The Core Diet Blog

The following content was provided by Registered Dietitian, Jaime Windrow.

Updated from 2012 

How many of you have found yourself standing in front of the refrigerator at 6pm wondering what you are going to cook for dinner? And as you stare at those now limp, leafy greens, you can’t help but feel bad about the money that is about to be thrown in the garage. Do I hear take-out calling?

A big struggle for many families these days is getting a healthy home cooked dinner on the table each night, especially in a day and age where both parents are working. You are not alone!

One of the most common mistakes in food preparation and cooking is not having a plan. The enthusiasm, effort and intent might be there, but if you head to the grocery store without a “food map”, you can end up defeated at the cost of those hard earned bucks, never mind the food waste. How many times have you thrown out food because it went bad before you had a chance to cook it? Or you bought something just because it was on sale?

There are a number of ways to go about meal planning, and the best way is what works for you and your family. However, there is one key factor that I believe is critical to your success: writing it down. Just like goal setting, if you write it down, you will likely make the effort to achieve it. If you are not interested in picking up a pen and paper, do not fret – there’s an app for it!

Here are some of the best meal planning apps to take advantage of:



Big Oven


But if you are like me and prefer the old school style, try a dry erase board on the side of the refrigerator or a cork board in your office. It will stare you in the face everyday so it is a constant reminder. This method works for me because of my “starting point”.

Choosing a Starting Point

Starting points work great for weekly meal planning rather than monthly where you will likely find yourself making changes quite often. Appointments, late work meetings, martial arts practice, or an impromptu night out does happen! Here are a few simple starting points to choose from:

Choose the main dish first, then add-in side dishes.
If you belong to a CSA or Co-op, start with vegetables, then add-in main dishes.
Pick themes such as Italian, Asian, American or take-out night. This can be especially fun if you have children at home.
Choose foods based on weekly sales where you shop locally such as Food On The Table.

If you have never done any sort of meal planning before, I highly suggest trying my preferred starting point #2. I have belonged a few local CSA’s and given that I do not know what will be in my box of fruits and vegetables, it makes sense for me to build my meals around what vegetables I receive each week. If this is available to you, I highly suggest getting involved as it will save you money in the end and you’ll be getting fresher and more nutritious foods! Not to mention you will be “forced” trying new foods you might not otherwise try, which will increase variety in your diet. AND you are supporting your small, local farmers – so important! Check out Local Harvest to see what CSA’s are in your area.

Make a Plan

Using starting point #2 with a CSA, you will have new surprises each week, but there are usually a few reoccurring items as well, depending on the season. Here is an example of a box I previously received:

  • Swiss Chard (1 bunch)
  • Turnip Greens (2 bunches)
  • Eggplant (1 small)
  • Romaine Lettuce (1 bunch)
  • Sweet Potatoes (2)
  • Butternut Squash (1)
  • Yellow Squash (1)
  • Green Zucchini (1)
  • Mushrooms (12)
  • Sweet Onion (1 large)
  • Green Onions (4-5)
  • Celery (1 bunch)
  • Apples (2)

STEP 1: Choose what main vegetables to eat first: fastest to slowest spoilers.   According to that rule, here is how I laid out my week:

  • Monday: turnip greens
  • Tuesday: Swiss chard
  • Wednesday: yellow squash, green zucchini, mushrooms
  • Thursday: turnip greens
  • Friday: eggplant
  • Saturday: sweet potatoes
  • Sunday: butternut squash

STEP 2: Pick your proteins! I do not have any strict rules, but when planning for the week I go for variety and this is my usual template:

  • Fish/Seafood: 1-2x per week
  • Lean Red Meat: no more than 1x per week
  • Vegan/Vegetarian: at least 1x per week
  • Poultry: 2-3x per week


  • Monday: turnip greens, onion + CHICKEN
  • Tuesday: swiss chard, onion + FISH
  • Wednesday: yellow squash, green zucchini, mushrooms + VEGETARIAN
  • Thursday: kale, green onion + TURKEY
  • Friday: eggplant + CHICKEN
  • Saturday: sweet potatoes + LEAN MEAT
  • Sunday: butternut squash + FISH

STEP 3: Search for recipes! Now that you have your template, the rest is easy, and this is when a website or app can be very handy. (Check out the one above). Once you find a recipe – save it! I use Zip List and love it. Whichever you choose to use, stick to it so everything is organized in one place. It will be a big timesaver in the end.

Here is an example of what Tuesday’s dinner turned into:

Local mah-mahi grilled with a mango chili sauce, and served with Swiss chard (leaves and stems) sautéed with onion and fresh garlic!

STEP 4: Filling in the gaps. To ensure that I do not get to the end of the week with food uneaten or spoiled, I go through the rest of my share and see what I have left and where I can use it:

  • Romaine Lettuce (1 bunch)
  • Sweet Onion (1 large)
  • Green Onions (4-5)
  • Celery (1 bunch)
  • Apples (2)

In this case, the romaine lettuce will be used for salad at dinners when there are no greens (Friday – Sunday) and the onions will be good for the Swiss chard and turnip greens recipes. The apples and celery make easy snacks. (I wash and cut the celery stalks into 3 inch pieces to be eaten with peanut butter or hummus.) If the celery is not prepared in advanced, then it does not become a “quick” snack!

I personally do not plan menus for breakfast or lunch as I do dinner, but I am prepared for those meals. Many times my dinner recipes yield more than enough for leftovers, so that becomes lunch the next day. Breakfast is a variety but more than often I choose one of my quick healthy options.

STEP 5: Now it’s time to shop! So the dinner menu is done and now I can head to the grocery store or farmers market with my “food map” knowing exactly what I need.

Weekly Fresh Items To Stock

  • 1-2 dozen organic/free range eggs
  • Pint of egg whites
  • Greek yogurt
  • Organic cottage cheese
  • Fresh fruits
  • Dates
  • Fish, seafood, poultry
  • Anything needed for recipes I do not have

To keep my weekly shopping above to a minimum, I buy frozen and shelf stable items in bigger quantities. Below is a short list of items I like to keep on hand for times when I need to throw a quick meal together!

  • Almond, rice, hemp, coconut Milk
  • Frozen chopped vegetables for stir-fry or eggs
  • Frozen edamame
  • Nuts
  • Frozen fruit for Field Work smoothies
  • Canned/packaged tuna and canned salmon
  • Variety of beans
  • Turkey or chicken sausage
  • Chicken breast (freeze them)
  • Low carb wraps (freeze them)
  • Quinoa

How do you plan? 


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