texture, temperature, and color when visualizing your full dinner plate. Color is probably the most important consideration to think about in meal planning. Nutritionists advise making your plate look like a painter's palette. The more different colors on your plate, the more varied and healthy your diet will be. Temperature and texture should be varied to add interest and make the meal more pleasing to the palate. Choose some cold foods, some served at room temperature, and some hot. Crisp, crunchy, smooth, chunky, and tender are all textures you should think about. Now let's choose a recipe to start planning on the next page.

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