Reduce Food Waste with Meal Planning

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family of four loses $1,500 to uneaten food each year. Food waste can impact your budget, but also the environment. One way to reduce food waste is to plan your meals. Of course, meal planning has many more benefits – it can help with eating on a budget, weight management, eating more family meals, following MyPlate, and more.

Here are some ways to teach your students, clients, or other groups about meal planning and reducing food waste:

  1. Zero-based food plan: Have you ever heard of a zero-based budget? You basically plan where every dollar of your income will go for the month – savings, rent, utilities, food, clothing, coffee, postage stamps, etc. (Learn more by reading this Nerd Wallet blog post.) How about applying this concept, in general terms, to the food you buy? By planning your meals, you can buy just as much food as you need. When leftover food is planned into future meals, food isn’t wasted (we call these planned-overs!). Knowing where every ounce of frozen broccoli will go isn’t such a big deal, because whatever you don’t use can go back into the freezer. But if you’re buying fresh vegetables for a recipe, either buy the exact amount you’ll use, or make a plan to use what’s left over. Try zero-based food planning with fresh produce, eggs, dairy products, bread, and other perishables.
  2. Fruit & veggie stock up: Use meal planning to make sure you have enough fruits and vegetables to fill up half of your plate for every meal, every day. Avoid food waste by planning on meals with fresh produce for the first few days after food shopping. Then start using frozen vegetables, and frozen fruits, too (add some to yogurt or oatmeal, heat some in the microwave to use as a topper for toast or pancakes). As you get to the very end of the week, use canned vegetables if you’re out of frozen. Canned fruit, applesauce, and raisins can fill in for fresh fruit.
  3. Meal styles: A more general meal plan with meal styles can make weekly meal planning easier. You have a different style for each day of the week. For example, Monday can be beans (burritos, chili, or soups). Saturday can be salads (entree salad with different proteins and veggies). See our free handout for seven different meal styles and ideas for each. These make the basis for meals, then you can add your own favorites, try new recipes, etc.
  4. Keep it simple: If meal planning makes you think of the perfect pictures of perfect meals you see on social media, think again! Meal planning is whatever YOU want it to be. Maybe you just want to plan breakfast for the week. It’s all fine – check out our free Meal Planning Ideas handout to get started.
  5. Menu planning tool: In our store, we have a great tool to use no matter how you decide to teach menu planning. Use the Menu Planning Dry Erase poster to walk individuals or groups through planning a week’s worth of meals. We also have a larger Menu Planning Dry Erase Wall Decal. And people can take home our smaller Menu Planning Tearpad to practice what they’ve learned.

Remember, planning meals can help you buy the right amount of food and use it before it goes bad. That’s good for you, your family, and the world!

Quiz: Make a Healthy Plate

Quizzes are great vehicles for teaching key health lessons and making sure they stick. Today, as a special treat, I’d like to share one of the quizzes from the PowerPoint show Make a Healthy Plate. This show is one of the chapters in the 12 More Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss program, which is a comprehensive employee weight loss program.

Are you ready for the sneak peek?

Which Plate?

All right, here’s the quiz. Take a look at the slide above. Which plate has the most calories? Is it Plate A, with a chicken fried steak and fries, or is it Plate B, the one filled with a chicken and vegetable stir fry alongside some brown rice?

Answer Slide

You may not be surprised to see that it’s Plate A that has the most calories, but look at how many more calories it has than Plate B. Plate A has 1,121 calories, while Plate B has only 356 calories. That’s a 765 calorie difference!

A closer look at Plate A

Let’s take a closer look at each plate. You get the calorie total in Plate A by combining an 8-ounce fried steak — which has 521 calories — with 6 ounces worth of French fries. That serving has 600 calories, which brings the total up to 1,121 calories. The fat content is nothing to sneeze at either. When the 21 grams of fat in the steak join the 33 fat grams in the fries, they add up to 54 total grams of fat on that plate alone!

Plate B

Now let’s do the same math for Plate B. A single cup of carrots and a cup of broccoli each have 54 calories. The chicken breast has another 140 calories, and the brown rice has 108 calories. When you add all that up, you get 356 calories for the plate. And the fat grams are much smaller as well. Each cup of vegetables has less than 1 gram of fat, and the brown rice has none at all. The chicken breast has 3 grams of fat, which brings the fat total for the whole plate to roughly 4 grams of fat.

