8 Meal Planning Tips
If meal planning is on your New Year's resolutions list, this post is for you. Cooking at home can add years to your life, and meal planning is the key to producing those home-cooked meals, while saving money and time in the process.
1. Make Time for Meal Planning
Remember, you are in control of your time, and get to set your priorities. If meal planning is it, make it count! From choosing recipes to shopping, prepping, and cooking, it is a goal that is totally within reach. Whether you read food blogs obsessively in your down time, or are cooking a few classics from the family cookbook, planning is key. Take into consideration how many days you will be at home for dinner during a given week, how much time you will have to prep, and choose recipes accordingly. I like to meal plan at the same time every week (Sunday mornings), as this habit helps ensure that it happens.
2. Make Lists and Plan Shopping Time
Know when you are going to shop, where you are going to shop, and make a shopping list, based upon your weekly menu. Besides picking up the ingredients for particular recipes, lists also help keep it simple, and stay on a budget. There is nothing worse than an overstuffed fridge, filled with ingredients that go bad before you can get to them. Buy what you need, and try to use what you have on hand.
3. Have Recipes Handy
Whether it is Pinterest, browser bookmarks, cookbooks, or newspaper clippings pinned to the inside of your cupboards, find a way that recipes are effortlessly at your fingertips. If you are cooking for your family, I find it is best to have recipes easily accessible so that all can chip it to help without much effort.
4. Keep a Well-stocked Pantry
Keeping pantry essentials on hand is the magic behind quick weeknight dinners. For those times I am not able to get to pre-planning my weekly menu, a well-stocked pantry is a lifesaver. Also, I do have a physically small space for a pantry, so when it is overflowing with bits and pieces of items I have not used up, I make it a priority to clean out the pantry. This recipe and this one too are good for that.
5. Post a Weekly Menu in a Visible Place
While a handwritten chalkboard menu might seem like a kitschy Pinterest driven goal, it actually is incredibly helpful to have and refer to during the week. When the “what’s for dinner” question comes around, the work has already been done, and a menu is posted for all to see and to look forward to. I find that having a posted menu deters me from any emotional decisions to eat out, and besides being cute, guides me through a busy work week. This is also a great way to get others involved; my nine-year old daughter loves writing the chalkboard sign every week.
6. Cook Family Favorites, and Check the Weather
In my house we eat a mixture of comforting family favorites and new exciting recipes. I learned early on that making new recipes every night is both exhausting, and has everyone craving cozy favorites. I also be sure to check the weather, as there is nothing worse than preparing for a recipe that requires the oven to be on when it is 95 degrees outside. Alternately, a cold salad does not necessarily hit the spot when it is chilly outside.
7. Advance Preparation of Ingredients or Entire Meals
Because I enjoy the act of cooking as a relaxing transitional time from work to home, I often will leave 30 minutes of tasks that can be done before dinner needs to be ready. Other nights, when I think I will be tired and unmotivated, I plan to pull out a pre-made stew and/or pre-cut veggies. If you know the task of preparing dinner will deter you from doing it, make it a point to prepare in advance (upon returning home from shopping is a good time), taking away the barrier for enjoying delicious homemade food on busy weeknights. Also, sometimes a recipe will require defrosting something from the freezer, and advance preparation is ideal for this.
8. Make Recipes That Provide Leftovers
Some of my favorite dishes are those that provide leftovers for another meal. That way I am not obliged to cook everyday, and lunches are easily sorted. Or if I do not get to meal planning and shopping in a week (it happens!), I pull out premade items from the freezer. Think of it as an extension of your pantry. Some of my favorite freezable recipes include this stew, and these meatballs can be made in advance and frozen, uncooked, then baked to cook.