Meal planning basics

Eating healthy meals can be easy even when you're busy. All you need is a good plan. Spend a few minutes each week to plan your meals and snacks. This will help get meals on the table faster and save time and money.

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Five simple tips for planning meals

There's no right or wrong way to plan meals. Some people like to plan for the whole week ahead, while others plan for a couple of days. Do what works for you. Write down your meal and snack ideas on paper or use your Smartphone.

Use these tips to help with your planning:

  • Follow Canada's Food Guide when planning what to eat. Look in your fridge, freezer, and pantry to see what foods you have on hand and what you need to buy.
  • Keep a grocery list and jot down items as you run out of them. Add foods based on your meal plan.
  • Encourage healthy habits by getting your children involved. Ask them to choose a favourite meal. Encourage your family to try a new food or recipe every now and then.
  • Flip through grocery store flyers to take advantage of specials and use coupons to save money. Get healthy recipe ideas from magazines, cookbooks, and websites.
  • Think about your family's schedule. A busy week filled with sports and other activities could mean planning fast and easy meals.
  • Use the Eat Well Plate to help you plan a healthy meal. Keep the proportions of food from the 4 food groups in mind when preparing your meal.

Ideas for planning snacks

Snacks help keep your energy levels up between meals. Plan to have healthy snacks on hand so you can skip less healthy choices in vending machines or coffee shops.

  • Chop extra vegetables when cooking so you'll have some for snacks. Try different dips with your veggies like hummus, tzatziki, fresh salsa, nut butters, and yogurt.
  • Hard-boil eggs on the weekend. They will stay fresh in the fridge for up to one week with the shell on. Pair them with your favourite vegetable.
  • Stock up on easy to grab snacks: apples, pears, bananas, plums, grapes, fruit cups (packed in fruit juice), yogurt, granola bars with at least 4 grams of fibre, unsalted nuts, and small cans of low-sodium vegetable juice.

Tips for a well-stocked kitchen

A well-stocked kitchen is the best way to cook fast, healthy meals. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with healthy foods that are lower in sodium and fat.

Vegetables and fruit

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables - keep a colourful variety on hand
  • Frozen vegetables (without sauce) - peas, carrots, leafy greens (spinach, kale), broccoli, cauliflower
  • Frozen fruit - berries, mango
  • Canned vegetables - buy ones with less sodium and rinse well with water
  • Canned tomatoes - choose ones without added salt, or compare labels to find cans with the least amount of sodium
  • Jarred pasta sauce - look for sauces that are tomato-based with less than 15% DV of sodium per serving
  • Canned fruit (packed in juice, not syrup) - mandarin oranges, pears, peaches, pumpkin puree, pineapple
  • Dried fruit (without added sugar) - apples, raisins, dates, prunes, figs, cranberries, apricots

Grain products

  • Whole grains - pasta, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, pot barley
  • Whole grain bread - tortillas, sliced loaf, buns, pita
  • Cereal - choose ones that are whole grain with at least 4 grams of fibre per serving

Milk and alternatives

  • Milk - lower fat milk (skim, 1% or 2%) or fortified soy beverage
  • Yogurt - Choose lower fat yogurt (2% or less) or Greek yogurt, which has double the amount of protein
  • Cheese - choose ones that are less than 20% milk fat

Meat and alternatives

  • Canned or dry lentils and beans - buy different kinds to add to soups, stews and chili, and rinse canned varieties to reduce the sodium
  • Canned fish (packed in water, not oil) - salmon, sardines, tuna
  • Nuts and seeds (unsalted) - almonds, pistachios, walnuts,  pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Hummus - great as a dip or sandwich spread
  • Nut butters - buy natural nut butters with no added salt or sugar
  • Eggs - they can be hard-boiled and kept with their shells on for up to one week in the fridge
  • Tofu - buy calcium-set tofu for bone-building benefits
  • Fish and shellfish - buy it plain, without breading
  • Ground beef, turkey, or chicken - keep for up to one month in the freezer and thaw overnight in the fridge
  • Meat and poultry - freeze in small portions for easy defrosting
  • Edamame - delicious soybeans that can be eaten as a snack or added to soups and stirfrys for extra protein

Spices and other flavour boosters

  • Broth - select no salt added, or reduced sodium varieties
  • Oil - canola, olive, vegetable
  • Herbs, spices, and seasonings - basil, cayenne, chili powder, coriander, cumin, curry powder, oregano, paprika,  rosemary, peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, garlic, ginger, nutmeg, onion powder, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, sodium-reduced soy sauce
  • Condiments/flavour enhancers - Dijon mustard, fresh salsa
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