That’s where I’m going to end the slide preview for today. This excerpt comes from pretty early in the Healthy Plate PowerPoint. The show goes on to cover the basics of MyPlate, the components of each My Plate food group, strategies for eyeballing the correct portions, ways to calculate the total calories on your plate, and even methods for “shrinking your plate” at each meal. Fun pop quizzes pepper the presentation, which ends with a review of its most important points.

And that’s just 1 chapter of the 12 that are featured in the 12 More Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss program! I wasn’t kidding when I said that it was comprehensive. Check out the details for the 12 lessons in the link below…

Here’s a PDF copy of all the slides you saw today — feel free to use the quiz however you’d like!

Healthy Plate

And here are some other great resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

Sneak Peek: Weight Management PowerPoint Show

It’s time for an exclusive look at of the most popular new presentations in the Nutrition Education Store. The Just Lose 10% PowerPoint presentation covers ways to live a healthful lifestyle while successfully managing your weight. Emphasizing the latest health and nutrition research, this life-changing presentation has been a hit for many dietitians and other health educators.

Today this blog will feature 2 of the sections in this show, just for you, for free. The full rundown includes…

  • Assess Your Weight
  • Set Your Goal
  • Benefits of 10% Loss
  • Weight Control 101

This post features the Set Your Goal and Benefits of 10% Loss sections. Are you ready for this?

Why Choose 10%

Speaker’s Notes: Okay, first things first. Why choose 10%? Why is this the goal of the show? Well, the answer is twofold. One, if you’re overweight or obese, losing only 5-7% of your current body weight can prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. And two, losing 10% of your body weight can decrease your heart disease risk. Both of these are key for a long and healthy life. Improve your health with a little weight management!

The First Attainable Goal

Speaker’s Notes: Another reason to set “lose 10% of your body weight” as a weight management goal is that successful weight loss requires a sustained effort over time. Quick fixes are often hard to keep up and make it easy to backslide into less healthful habits. That’s why setting a goal is so important – it gives you something to strive for. And losing 10% of your body weight is attainable and will make a significant difference to your health.

Benefits of Weight Management

Speaker’s Notes: Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of managing your weight well.

What's In It for You?

Speaker’s Notes: So, what’s in it for you? Why is it so important to reduce your weight if you’re overweight or obese? The short answer is that it’s key for your health. When you get your weight into a healthy zone, you reduce your risk of heart diseases like hypertension or even a heart attack. You also reduce your risk of stroke, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. This in turn means that you are more likely to live longer, while being less likely to have to take medications to combat these chronic conditions. Getting to skip those medications further improves your quality of life.

Even More Health Benefits

Speaker’s Notes: These are all benefits that accompany a healthful lifestyle and gradual weight loss. When you adopt a healthful lifestyle in your quest to manage your weight, you are more likely to sleep better, have more stamina, have more energy, improve your flexibility, and find it easier to do the things you love.

Do you like what you see? There’s a lot more in the show — over 35 slides of the latest research about weight management, health, and wellness. Check out the full presentation!

And here’s a PDF copy of the slides we featured today…

Just Lose 10%


Remember, we’re here to help you look your very best, right now. Don’t miss these other great weight management resources…

12 Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss

Weight Control Poster Value Set

PowerPoint: Exercise to Lose and Control Weight

Diet and Exercise: How Does It Work?

Balancing ActIf I exercise every day, does that mean I can eat whatever I want?

Short Answer: No. Food choices and physical activity are both necessary for promoting overall good health.

Long Answer: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans report begins with, “Eating and physical activity patterns that are focused on consuming fewer calories, making informed food choices, and being physically active can help people attain and maintain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic disease, and promote overall health.” According to the National Weight Control Registry, people who successfully lost weight and then maintained that new weight for at least 5 years reported that they did 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day. Additional healthful habits included eating a low-calorie, low-fat diet, eating breakfast, weighing themselves regularly, and maintaining a consistent eating pattern across weekdays and weekends. A combination of daily physical activity and healthful eating can lead to long-term weight management success.

Why bother with maintaining a healthful diet and being physically active?

The scientifically-supported data indicates that if you do these things, you will have a lower risk of…

  • Early death
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain cancers
  • Depression

Key Message: Some physical activity is better than no physical activity. Accumulate a minimum of 20 minutes of moderately intense exercise every day for overall good health.

