Tips and Tricks for Better Meal Planning

I am going to keep it real with you here today. When it comes to the kitchen, I think I’m an amazing cook. I grew up in a family that just loves cooking and my mom cooked every single day of her life and never missed a meal. I’m talking, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. She taught me how to cook and I can cook almost any meal from scratch, but when it comes to baking, I’m not that great.

However, when it comes to feeding my family, there have been days when I’m just too lazy to cook and would much prefer to order in. I am not good at meal planning and today my good friend Maurine Anderson is going to share with you some tips and tricks for better meal planning so that you can start planning out your meals for the week like a champ, and in turn, improve the way you eat as a family.

Meal planning isn’t just something for the highly organized—it’s something that just about everyone, single or married with children, should embrace for healthier, better eating on an everyday basis. Plus, not planning out your meals can actually be bad news for your budget.

First, easy does it.

If you’re completely new to the world of meal planning, you should know that it’s okay to ease into it at first. Start by printing off a weekly meal planning sheet that lists the days of the week, and then fill in two or three dinners that you plan to make during the week. (You can always make these dinners in bulk to make for a full week’s worth of dinners.)

Keep a running list of go-to favorite recipes.

You may assume that your memory will serve you well when it comes time to plan out your meals for the week, but chances are your mind will go blank the moment you grab that pen and paper to start planning. This is why it’s a great idea to keep a running list of go-to favorite dishes to make. You might keep a cookbook and recipe cards handy, or you might start a Pinterest board of tried and true recipes. Refer to this list often, and strive to add to it regularly. When it comes time to fill in your calendar with meals, let these recipes become the backbone of your meal plan, and then fill in with new recipes that you want to branch into.

Cook in batches—not per meal.

Strategic meal planning involves cooking things in batches so that you can cut down on cooking time throughout the week. You might, for example, make a large batch of rice in your rice cooker and enjoy it with Mexican one night, and then turn it into “cowboy rice” the following morning for breakfast. Or, you might make Parmesan chicken for dinner one night and then enjoy it over your salad for lunch the next day. Your tastebuds and stomach won’t kill you for enjoying Tuesday dinner leftovers for lunch on Thursday, either.

Practice bulk food prep.

A similar concept applies to those smaller steps involved in food prep. Let’s say that you know you’ll be making a Denver omelet a couple of days during the week, tacos on Tuesday (for “Taco Tuesday,” of course), and then pizza on Friday. Why not do all of your bell pepper chopping all in one go before the week starts? Or, if you’re a regular maker of smoothies, why not set aside 30 minutes to create some bags of chopped fruit for keeping in the freezer? This will streamline your cooking significantly throughout the week, and it will quickly make you fall in love with weekly meal planning.

Choose recipes with ingredient overlap.

As you write out what you’ll be eating on each day for the upcoming week, try to select recipes that have some ingredient overlap. An easy way to do this is to look at the ingredients involved in what you’ll be making on Monday and then to select the recipes that follow accordingly. For example, you might use potatoes on Monday to make garlic roasted potatoes, and then use the rest of the bag on Thursday to make slow cooker potato soup. This will ultimately make your grocery shopping much easier, not to mention less expensive. And don’t worry—there is still a lot of variety to be had even when you’re working with many of the same ingredients during the week. Consider the many different things you can make with canned tomatoes and garlic: chicken white bean soup; roasted asparagus with tomatoes; baked caprese chicken; turkey quinoa chili; or smoked sausage and potatoes on a skillet.

Write out your grocery list as you fill your calendar.

Writing out your grocery list as you fill out your calendar will save you a great deal of time as you prepare to make a trip to the grocery store. Moreover, considering the last point about “ingredient overlap,” writing out what you’ll need as you go will ultimately help you select coordinating, convenient recipes to make later in the week. Don’t forget to jot down the quantities you’ll need for each ingredient so that you aren’t left short-handed—or with so much excess of an ingredient that you’ll have to throw it out.

Look to your pantry for inspiration.

Right before you begin your meal planning session for the upcoming week, take an inventory of which ingredients you already have on hand—particularly those you could probably do to get rid of. Use these ingredients to help you decide which dishes you’ll be making during the week. Not only will this save you money on your next trip to the grocery store, but it will also encourage you to save money in the long run by purchasing certain ingredients in bulk to keep on hand. The more practice you get inspecting your pantry as you meal plan, the better you’ll be at understanding your grocery expenditures.

Don’t forget to add key reminders.

As you write out your meals, don’t forget to pencil in key reminders such as “put the chicken in the fridge to thaw” or “set the slow cooker to 4 hours on low”. They may seem like small things but they will really help your meal planning game.

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