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10 Tips to Better Meal Planning

Posted on October 16, 2017 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (2)


Get your family back to the table in no time.  With most households working over 40 hours a week, it's no wonder people are stressed when they think about the age old question "What's for Dinner? Fewer families are spending time at the dinner table and more time in the drive-through. That's were meal planning can save you time as well as save you money and inches on your waistline. By having a plan you can get in and out of the store faster, spend less money not purchasing items you don't need and spend more quality time with your family. Here are my top 10 tips to help you get started in meal planning.

1. Keep organized. Create a space to save your meal plans and keep it SIMPLE. I recommend using a binder or folder to keep you organized. If you're totally new to meal planning, then stick to planning one week at a time. As you get more comfortable, you can then do biweekly plans and maybe even try Monthly Meal Planning. Schedule yourself a meal planning day and set aside at least 30 minutes to complete a meal plan. I tend to plan my meals on Monday.  I have it saved as a reoccuring appointment marked "Meal Plan Monday"  The internet is full of free templates and printable to help you get started.  I would use google and type the keyword "meal plan printable", there are hundreds or options to chose your style.  I would recommend the below forms to include into your binder.  However, if you want to save the paper and go totally digital there's several meal planning apps that you can utilize such as Plan to Eat, My Fitness Pal, and Cozi.

  • favorite meal list
  • weekly meal plan template with grocery list
  • recipe file
  • fridge/freezer inventory
  • pantry inventory

2. Favorites List. Make a list of everything you like to cook or everything you have eaten in the last few weeks.  This will give you a start on your list of meals and you can add to it when you find new things. Involve your family. Ask for suggestions from your family, roommates, partner or anyone else you share meals with. There may be fewer complaints if they know they had a say in a few of the meals. Once you have your favorites, start a recipe file. Collect the recipes or write down the page numbers. That way you don’t spend all of your prep time searching for that fabulous recipe.

3. Work smarter not harder. Don't be afraid to reuse meal plans from week to week or month to month. You can make 2-3 weeks of plans and then rotate them throughout the year. Or, at the end of the month or week, file the plan away until the next year. Then, you can bring it out a year later and have something to work from. I like this method, because then I can incorporate seasonal foods and my menus for July are distinctly different from the ones for December. It's a time saver to have a weekly plan already done with grocery list. All you have to do is check your pantry and fridge for any items you have on hand and then go shopping for the remaining ingredients.

4. Take inventory. It's not just about what you WANT to eat but it's also about what you NEED to eat before it goes bad. Take inventory of your fridge, freezer and pantry. A great meal plan isn't just about assigning recipes and satisfying that week's cravings; it's about making a plan that takes into account everything you have at your disposal. It's knowing you need to use up that broccoli before it goes bad. It's remembering you have a few chicken thighs in the freezer. It's figuring out that you'll have leftover beans from Monday's meal that you can put into a Chili later. Trust me, your wallet will thank you! 

5. Plan for left-overs. You can vary the sides or the appearance, but left-overs save time and money. For example, BBQ chicken on Wednesday can become BBQ chicken pizza on Friday. Or Meatballs can be used for Sweet and Sour and then later in the week for Hoagies. You can serve Lemon Chicken twice, but the second time, serve it with potatoes instead of rice pilaf. Some people can only eat leftovers for a single night. Either way, try to make your cooking always do double duty. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don't want it right away, freeze it.

6. Embrace Theme Nights. Who hasn't heard of Taco Tuesdays. Be inspired to try a Fish Friday or Mediterranean Monday or Salad Saturdays. Add recipes that you want to try to your planner. I am constantly printing or tearing out pages of new recipes, but if I don't put them in my meal planner, I never make them.

7. Out of sight out of mind. Put your menu plan where you will see it. Save it on your desktop or print it out and put it on the fridge or the inside of a cupboard. Or make a cute menu sign to display near your dining area. Best part is that everyone in your family can see it and won't ask you a million times "What's for dinner?"

8. Be flexible. If you order out, move the planned meal to the first day of the next week. If you don't feel like making Turkey Burgers, switch them with another night. The purpose of a meal plan is to make the dinner decision time less agonizing and to help you with your grocery shopping.

9. Check the weather and your calendar. Look at the weather forecast when determining your meal plan. You may want to save the soup for cooler weather. Also check your calendar for events such as soccer practice and dance recitals. You may wan to opt for a quick 30 minute meal or pull a prepared freezer meal out of the freezer the night before.

10. Timing is everything. Your shopping trip should be 30-45 minutes in the store. Having a detailed and categorized shopping list helps you get in and out of the store faster. Choosing the day you shop is as equally important. Try to avoid shopping on the weekends, instead opt to shop during the week. This may take some time getting use to but it will save you so much time in fighting the crowds. One added benefit is that you may score on some mid-week markdowns in the meat section of your local grocery store. Most local stores tend to markdown items mid week to clear inventory before the weekend arrives.

I hope these tips help you simplify meal planning. Please let me know if you found these tips useful! Chef Maria Tobei