By Lynn Grieger RDN, CDE, CPT, CWC


  1. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. Accessed 4-22-14.
  2. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Rena R Wing and Suzanne Phelan. Am J Clin Nutr July 2005 vol. 82 no. 1 222S-225S.
  3. Physical Activity Guidelines. US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 4-22-14.

This post is excerpted from the Communicating Food for Health Newsletter. For more details or to read the unabridged post, sign up for a membership today!

Communicating Food for Health Member Newsletter

But wait, there’s more! Check out these amazing new arrivals…

2015 Food and Health Calendar Poster

Healthier Choices 1-2-3 Banner and Stand

Exercise to Lose and Control Weight Poster

Checking Out Chia

Are you staying on top of the latest developments in food and nutrition? I try to keep up with everything, but it can be hard. After all, the field is constantly evolving. Nevertheless, I do my best to keep an eye on scientific studies while keeping abreast of fads and trends.

So what has caught my eye lately?

Chia seeds.

Chia seeds appear to be the food of the year. Health food websites feature them, news outlets profile them, and even TV personalities are actively pushing them.

I have to confess, the first thing I thought was, are these the same seeds from chia pets? Remember the chia pet that was sold as a gift for “the person who has everything?”

Yes, the chia seed we’re hearing about nutritionally is the same seed that they use to grow green fur on pottery animals. This crop of “hair” is what happens when the chia seed sprouts.

I contacted the folks at a chia pet company, and they were quick to tell me not to eat the seeds or sprouts that come with chia pets. It seems that the food product seeds are grown and tested differently than those that are developed for the chia “pottery that grows” market.

So, what are chia seeds?

Chia seeds are exactly that  — seeds. They look a lot like sesame or flax seeds and they come from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is in the watercress family. Chia seeds have a long history and were eaten by the Aztecs and Mayans. Now the seeds are grown all around the world and are key crops in Mexico, South America, and Australia.

Personally, I don’t think that the seeds taste like much. Some people think they have a nutty flavor. Chia seeds can be used whole or ground, and the sprouts are edible too. Many people sprinkle chia seeds onto yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, cereal, and fruit. They are also popular in smoothies. Since they like to soak up water, chia seeds tend to swell when added to liquids. You can use this to your advantage by adding them to soups or smoothies as a thickening agent. I’m seeing more and more chia seeds sold in bulk or baked into “healthful” crackers and snacks.

Now let’s take a look at why people would eat chia seeds.

Chia seeds contain quite a lot of nutrients. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one ounce (about 2 tablespoons) provides 10 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. That same ounce has 179 milligrams of calcium and 138 total calories. Chia seeds are also said to be full of omega-3 fatty acids, with high levels of antioxidants, and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

So here’s where we switch from facts to hype.

Some people are claiming that chia seeds can help with weight loss.

It seems that people are always looking for that “magic bullet” — or in this case, “magic seed” — that will help them lose weight easily. The people who claim that chia seeds are all you need for easy weight loss explain that since these seeds hold water and expand to about 10 times their original size, they will help you feel full. If you’re full, perhaps you’ll eat less. That means losing weight.

Yes, there have been some small studies on this subject. But the verdict is still out until more information becomes available. There’s just not enough evidence to support these weight-loss claims yet.

Learning about new foods and trying new things is always fun. However, it’s important to dig a little deeper before jumping on a new nutrition bandwagon. Chia seeds do have some potential for providing some good nutrition, in moderation. However, they’re not the “magic seeds” that some people make them out to be… except maybe if you’re trying to grow hair on your chia pet.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Looking for tried-and-true weight management and nutrition tools? Check out these popular educational materials…

Weight Management Brochure: Portion Control

Online Wellness Program

Healthful Food Poster Set

Free Handout: The Pillars of Healthful Snacking

It’s that special time again — free handout time! This month’s handout is all about healthful snack habits, setting up the 4 pillars of healthful snacking in a simple, fun, and accessible format. It goes particularly well with this Healthful Snacking Poster, which is available in the Nutrition Education Store.

Free Handout: Snacking

Download the Pillars of Healthful Snacking now!

There is so much you can do with this handout, from leading a snacking workshop, preparing a cooking demonstration, or just distributing it to participants as they need it. What are you going to do with yours? If you need more inspiration, check out the other resources that the Nutrition Education Store has to offer…

Healthful Snacking Poster

Cooking Demonstration Kit

Home Run Cookbook

Remember to check back here next month for another free handout!