Get Prepared! Easy Tips for Successful Meal Planning
Free yourself from the take-out menus with these easy tips for successful meal planning!
These days it seems like almost everyone is too busy to cook. We’ve become very reliant on dining out, ordering in, and buying prepared foods at the grocery store. Not only is this a drain on our wallets, but it also takes a toll on our health. It isn’t healthy to constantly hit up the drive-through or call for delivery. If you want save time, money AND calories than the key is meal planning!
Here are some easy tips for successful meal planning that will help you make the most of your time in the kitchen and fuel your busy life the healthy way.
- Decide what kind of meal planning style works for you and your family. If efficiency is your primary concern and you’re OK with leftovers you might want to consider one “week-in-a-day” cooking marathon. Or if you don’t want to spend a whole day cooking consider the “cook once, eat twice” strategy where you make enough protein one night so that it can do double duty for two meals. Roasted chicken one night can turn into tacos the next. If you don’t mind cooking daily and want to have a freshly prepared dinner every night then you need to plan accordingly.
- Get organized. Keep a notepad magnet on the refrigerator to write down items for the grocery list as they come up. Find some meal planning templates on-line so that you can organize your meals for the week. You can even plan several weeks or a month at a time. Keep a file of recipes you’d like to try so that you don’t have to spend hours researching every week.
- Keep a well-stocked pantry. Cooking fresh and delicious meals means being prepared with the right items. You’ll need a variety of herbs, spices, vinegars, condiments, canned items like tomatoes, grains, pasta, etc. That way you don’t have to constantly buy ingredients every time you want to make a new recipe. This is especially important if you like to cook ethnic foods, which can often include specialty ingredients.
- Shop smarter, not harder. You don’t want to run to the store every day so make sure you’re prepared for shopping. Decide on the best day for your big trip. You’ll want to organize your list by category and move through the store accordingly to eliminate going back to aisles repeatedly for something you forgot. Check out sales and coupons in advance and make a note on your list (it also helps to meal plan around specific sales so that you stay on budget).
- Utilize the freezer. If you’re making marinara sauce why not double the batch and freeze some for later? If chicken breasts are on sale buy extra, portion according to your needs and freeze them. The same goes for soup and things like veggies you get in the summer at the Farmers Market.
- Make the most of your cooking sessions. If you’re cooking multiple recipes that call for shared ingredients, prep them all at once. Cut all the onions you need for each dish, mince all the garlic, dice/slice all the peppers, etc. Pull out all the ingredients you need in the beginning so you’re not returning to the cupboards and searching over and over. The French call this mise en place; “putting in place.” You’re more efficient when you get everything ready before cooking and then move quickly through your recipes. You also must multi-task when cooking, rather than making one thing at a time. Start off with things that need more time, like roasting potatoes, marinating meats and simmering soups or sauces, then do additional tasks in between those big jobs.