We all have enough to worry about in our daily lives, so why should preparing a meal add to our stress? Meal prep and planning are popular among diet-and-cost conscious millennials who would rather spend their free time on other activities. But that doesn’t mean anyone older than Gen-X can’t benefit from a meal plan. Not leaving what’s for dinner to chance frees up time to spend with your children, or enjoy the retirement you so greatly earned. Rather than deciding what to put on your plate when you’re hungry, tired, or in a hurry, following these steps will take the guesswork out of meal planning — and even save you time and money!
Pick A Day To Start
The most important part of any plan is deciding when to start. Successful meal planners recommend carving out time on the same day each week to create your plan. But rather than us telling you which day is best, consider your schedule. Some people prefer to meal plan on Friday afternoons, giving them ample time to plan for the next week. But if the thought of ending your week with anything other than rest and relaxation is less than ideal, decide which day of the week you can spend an hour or so creating a week’s worth of menus.
Stay Organized By Saving Recipes
Meal planning means you need to keep your menus — and recipes — organized. If you’re a tech-fiend, keep a folder of meal plan-worthy recipes that you either want to try or already know you love. For the offline set, keeping a binder of recipes primed for lazy days will keep you on track. Stay away from anything where prep time exceeds 30 minutes (unless you can start cooking days in advance, but more on that below) or cook time doesn’t give you and your family enough time between activities or bedtimes to enjoy the meal.
Batch Cook Your Favorites
Advance and bulk prepping and cooking are the keys to successful meal planning. Does this week’s menu repeat an ingredient that you can prepare on night one? You’ll save time in the long run when you roast a chicken (or two!) on Monday than can be used for multiple recipes throughout the week. Batch cooking keeps you from falling off course because the food is (mostly) ready. And don’t worry — roasting a chicken doesn’t mean every meal will be the same. It can be used in salads, soups, or carved alongside vegetables and grains (which are also easy to cook in batches and weave into different recipes that keep your tastebuds from getting bored).
Keep Your Pantry Stocked With Staples
Prep will be easier when you know everything you need is in the pantry or there is something an ingredient can be easily swapped for. Keep items you use often, like salt, oil, stock, garlic, and onions on-hand at all times. The same goes for dried goods — beans, rice, and pasta — because even when our plans fail (and they sometimes do) a quick and delicious meal can be whipped up with pantry items. When stocking your pantry, keep the same mentality you have while choosing recipes: nothing should be too particular or difficult to find. Stick to tried and true ingredients - a few ounces of dried oregano or basil is more likely to help you cook up a quick meal than that unusual spice you need for a single recipe.
Embrace One-Pot Meals
Or pan. There are plenty of recipes that only require a single sheet pan, slow cooker, or Instant Pot. Limiting the number of pans and appliances needed for a single meal, while being able to cook enough for multiple meals at once, will help you stick to your plan — because after your meal is prepped, cooked, and eaten, then comes the dirty dishes. And if given the choice between a mountain of dirty dishes or disposable takeout containers, which would you choose?
Look For Sales
Here is where you get to be thrifty and creative. Sales are great when you need to refill pantry items, but can also help direct your weekly plan. Check out your grocery store’s weekly flyer to decide if this is the week you cook steak and sweet potatoes, or if the Idaho potatoes that are on sale would be a good substitute. But, don’t let sales limit you. Saving on some of the items on your weekly shopping list takes the sting out of spending full-price on leafy greens or the fancier olive oil.
With preparation, practice, and a few tricks up your sleeve, meal planning can become a part of your healthy lifestyle. If you’re ready to start meal planning, check out our heart healthy cookbook for some recipe inspiration!