Let’s stop planning meals and start building them instead. To do so, you need foods that work well in a variety of ways. Do you know what foods you need to build successful meals? If not, you may benefit from creating your own basic food list.
The essentials. What are your go-to meals? We all have them – those meals that consistently greet us no matter how busy our schedule gets. Whether its spaghetti and meatballs (which just happens to be one of mine) or Filet mignon (not one of mine!), we all have meals we turn to time and time again.
This means we have go-to foods as well, but we often fail to think about our meals in that way. These go-to foods are the essential elements necessary to create meals you enjoy. By breaking down our meals into their food components, we can create a list of foods we need to stock our kitchen with. We may even be able to identify ways to modify or enhance our regularly occurring meals by incorporating new foods to the mix.
When we break it down, our food list is where potential lies, where real meal magic happens. Because without our go-to foods, we don’t really have meals to speak of.
The Basics. As you are creating your food list, I’m hoping that some of the basics will pop up on your list more than once. Okay, what I’m really hoping for is that they pop up A LOT.
Not quite sure what the basics are? The “basics” are foods that fit within the five basic food groups – fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, and lean proteins. These are the true essentials – the foods providing your body with lots of nutrients, flavor, and variety. They should be showing up pretty frequently in your meal plan – like 80% of the time. They don’t necessarily have to be the only foods you eat, BUT they should provide the structure of your plan.
My Essential Foods. Instead of having several go-to meals in my regular rotation, I like to have between three to five different foods from each food group to start from.
This ensures I always have the ingredients I need to keep meals nourishing and simple. Of course, this list doesn’t always stay the same, but it is a nice starting point to ensure more of my meals are eaten at home.
How to Build Your Own Food List. Ready to build your own food list? You can use my starter list as a launching point, but in order for your meals to be successful, use the following guidelines to help create a food list that works specifically for you.
- Keep Seasonality in Mind. One of the reasons my food list doesn’t always stay the same is because I try to eat with the seasons. This can be a great way to add variety to your plate, save money, and experiment with new foods. Building your food list with seasonality in mind can also increase the likelihood that you’ll find the foods you need in the grocery store or at your local farmer’s market.
- Be True to your Palate. Not every food that’s good for you will be an automatic hit for you or your family. And guess what? That’s okay. Be sure to build your food list with your preferences in mind. But please make sure you are always leaving a little bit of room to give new foods or foods you haven’t eaten in a while a chance. You’d be surprised how many foods you disliked as child are actually appealing to your taste buds as an adult. Or how much a different cooking method, preparation technique, or the addition of a certain spice or seasoning can change the way you approach a food. Always keep an open mind – pretty pretty please!
- Remember why you’re eating in the first place. This may seem silly, but sometimes when we’re so focused on creating a list of foods we “should” eat, we forget that we should also be enjoying our foods in the first place. It’s important to work in foods that you love in addition to the foods you know are good for you. I like to think of this as balance. Balancing out your plate so that you have a good mix of foods that make your meal worth eating. This is also why starting your list with a few of your current meals in mind can be a great place to start.
- Consult your physician or registered dietitian. Building a food list may also require consulting with your physician or registered dietitian, especially if you have special dietary needs or a medical condition that might require you to eat a certain way. Meeting up with a registered dietitian, like myself, may also help you identify new ways to enjoy nutrient-rich foods or approach food in a positive way.
Want more inspiration? I love this ultimate grocery-list-for-one registered dietitian Dana Angelo White put together over on Greatist. Be sure to check out! And if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter – you’ll get my pantry starter kit download for FREE when you do!