Meal planning is one of the simplest ways you can cut your grocery bill, your time in the kitchen, and your gas expenses in one fell swoop. Here you’ll find some tips for getting started meal planning. Now it’s time for Meal Planning 201: tips and tricks to help you make the most of your planning efforts.
1. Use Theme Nights
If Friday is always taco night, then you always know what you’re making on Friday, and you don’t have to give it any more thought. It’ll get almost automatic to put the ingredients on your shopping list, and you’ll have one less meal to worry about.
Not big on tacos? Here are some other suggestions for classic dinners that you could serve once a week:
You can make a family tradition out of any meal that everyone likes: it doesn’t really matter what the recipe is.
2. Cook in Bulk (and Use the Leftovers)
There’s no reason why leftovers can’t be part of your meal plan! If you cook in bulk and plan to work the leftovers into your rotation (maybe as breakfasts or lunches), you’ll save a lot of time in the kitchen.
3. Plan Around your Schedule
Always busy on Thursdays? Then don’t plan a gourmet feast! Pencil in your fastest recipes for the nights when everyone is zooming from one activity to the next, and save anything time-consuming or experimental for the less hectic evenings.
4. Enlist Some Help
Even if it’s just washing the dishes or setting the table, almost anyone who can eat a meal can also help make it. That goes double if they want anything special made just for them. And if you have any picky eaters in the house, it’s also a good idea to have them come up with some recipes that they’ll eat, find the ingredients, and add it all to the list: this saves you time trying to hunt down meals that fit everyone’s taste.
5. Have a Backup Plan
No matter how perfect your shopping lists are, no matter how meticulous your spreadsheets look, no matter how nutritionally perfect your meals are…you will mess up at some point.
Maybe you’ll forget to buy something you need, or maybe you’ll buy something but it’ll turn out to be bad (rotten coconut, moldy carton of strawberries…). Maybe you’ll make something but end up hating it. Maybe your plans to go out for dinner will fall through and you’ll need a substitute meal in a hurry.
Whatever it is, eventually you will need a backup plan. So have one! Always have ingredients for at least one more meal than you plan to make – the easiest way to do this is to stash some extra frozen vegetables and canned or frozen meat. Then you can whip up a quick chili or stir-fry without too much fuss.
6. Make a List of Favorite Meals
This is especially true if you’re cooking for kids (or anyone who acts like a kid when it comes to food). If you have a master list of recipes everyone likes, you’ll have a great start when it comes to planning your meals for each week.
7. Set Aside Time to Plan
It’s part of human nature to prioritize the short term. Even though we know that half an hour of planning now will save hours of pain later, we still put it off or find excuses not to make time for it.
Avoid this by penciling in “meal planning” with everything else you have to do. Set aside a few minutes to sit down and get it done (preferably the day before you shop, so you have time for all those “oh no, I forgot about the ___________” moments to happen before you’re home with the groceries).
8. Make your Shopping List at the Same Time
You can’t cook all those meals if you don’t have the ingredients for them. The easiest way to make sure everything gets onto your shopping list is to write it all down as you put the meals on your calendar. Alternately, you could use an app or an online list – there are plenty out there, and some of them come with neat features like sharing (so anyone in the family can edit them).