I am a planner. When I was younger I wanted to be a wedding planner (thank you, J. Lo) and when I got older I thought I do a really great job as a project manager. I live by my Google calendar and Clear, and I love setting 5- and 10-year plans. When it comes to vacations, I usually take the helm at figuring out where we go and what we do. Call it what you like, my propensity for planning is part of why I am sometimes lovingly referred to as “Type-A”, but it also is one of my strengths, especially when it comes to feeding my family healthy foods.
Planning meals in advance is one key to a healthy diet. It all starts with taking time to think about what you are eating, which is something many people will say is not easy. Especially with family, house chores, work and social obligations, it can be one task that gets put off until too late. You will soon realize that on the days and weeks you have not been able to plan meals it is easier to cut corners, order takeout, make a frozen pizza or whip together blue box mac and cheese.
Meal planning can help you save time in the kitchen, reduce stress, cut food waste and thus save you money as well. It is a great habit to get into and requires practice! Here are some tips to get you started with planning meals in advance for you and your family:
- Set one day each week to plan meals
One day a week my husband and I discuss what our schedules look like and decide what days we will be cooking at home. This usually is on a weekend when we have the time to sit down together!
- Look at your week’s schedule in advance
If we know that we will be eating at home 4-5 days out of the week we will try to plan 4-5 meals. If you know you have a busy day and may not have time to cook, you can plan to make extra for leftovers or use a super fast and easy recipe that night.
- Plan meals around the protein
Protein keeps you feeling satisfied and prevents you from reaching in the cupboard for a late night snack. Look at your local grocer’s flyer for coupons or what is on sale that week to get your creative juices flowing.
- Incorporate seasonal vegetables and fruits
Eating seasonally makes meals interesting and prevents boredom from using the same ingredients every week. Sometimes these foods are also on sale! If you can’t get fresh ingredients, frozen can be just as healthy and usually very affordable.
- Save recipes you want to try
Put that Pinterest to good use! Save recipes you think look delicious and easy to your email, Pinterest, Evernote or just print it out and keep it on hand. Add the recipe to your weekly meal plan. Who knows, it may become a family favorite!
- Keep a list of “tried and true” recipes your family loves
If you aren't feeling particularly motivated, reach for the recipes that are always a winner and usually take less than 30 minutes to prepare. Keep a list, highlight them in your food journal, or file them under “easy” in your recipe box - whatever you do, keep them handy! On days you don’t want to think about dinner you can quickly pick a reliable recipe you've already mastered.
- Use a grocery list
Save money, reduce waste and make your grocery trip quicker by writing down what you need to purchase. There are hundreds of apps you can use, or good ol’ pen and paper will do!
- Create a “triage tray” in your refrigerator to reduce waste
I have been doing this for years but didn't even realize it! Lifehacker has an article that suggests using a box to put food into that needs to be eaten soon. I usually organize my meals by shelf in the refrigerator, and keep my “soon to be expired” foods at the top shelf. This will help you know what ingredients you need to use up in your next recipe and prevent waste!
- Do prepwork in advance
Pre-cut veggies, mix marinades, or purchase cut fresh or frozen veggies to reduce barriers to cooking healthy foods during the week. The 30 minutes you spend on Sunday night can expedite the process during the week and reduce the feeling of burden.
- Consider how you can use leftovers in other dishes
Have a surplus of chicken but don’t want to eat the same dish all week? You can re-purpose most foods into other recipes, such as grilled chicken into chicken salad, sandwiches, chopped and put over a bed of greens, tossed with spaghetti… so many options! Doing this will speed up your meal prep throughout the week and can help reduce waste.
I hope these tips help you stay inspired and make meal planning easier! Do you have any tips for meal planning? Let me know in the comments!