For sanity and peace of mind, What’s for dinner tonight?” should not actually an open question every night. Starting from ground zero everyday is a recipe for anxiety, frustration and a roadmap to the nearest drive through or delivery service. Instead, use this handy guide to meal planning made easy will help you develop reliable, healthy alternatives.
Focused meal planning can definitely help improve your food choices for your family. During a busy day, it can be difficult to carve out enough time to prepare a healthy meal. The idea of having to prepare three meals each day can seem daunting and impossible. with the right meal planning strategy, you can kiss goodbye the stress and anxiety of figuring out three reasonably healthy meals each day.
Meal planning allows you to become more organized with your food options and spend less time thinking about what to eat. It also ensures no food is wasted in your household and you save a lot of money eating real food as opposed to buying fast foods.
The best start to getting hot, healthy meals on the table with ease is doing some basic meal planning. Here’s the 9 steps you need to get it done.
Meal Planning Made Easy
1. Stock Your Pantry with Key Essentials
It can seem expensive, but stocking your pantry with the essentials will help you eat less packaged food and in the long run, save you plenty of money. Having essentials like flour, sugar, oils, herbs, spices, baking soda, baking powder, butter and so forth makes it easy to put together a meal.
A well-stocked pantry is one of the greatest money-saving gifts you can give yourself. When you keep a multitude of spices, salts, condiments, and other cooking staples on hand, you won’t be starting from scratch for every meal. This will make it easier for you to choose recipes based on what you have available.
If you’re on a budget and need to stock your pantry slowly, add one or two of these types of items each time you shop. Soon you’ll find you have the ingredients to whip together great meals at ease.
2. Figure Out Family Favorites (or Likely Favorites)
Create a master list of family favorites. Start with some favorites you know your family enjoys. You already know the ingredients and cooking process, so this is going to make it easy. It also ensures you have at least a few meals that you don’t have to think too much about.
Your list should include the recipes you love, the reliable hits and family members’ favorite foods. Sticking with simple, familiar meals will make the preparation process much quicker and easier. You can always swap out a recipe or two with each passing week.
One of the worst things that you can do is cook a meal large enough to have leftovers that carry you through the week only to find that no one likes it. That’s time, money, and effort wasted. Before you start looking or creating a recipe, you should speak to your family about what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat. Be sure to include yourself in this interview, too. Once you have a taste collection, you can then start to look for and create recipes according to those tastes.
Keep this master list as inspiration for your regular meal plans. And plan to review and revisit every so often to see if it needs to be revised or tweaked.
Ideally, you’ll develop a list of 10-12 favorite dishes and meals that everyone in the family enjoys. Put these into heavy rotation and mix in a handful of new and special dishes.
3. Assess What You Have On Hand
Always check your pantry, fridge and freezer for available items. Chances are, you already have the building blocks for a meal or two right in your fridge or freezer without realizing it. Think about how you can incorporate these into your meal plan. For example, if you’ve got some leftover rice, you might pick up some fresh vegetables and some chicken for a nice stir-fry. Many leftovers can be used for different dishes, so you don’t have to waste them.
Try to incorporate any ingredients that are either nearing their expiration date, or have been hanging around in the freezer for longer than a few months. So, if it looks like the eggs are about to expire, it might be time for a delicious frittata or quiche.
Also, taking inventory it keeps you from adding an item to your grocery list that you already have. And it also alerts you to what pantry staples need topping off.
4. Count Number of Desired Meals
The first thing you should decide is exactly how much meal planning you want to do. Specifically, the number of days (or weeks) to plan ahead of time. This really depends on you and a number of factors should be considered. Think about how much time you have for meal planning and prepping, how often your family likes to switch up recipes, and realistically what you can spend on groceries at one time for planning these meals.
You should also consider how much room you have in your refrigerator and freezer. Planning for 3 weeks ahead of time is fine for the schedule, but you might not be buying food for this long if you don’t have somewhere to put everything.
