Some of us find ourselves asking these questions as we try to live a healthier lifestyle and plan meals at home:

  • Is this a healthy meal?
  • How do I manage to eat healthy foods on a budget?
  • Is this meat cooked all the way through?
  • What can I cook at home that will be healthy and still taste good?

Reports show that more Americans are cooking at home. With the cost of food on the rise and so many mixed messages about healthy eating, it's easy to feel uncertain about healthy food options.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) MyPlate guidelines and meal planning tools make it easier to create meals that are affordable, nutritious, and easy to prepare. UC Davis Health dietitian Marie Barone explains how you can use this tool and how to cook healthy meals at home.

Start with a free, personalized MyPlate Plan. The MyPlate Plan will provide details about the number of servings to include for each food group and examples of how to meet your goal.

Next, plan weekly meals. Avoid food waste and save money at the grocery store by using foods in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry. Use a recipe resource like a cookbook or cooking website for meal ideas.

MyPlate Kitchen allows you to search for recipes by foods, making it easy to find recipes using ingredients you already have. Then, make a list of meals for the week and create a grocery list for items you need to buy.

When planning meals, consider how much time you have for food preparation. Choose quick and easy meals on busy days and save recipes that take longer to prepare for when you have more time.

While shopping for groceries, stick to the grocery list! Avoid shopping while hungry and allow plenty of time to compare nutrition labels and prices. Consider buying frequently used, non-perishable items in bulk to save money.

Finally, when it comes to healthy eating, food safety is key.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 48 million Americans get sick with foodborne illnesses each year. Of those, 3,000 die. Infants, young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems are most likely to become severely sick from a foodborne illness. Follow the CDC guidelines with these four steps for food safety:

  • clean
  • separate
  • cook
  • chill

Here are some additional resources for food safety:

If you want to learn more about planning healthy, budget-friendly meals, check out UC Davis Health’s free online class called Eating for Health.

You can learn more about other health topics, such as heart health, preventing and managing diabetes, stress management, and more by taking free classes from UC Davis Health Management and Education.

Marie Barone is a senior dietitian with UC Davis Health's Health Mangagement and Education.