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It’s 5 o’clock. Somewhere.

That means it’s time to kick back and relax. Right?

Somewhere. But not after work when the kids want attention and the dog demands even more. And you’re trying to get dinner on the table.

Meal planning helps control the chaos, save time and money, decrease the number of trips to the store and reduce wasted food. Here are three steps to menu planning.

1. Scan

Before you grocery shop, scan your cupboards, fridge and freezer to see what’s available. Are there foods on hand you can use to start a recipe? Tomatoes (canned or fresh) can be simmered with olive oil and garlic to make a pasta sauce. If you have a can of olives, tuna or clams, add those. Do you have fruit or vegetables you can repurpose into a salad or salsa?

2. Plan

Plan at least 3 meals you can make this week. Jot them down on a meal planning sheet (send me an email and I’ll send you one or find one on my website www.LiveBest.info under Products), your phone or just a piece of paper. Check the grocery sale papers to see what’s on sale and what’s in season. Seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables taste best and cost less. Ask the store produce manager to learn what’s in season. Plain frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also good options. Keep high-fiber foods in mind. Fiber is found in plant foods such as beans, seeds, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Think about how you can use what you’re cooking in another meal. Cooking ground beef or turkey? Cook extra and freeze for next week. Baking salmon? Save half to make into salad with lettuce, avocado, cucumber and orange slices. Cooking quinoa? Make extra to add to soups, chile, or tossed with black beans, corn, green chiles and a vinaigrette.

3. Cook

Set aside a power hour for meal prep. This hour is focused kitchen time. Sunday works for me, but find the time best suited for your schedule. Sometimes I turn on some music. Sometimes I enjoy the quiet.

  • Set the oven to 350° F. to toast nuts, bake oatmeal, roast vegetables, bake potatoes or chicken. Potatoes can be reheated and topped with broccoli and cheese or chili. Add chicken to salads or casseroles, or layered on a sandwich.
  • While the oven is heating, chop vegetables for side dishes, snacks and lunches. Keep some raw and store them at eye level, in a clear container in the fridge. When they’re the first things you see, you’re more likely to eat them. Toss some with 1- 2 teaspoons of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet and bake until just tender. Use all week on pizza or in a frittata.
  • Simmer a pot of soup. Split pea soup, beef and barley or white bean chicken chili can give you a night or two of meals.
  • Hard cook eggs. Perfect for breakfast, lunches, and snacks. Add in salads, such as canned beets, toasted walnuts and feta cheese crumbles.
  • Cook a whole grain. After the eggs are cooked, rinse the pan to make quinoa, bulgur, or wheat berries. This is an easy way to boost fiber and protein in salads. Or top with yogurt and fruit for a quick breakfast.
  • Blend bean dip or hummus for a high-fiber snack that’s ready when hunger strikes. Pack it with veggies and whole-grain crackers for lunch.
  • As you finish cooking, pack foods in airtight containers, label and place them in the fridge or freezer. The more you plan, the easier the routine becomes. You’ll also appreciate when the 5 o’clock is more like “I’ve got this!”
  • Jambalaya is a recipe that may stretch to 2 meals. I boosted the healthy quotient with more vegetables and used brown rice rather than white rice.

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Judy Barbe is a registered dietitian, speaker and author of “Your 6-Week Guide to LiveBest: Simple Solutions for Fresh Food & Well-Being.” Visit her website www.LiveBest.info for every day food solutions.

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