I love meal planning. Actually, I love food. The process surrounding meal planning is one of my favorite things; picking meals, planning days for them, shopping, prepping, and cooking.
Even if you don’t love the process, if grocery shopping is a chore instead of a day out, meal planning can still be a wonderful thing for you. Some benefits we’ve found from meal planning include:
- a whole lot less of the “what’s for dinner” dance
- a lower grocery bill
- healthier meals
- more cooking at home vs eating out
- better variety
- trying new things
So, where do you start? Here are six tips and tricks for starting meal planning in a way that’s effective and will last.
1. Use One Ingredient for Multiple Meals
This is my number one tip for saving money and building a functional meal plan. Meat is generally easy to use for different meals. Think of a roasted chicken with vegetables one night, then chicken enchiladas another night. Other examples would be a big bag of spinach for spinach salads one night, then spinach in a frittata; or tortillas for taco night and quesadillas.
2. Think About Time
Do you have soccer practice on Wednesdays? That late meeting Monday night? Keep the amount of time you’ll have to cook in mind when meal planning. Some nights there’s time for a meal with more prep work required and other nights you just need to have dinner on the table quickly.
3. Be Flexible
Just because you have spaghetti written down for Tuesday does not mean you have to make spaghetti on Tuesday. I’ve switched up meal plans to make a quicker meal on a rushed day, change to a more group friendly meal with surprise visitors, or skip cooking when we have more left overs than expected. I’ve also gotten completely off track for an entire week. Life happens folks. If you get off track, just start again when you can.
It’s also important to keep your planning flexible. Leave room for date night certain weeks. Plan for one week. Ten days. Two weeks. Use the same meal plan you did three weeks ago. Nothing is written in stone, make it work for you every week even if that means different things.
4. Mix Favorites with New Recipes
I try to fit in a new recipe every week. If that’s an overwhelming thought start small. Even one new recipe a month will start to increase the meals you know. And, you might find some new favorites along the way.
5. Double Up for Freezer Meals
I’ve seen a lot freezer cooking how-to posts. How to make 30 freezer meals in one day! Etc. While that is a really functional thing for some people, it just flops for me. Making time to cook dinner is high on my priority list, but most of the time I feel too busy to take an entire day to cook. But, freezer meals are really handy. Having meals in the freezer that my husband could warm/cook was probably the only reason I was able to eat anything other than frozen pizza in the month or so after giving birth.
On nights with freezer friendly meals I make double, and freeze one. Casseroles and crock pot dump meals are a popular choice. I also make doubles of things like spaghetti sauce. Warming up sauce and boiling pasta is almost as easy as dumping a bag into the crock pot.
6. Keep it Visible
I’ve found out recently (after years of meal planning) that I’m a lot more likely to stick to my meal plan if I can see it. I find it slightly ridiculous that it took me this long to realize this. Meal plans jotted down in notebooks are great, but I don’t always remember to open said notebook. I may have mucked up more than a couple nights because I forgot I had to prep something in the morning and didn’t look at my meal plan until it was almost dinner time. (Again, stay flexible, I just substituted another meal with less prep). I now have a small chalkboard sitting out with a week of meals written on it.
There you have it. My tips and tricks on the basics of meal planning. Once you’re comfortable come back for a visit and check out my tips and tricks for improving your meals plans.
Do you use meal planning? Do you have a tip I missed?