In survey after survey, consumers indicate that the cost of food inhibits their intentions of serving nutritious meals. One way to lower food costs is to plan meals, then go to the grocery store with a list.

Many consumers say they know this, according to a Food Marketing Institute survey. While most said they've reduced food bills as much as they can by using leftovers, buying cheaper cuts of meat, buying less meat and buying lower-priced brands, most said they don't do enough meal planning.

Planning is the most easily avoided part of meal preparation. In the world of the working cook, it's next to impossible. It goes faster if the cook sets up a pattern -- Monday, chicken; Tuesday, pork; Wednesday, meatless; Thursday, salad or soup and Friday, beef. The meal planner not only chooses foods on special and in-season bargains, but avoids the last-minute impulse of using expensive convenience foods.

The cook can save money by reducing the amount of meat that's included in the meal. The recommended daily allowance for meat for adults is two 3-ounce servings -- a very small amount. One pork chop, for instance, is about three ounces. If a teensy hamburger patty raises a hue and cry at the dinner table, stretch the meat in stir-fries, tortillas, omelets and casseroles.

The following recipe uses Oriental stir-frying to make a meal for six that includes only two chicken breasts. Get the freshest-looking button mushrooms for this dish and saute' them quickly, using high heat. Use brown rice if possible and cook it in chicken broth for extra flavor.

EXPRESS LANE LIST: chicken, onion, spinach, mushrooms, soy sauce, chicken broth, cornstarch, rice.

STIR-FRY CHICKEN AND SPINACH WITH RICE (6 servings) 2 whole chicken breasts, skinned and boned 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 8 ounces fresh mushrooms 1 large onion, sliced and separated into rings 8 ounces fresh spinach leaves, cleaned 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup soy sauce 1 cup chicken broth 2 tablespoons cornstarch 3 cups hot, cooked rice

Cut chicken into thin strips. Set aside. Heat oil in wok or skillet. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, over high heat for 2 minutes or until mushrooms brown on the surface but lose very little of their water and do not shrink. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add chicken to hot wok and cook over high heat, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add onion. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Add spinach, cover and cook 1 minute. Combine pepper, soy sauce, chicken broth and cornstarch. Stir until smooth. Add mushrooms to chicken mixture, then soy sauce. Cook until sauce is clear and thickened, about 2 minutes. Serve over hot rice.