Meal planning not only saves time and peace of mind through the week, but it also saves money and decreases food waste too!
1. Open your calendar. Plan your meals around your life, not the other way around. Before I pick even one meal, I look over the week ahead and consider which days I’ll be strapped for time and which ones I have a little more wiggle room.
On the days we are at play group all afternoon, I usually plan a crockpot meal. Nothing is better than walking in at 6pm and having dinner DONE. If we have nothing planned, maybe I’ll pick a meal that Hailey can help me with, knowing we’ll have more time to play around.
2. Visit weather.com. Though the weather is hardly ever accurate for the entire week, it gives me a sense of what to expect. A day that looks cold a rainy usually requires and soup of some sort, while 70 and sunny makes me want to light up the grill!
3. Peek in your fridge and freezer. Do you have any items (meats, herbs, vegetables) that you didn’t use the previous week that need to be used soon? Take note. Not only will it save you money on the grocery bill, it will help ensure you don’t waste any food.
4. Limit new recipes. Sit down with your favorite cookbook/blogs/pinterest boards, but don’t get carried away. I like to switch things up, but probably try a new recipe on 1-2 times a week. New recipes, even if simple, take more mental effort and focus than old standbys. Plan to try a new recipe on a day you have extra time. Sundays or Tuesdays are usually what works for my schedule.
5. Fill in the other days with family favorites. You’ll see spaghetti squash with moms’ famous meat sauce and Greek pasta salad over and over again on my meal plans because we love them and I could make them with my eyes closed at this point. Plan meals that come together quickly or easily and won’t stress you out.
6. Consider leftovers. We usually eat the amount that I cook, or I eat any leftovers for lunch, so we typically have a new meal each night, but if you usually have leftovers, hooray! Take a night off of cooking the next night.
However, sometimes I know I’ll have one things leftover (extra chicken) so I can repurpose that the following night. Example: roasting a chicken one night means that the next night is perfect for a homemade chicken soup.
Also, consider freezing for the future. If I make a huge pot of pulled pork and don’t want it two nights in a row, I’ll freeze it to eat in the next few weeks, which gives me an easy meal down the line, without any waste.
7. Be flexible. Life happens and schedules get turned around. Don’t let your meal plan be a stress to you. Typically if things get mixed up for us, I switch up which meals fall on which nights and try to make the meals that require the use of more fresh ingredients first. That way I can reschedule a meal for the following week and still possibly get away with using what I already bought.
For example: Spaghetti and salad is an easy meal to put off for a few days. I refer to it as a “wiggle meal” which means it can wiggle its way right into next week without wasting any food. Ground beef, onions, spaghetti squash and pasta hold up pretty well, so I can usually delay that meal a few days without wasting any of the ingredients I bought.
Also, consider freezing any meats, poultry or fish you didn’t get to that week and use it the following week. It will be a pleasant surprise to already have an item bought when you peak in your freezer the following week.
8. Prep as much as you can on the weekend. It’s amazing how having washed and cut lettuce or diced onions can make meal making so much easier. By the time dinner rolls around, it feels like you’re in a cooking show where all the ingredients are set and ready for you to cook with right away!
Next time I’m going to try and reduce the amount used and see how it is. If a meal isn’t any good or isn’t a keeper for other reasons, I go back and delete it off my pinterest board so I don’t accidentally make it again. It’s a great habit to get into so you know you always have a collection of tested recipe that you and the fam enjoy!
I’ve found a lot of value in keeping on going meal planning notebook where I can keep all my meals plans organized and easily accessible to refer back to. Though any notebook will work, I offer a free printable to get you started!
What is your best tip for meal planning?
Or, if you’re new to it, what is the most intimidating part?