When you are just starting out, try to plan for just one full week and see how it goes. This should include all meals and snacks your family will eat for that entire week, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts.
It includes meals you will prepare at home with leftovers, lunches your kids and you will bring to work or school, and any extra items you need, such as bringing brownies to the local potluck or any other special occasions.
5. Make working list of meals for the week
You may only plan your dinners, or every meal of the day for each member of the family. To simplify this process, just start with the simplest meals on your list. For many people, this is breakfast. If you know you want to make an omelet every day for breakfast, you can write down the ingredients you need, and be done with that portion of the meal planning.
Make sure you not only write the meals you need for each one you are planning, but also the ingredients, and the amount of ingredients. Having more than one chicken dish? Look at the amount you need for each and get a good total of how much chicken o pick up if you have run out completely. This is going to prevent multiple trips to the store in the middle of the week.
Many people just plan dinners, but if you plan breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll get more out of your meal planning, no matter what your ultimate goal is.
As you plan your meals, think about how ingredients from one meal can be used in another. It’ll save you time and cash.
When you’re deciding which meals to prepare for the week, consider recipes that call for versatile ingredients, such as rice, beans, or pasta. Then attempt to incorporate these into as many meals as possible.
One shortcut for meal planning is to build on themes for certain days of the week.
For example, Tuesdays can be taco night or Friday could be pizzas or quesadillas. This can make planning your weak easy. Plus, it can create a good balance between variety and predictability. There’s all different types of tacos, pizzas and quesadillas. So, every week doesn’t have to be exactly the same.
Once you have started noting down some meals you would like to make during the week, try to be as detailed as possible. If you think you will have leftovers from a chicken dinner in order to have lunch for 2-3 days, note that in the plan!
This helps you reduce how many lunches you need to prepare, which further saves you a lot of time when it comes time to prepare your different meals for the week. After listing the meals, make another list with all the groceries you need to purchase, minus what you already have on hand.
6. Assess the Nutritional Balance
When you are working on your meal planning, you want each meal to have a good balance of nutrients. This means including enough carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Depending on the diet you follow or dietary restrictions, it might include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy, and many other options. It is good to aim for a colorful plate, as that ensures you are getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
The eyeball approach. Take a look at the meals you have planned out and make sure that across the course of a day, you’ve incorporated something from each of the five food groups.
fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.
And, over the course of the week, check to make sure you are using a variety of cooking methods: broil, bake, grill, etc.
7. Check Flyers and Websites
If you’re on a budget, it’s a great idea to leaf through your local flyers or store websites for specials and coupons. If there’s a special on ground beef, it might be the perfect time to make your special stroganoff with meat loaf.
8. Make A Detailed Grocery List
Once your meals are planned, it’s time to make your grocery list. Go through each recipe and meal idea and determine which ingredients you already have and what you need to purchase.
Whether grocery shopping for you involves website delivery or in-person shopping, you should absolutely make a list before you start shopping. Don’t forget to check your fridge, freezer and pantry as you’re putting together your list.
Having a list is important because it keeps you from buying items you already have and from forgetting items you actually need. You can also put the precise quantities you need of each item, so that you don’t let unused food spoil and you can afford to get more variety.
For example, if you need 2 zucchinis for a side dish you’re making and you’re not likely to eat any extras, write down that you need 2. It’s a simple thing, but helps ensure you only get what you need.
9. Use Leftovers as Much as You Can
Remember that not every meal needs to be cooked from scratch. In fact, it’s a waste of valuable time to cook each meal from the very beginning. Hopefully, you have incorporated leftovers into your overall meal planning. See No. 5 above.
Using items already in the fridge will accomplish a few goals. First and foremost, you’ll save a lot of time that would have been spent cooking or baking from scratch. Secondly, you won’t end up having a fridge full of random food items. Tomorrow’s meals should start from the leftovers you have laying around.