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Do you love the idea of meal planning but find it overwhelming? Look no further! In this post, I offer a handful of tried-and-true tips to simplify your meal planning.
What is meal planning?
First, it’s important to understand that meal planning has a broad definition. It looks different for everyone, and that is exactly the point. Meal planning is a method of preparing food for you and your family that simplifies the process, alleviates stress and worry about what to make for dinner, and even keeps you on budget.
Meal planning can be applied to any preferred method of cooking including the crockpot, Instapot, or lunches only.
Why are you meal planning?
Once you understand what meal planning is and what that may look like for you and your family, decide your purpose for it. Is it to save money? Eat healthier? Save time? Being able to identify your “why” will help you stay focused and make plans that align with your goals.
The first and most important step is to plan a menu. You can get lofty and plan an entire month’s worth of meals, but this can be problematic when you have to switch things around. It’s best to plan in bite-sized pieces. Plan your meals by the week.
Use a planner like this one and write down all your family’s appointments, activities, and other obligations that will certainly impact your dinners.
Next, be realistic about what you can make in the time that you have. Making a 4-course meal from scratch when you have a dentist appointment after work, soccer practice, and whatever else is a recipe for disaster. One universal goal of meal planning is to make it seamless and stress-free.
Shop by recipes.
Just like stylists encourage people to shop in outfits, make your grocery list from your recipes. Choose a handful of your family favorites, ones that fit your purpose and goals for meal planning.
Plan around the grocery ads.
Scour the grocery ads, and base your meals on what is on sale. Start with what meat is on sale and build your meals out from there. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, start with the produce on sale and go from there.
Hint: Aldi and Fresh Thyme have great sales on produce, while Bakers/Dillions has great sales on meats.
Order your groceries online.
Either pick them up or have them delivered. This eliminates impulse buys and buying items (especially perishable ones) that you don’t need, which saves you time and money. I prefer to pick up groceries rather than have them delivered because you aren’t left waiting at home for your delivery between a 2-3 hour delivery window.
Don’t shop exclusively at warehouse stores.
Stores like Costco and Sams can be time and money-savers, but not always. Just because you can buy it in bulk doesn’t mean you should. These stores are great for certain products, like less expensive produce (especially salad mix and bananas). However, the meats aren’t always cheaper than traditional grocery stores.
Hint: You can’t go wrong with a Costco rotisserie chicken to center your recipes around. They are large and can be used for multiple meals.
Plan with leftovers in mind.
Cook and plan so that you have leftovers. If you take your lunch to work, you can ensure you have something tasty and will not have to resort to takeout or the company cafeteria. If you’re planning healthy meals for dinner, you’ll also have a healthy meal for lunch. This applies to your children’s lunches as well.
Maximize the ingredients you have.
Do not choose recipes that require a unique ingredient that is perishable.
Chunk-like dishes together.
To maximize the groceries you do purchase (especially in bulk), plan a couple of dishes that use the same ingredient. For example, if one evening you make mashed potatoes as a side dish, maybe the next meal you plan is a baked potato bar. If you have an average to small-sized family, this will help you save money on groceries.
Precook what you can.
A superior time-saver is to precook what you can. For example, if you purchase a large package of ground beef, ground turkey, or even chicken breasts, spend less than an hour cooking the meat and freeze it one-pound sections in freezer bags. Cook them, place them in freezer bags, and once they are cool, lay the bags flat and squeeze out all the air before sealing. Store them horizontally in your freezer and pull a bag out when you need it. For vegetables, you can roast them all at once for the week. Roasted vegetables will keep well in the fridge all week.
I hope you have found this helpful as you embark or even hone your meal-planning skills. I would love to hear from you! Share any tips or favorite recipes below!
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