Meal planning is a great way to get the most bang for your grocery buck, to try new recipes, and to make your busy days a little more organized. But it can seem daunting if you’ve never done it before. How do you get started? When are you supposed to have time for all that cooking? Do you need a subscription to a meal planning site, or a special notebook? Are spreadsheeting skills required? The truth is, meal planning used to be the norm–it wasn’t that long ago that most meals were cooked from scratch, and in past generations we didn’t have a grocery store around every corner. And a few decades ago, nobody could use online recipe searches or Amazon deliveries. That means that you can easily start working with a meal plan–you just need a few hints on getting started. These six tips will have your freezer stocked and your evenings streamlined in no time.
Take Inventory of Your Pantry
Have you ever returned from the grocery store with a can of chickpeas to discover that you already had two cans in the cupboard? It can be hard to keep track of what we’ve got in the pantry, especially when we’re running errands. Do a full inventory of what you already have in your kitchen: donate any non-perishables you won’t use, and make a point of cooking with what’s on hand before you buy more food. This is a good guide to pantry basics that will help you make a variety of meals easily.
Cook Meals That Freeze Well
One easy way to make meals less complicated is to cook more than you need, and freeze the leftovers. That way, you have meals that you can thaw and throw together quickly on days when you just don’t have time to cook from scratch. In order to keep your freezer stocked, make sure you include one or two meals that are easy to scale up to larger quantities and freeze well in your weekly meal plan. Canadian Living has some great ideas for freezer-friendly meals–their recipes undergo extensive testing.
Shop For Groceries Weekly
Running to the store for just a couple of things every day can become very time consuming–and expensive, if you always leave with items that weren’t on your list. When you make a weekly meal plan, you know exactly what you need for the next seven days. That way, you can make one trip to the store and not worry about it again until the next week.
Prep Produce When You Get Home
Prep can be the most time-consuming part of cooking–we would bet it’s often what stops you from cooking and has you reaching for the take-out menus instead. When get home from your weekly grocery shops, wash and chop your veggies for the week, then store them in the fridge so you can easily grab them when cooking. Spending an hour doing this prep once a week will make things a lot easier when you’re trying to make a meal quickly later.
Save Your Favorite Recipes
Did you make a meal that was a hit with your family? Make sure you save the recipe! Keep favorite recipes in your regular meal planning rotation to make everyone happy and give yourself a break with days when you’re making meals that you could cook with your eyes closed.
Try Something New Each Week
On the other hand, a meal plan that just repeats the same dishes week after week is going to get old fast–which makes it hard to stick with. Resolve to try at least one new recipe each week–it will encourage you to try new foods, particularly produce, and keep things exciting at meal times. Besides, you never know which new recipe will become your next family favorite.
Photo credit: Liz