How to Plan a Meal 

Do you know how to plan a meal to make it balanced, colorful and suitable for your guests or for family? It is always best to start with a pen and paper in hand to make notes. First ask yourself who you are preparing food for; is it for company or for your family? Maybe you want to prepare dinner for the coming week to be able to feed your family quick and easy after work. Planning food in advance can save you time and money.

After deciding who you are cooking for, ask yourself what the occasion is for the gathering. Is it a family birthday or for a visiting guest? Or maybe the dished need to be frozen for feeding your family in the coming week. This will help to determine the menu you will want to serve. Also, a special event may require a special presentation. All these answers help with knowing how to plan a meal or meals.

How many will be present is important to know up front. This tells you how many place settings you will need to prepare. When making out your grocery list, you will know how much to buy. Perhaps you want to cook a week of dinners for your family in advance. Knowing how many ounces of meat, poultry, and vegetable you need, for seven days could make a big difference in your shopping cart. When learning how to plan a meal, knowing the number of people you will be feeding is the most important answer you need up front.

Now that you know the reason for your food preparation, for whom and how many, start on a menu. Write everything down! Begin the dinner with a main course, consisting of a protein. Proteins can be found in meats, eggs, fish, poultry, cheeses, and combinations of beans and grains. Three to four ounces of protein for each person is adequate. If you are cooking for a guest, and you think they favor meat, you may want to plan on extra ounces for them.

If you know how to plan a meal then you know to always add vegetables to the menu. I almost always serve some kind of a fresh salad with a meal. Depending on how many dinner guests I am feeding, I usually serve other vegetables also. Our choice of vegetables is abundant, and they contribute many vitamins and minerals so mix the colors in the vegetables. Whole grain breads and noodles can be added to the menu. These are a good source of fiber, and will help to fill a hungry crowd.

Also needed in your course are the milks and fruits. These can be served independently or together. Pineapple and cottage cheese is a good way. Maybe for a little more special treat, try a piece of warm apple pie with ice cream. With little effort, a well-balanced menu will provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals. A family gathering can be made just as delicious as serving to company.

The following menu is a good Sunday dinner for company or any special meal to serve to your family or friends when learning how to plan a meal. The stuffed mushrooms recipe is an appetizer to serve your guests as they wait for dinner to be served. Many of the dishes can be at least partially prepared in advance which always helps when cooking for company. I have encompassed all the dietary foods including delicious berries and ice cream in the dessert. Not only does the meal make a nice presentation with a variety of colors but those colors add nutrition to the diet when planning a menu. Besides the recipes below, add a basket of fresh hot bread or a selection of rolls; these can be purchased to save time and warmed for dinner.

STUFFED MUSHROOMS RECIPE this is an appetizer for the meal

  • 1 Pound fresh mushrooms
  • ½ Cup Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ Cup melted butter
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped green onions

Chop mushroom stems and combine with cheese, butter and onions.

Fill mushroom caps with mixture and place on broiler rack; broil 2 to 3 minutes or until crusty.

Serve hot; about 8 to 10 servings.


  • 1 Pound bite size spinach, washed and drained
  • ½ Pound bacon cooked and crumbled
  • ½ Cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 Avocado peeled and sliced
  • Lemon juice
  • 1 Small onion thinly sliced

Poppy Seed Salad Dressing Recipe:

  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • ¾ Teaspoon mustard
  • ½ Teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • ½ Teaspoon poppy seeds
  • ¼ Cup wine vinegar
  • ½ Cup cooking oil

Sprinkle avocado with lemon juice to prevent discoloration.

Combine all salad ingredients in a large bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Combine all poppy seed salad dressing recipe in a glass jar with lid.

Shake salad dressing and chill until ready to serve.

To serve shake dressing and pour over fresh spinach salad recipe before serving.

Serves about 8.


How to Plan a MealHow to Plan a Meal like a Baked Lemon Chicken

When you know how to plan a meal, baked chicken is always a favorite protein source.

  • 6 Chicken breasts, skinned, boned and halved
  • ½ Cup butter
  • Salt/ pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons sherry
  • 2 Teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 Cup heavy cream
  • Parmesan cheese

Sauté chicken breast in butter until light brown; salt and pepper; place in greased baking dish.

Add sherry, lemon rind and lemon juice to butter in pan; cook and stir for a few minutes.

Add cream to sauce and check seasoning; pour over chicken.

Sprinkle top with cheese and bake for 20 to 30 minutes in preheated oven at 350F degrees.

Baked Lemon ChickenBaked Lemon Chicken


When you learn how to plan a meal, you will see you never go wrong with some kind of a potato dish on the menu.

You have a choice of how to plan a meal when serving a mashed potato recipe. Most cooks know how to make mashed potatoes. Make sure you buy a good quality of potatoes for mashing. Boil peeled cut potatoes until tender; drain well. Put potatoes in mixing bowl and add butter. Slowly add hot milk while beating, then salt and pepper. Beat until potatoes are whipped and creamy. The other option you have for your menu is to make the mashed potatoes a day before and bake in a casserole. Whip the potatoes adding some cream cheese; this helps to keep the potatoes creamy. Place whipped potatoes in buttered casserole dish and store overnight in refrigerate; bake in oven before serving to heat.


This carrot recipe is an example of how to plan a meal adding another color to make a great presentation at the table.

  • 3 Tablespoons butter
  • 6 Medium carrots thinly sliced
  • ¼ Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon crushed basil

Melt butter in pan with lid; add sliced carrots and sprinkle with salt and basil.

Cover and cook over medium low heat for 15 minutes or until carrots are tender crisp.


When learning how to plan a meal for company, save the best for last. This blackberry crisp recipe served with ice cream adds milk and fruits in a delicious way to balance the diet.


  • ¾ Cup sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 5 Cup fresh blackberries

Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Mix sugar and flour; toss gently with blackberries to coat.

Transfer to a 9 X 9 inch buttered baking dish.

Crust topping:

  • 1 Cup flour
  • 1 Cup sugar
  • 1 Teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 Beaten egg
  • ½ Cup melted butter
  • Ice cream

Combine flour, sugar and baking powder until blended; make a well in center.

Blend in beaten egg until topping is crumbly; sprinkle over berry mixture.

Drizzle melted butter over topping; place dish over foil in oven to prevent spillovers.

Bake 45 minutes or until crisp; serve hot with ice cream.

How to plan a dinner depends greatly on your shopping ability. Armed with all the information written in your notes make out a grocery list. Remember to total how many dinners will be needed and how much of each item. If you need to cut costs, review your grocery store’s advertisements before shopping. Keep your mind flexible to using specials. Once you have made out your grocery list, stick to it. Mark each item off your list as you pick it up. Don’t vary from your list, unless it is absolutely necessary.

After your shopping is finished, review how to plan a meal again. Write a time chart. Review your recipes and write down how long each food will take to prepare. Make a note to the time you want to serve your dinner or lunch, and then work backwards. If you plan to serve a pot roast to your guests at 7:00PM and the recipe says to roast for 2 ½ hours, have it ready to go into a preheated oven at 4:15PM. Writing down a complete time table is very important. If something can be prepared ahead of time, write it down also. By making a minute – by – minute plan, the hot foods will be hot, and the cold foods will be cold, and the guests will be happy to be served on schedule.