Using a planned family menu saves money and stress and is not difficult as some may believe. All one needs is discipline, realistic goals, and the ability to think outside of the proverbial box.

These six simple steps will help any family on any budget create a menu to make eating at home easy.

1. Take Inventory

Look through your kitchen for what you have on hand. This also gives you a chance to go through and discard any outdated products that have taken up shelf space in your cupboards or kitchen. In addition to this, look at what cookbooks that you have available. As you go through your cabinets and pantry, make a list of what you do have that can be incorporated into healthy and simple meals. Along with this, go through the cookbooks and recipes you have and look at the typical ingredients they call for. Keep in mind the types of meals your family eats on a regular basis and consider ways to make them healthier. Granted, this is the most time consuming part of developing a healthy menu - but an important necessity because you want to know what you have on hand and what recipes you can place on your menu plan

2. Create a two-week menu

There are many ways to accomplish this. Many computer software programs, like MS Outlook, have calendars that work well for menu planning. Once you have taken inventory of all items in your pantry and shelves, think of healthy recipes that utilize what you currently have on hand. With favorite cookbooks in hand, look over the particular recipes and see what ingredients are called for. If you need to purchase two or three items, but have majority of the ingredients, include it in your two-week menu. This gets those items in your food pantry and on your shelf to be utilized rather than not wasted. It also helps decrease the grocery bill by incorporating what you already have at home.

3. Portion control and waste

Remember, healthy eating is not just about dieting and losing weight. It is also about portion control. In addition, be aware of how much food is actually being wasted. For instance, do you buy a lot of produce, only to have to clean out the fridge and throw it all away? Put leftovers into the refrigerator, only to come back and see a science project well-underway? Food waste in America is estimated between 160 and 295 billion pounds a year. To avoid wasted food, portion control is very important. One of the best resources to consult (and you can place this on your fridge) is a portion plate. This one comes from WebMD and gives the proper amount of food that should be plated. In addition to preventing food waste in the home, your wallet will sigh with relief as the realization settles in that your grocery bill is no longer a nuclear holocaust going off from the groaning bank account. What this simply means is that when one starts to buy for the menu items, less is actually being spent at the grocery store.

4. Change it up and introduce new dishes

Consistency is always good, especially when it comes to saving money and developing a solid healthy menu plan. However, do not limit yourself to the same entrees on every meal. Change it up a bit by looking for new menu items that can be incorporated with what one has on hand and what is inexpensive to buy. Consult cookbooks, websites, local newspapers, and even friends for new recipes. Even then, you can change up the recipe itself to create a whole new dish.

5. Create additional dishes out of one meal

This is good when there are leftovers. Made up too many chicken breasts? Dice up the cooked chicken breasts and make chicken salad sandwiches for lunch the next day, or better yet, chicken omelets. Have leftover mashed potatoes? Pull out your mom's or grandma's favorite shepherd's pie recipe. Repurposing the left overs into a different menu item will help save money and provide more menu items. And, the best way to accomplish this is to include it on your meal plan. For instance, make chicken, rice, and broccoli for dinner, and know that there is going to be leftover chicken, rice and broccoli—then repurpose each item into two or three separate meals. The chicken is a chicken salad sandwich for lunch the rice is a rice pudding desert for the next night; the broccoli is homemade cream of broccoli soup with the chicken salad sandwich.

6. Build up your food storage

This is much easier than one would think. Each time you shop, add in small amounts of nonperishable items to place on your shelf in the pantry or cabinet. This way, as you use items from your inventory, you can easily replace those items and ensure there is extra on hand. This comes in handy when life happens and you have not been able to purchase the same amount of food items as before. Creating a food storage helps save money in the long run.

These six steps works with any budget. Planning an affordable family menu does take some time and discipline. Yet, once consistency is established, healthy eating becomes affordable with any family size and economic status.

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