Every year there seems to be a new trendy diet that takes center stage in the nutrition world. From low fat, to low carb, Paleo, and “Wheat Belly,” there’s no shortage of plans that promise dramatic weight loss. As a registered dietitian, my concern is that these plans often eliminate healthful foods and require strict adherence to complicated rules than can lead to feelings of deprivation and failure.

March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme is a reminder to focus on an overall healthy diet. With a little planning, you can maintain a healthy diet that fits your lifestyle and tastes without eliminating your favorite foods.

So what does a “healthy diet” look like? Use the MyPlate guidelines to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one quarter with lean proteins, and one quarter with whole grains, along with a serving of low fat dairy.

In my job at eMeals, I write meal plans that help customers get a healthy, home cooked meal on the table every night. Here are the Top Five Meal Planning Tips that I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Keep it simple. Reserve a specific time to plan your meals for the week. Set yourself up for success by choosing practical meals that will fit into your schedule, and be sure to remember the MyPlate guidelines.
  2. Make a grocery list and do all your shopping for the week on one day. You’ll save valuable time that you can spend cooking and enjoying your meals with family.
  3. Check your pantry first. Before you head to the grocery store, check off everything on your list that you already have on hand.
  4. Shop the sales. Planning your recipes around the lean meats, low fat dairy, and fresh produce items that are one sale can help you save money while eating healthy.
  5. Revamp leftovers. Cut down on food waste by turning last night’s leftovers in today’s lunch, a casserole, frittata, or soup.

Need a few recipes for inspiration? Try this easy Cheeseburger Macaroni Casserole, served with a green salad for a healthy, crowd-pleasing dinner. Three Bean Chili can be thrown in a slow cooker in the morning, and dinner’s ready when you get home.

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Jessica CoxGuest blog by Jessica Cox. Jessica Cox is a Registered Dietitian and chef. She lives in Birmingham, AL, where she is the Culinary Nutritionist at eMeals, a meal planning service that helps busy families enjoy healthy dinners together. She creates original recipes that are both good and good for you, writes and edits meal plans, and styles food for photography. Follow Jessica on Twitter as she shares her passion for food and health.