Effective meal planning starts with a plan, recipe ideas and organization. It can be stressful to have to work all day long then come home and try to figure out what is for dinner. This is an overwhelming feeling and can create stress just trying to figure out where to start. Essentially this is a skill that requires practice in order to become a pro at it. But it doesn’t have to be dauting to get started. I will outline a few strategies that helped me when I had to start planning ahead in order to save money on the grocery bill. I will show you how to use what you already have to create healthy meals even when you are pressed for time.
Tip #1 – Take Stock Before Meal Planning
Firstly, you must understand that meal planning is the act of organizing meals for the week ahead. Take into consideration what is already planned for the week, times you will have to cook and taking advantage of leftovers. When taking stock of what you already have in your fridge or cupboards start with the foods that will spoil first. This usually includes produce, dairy products and foods already cooked and stored in fridge. This method will help you to remember to use it before its completely destroyed. The foods you write down you can use as the basis for your healthy meals for the week. This will help to reduce grocery bill because you will only have to shop for what is missing to complete the meals you are considering.
Tip #2 – Consider Your Schedule for the Week
When meal planning always review your schedule for the week. This will help you to fit in meals that will fit into your schedule without causing stress in the process. For example, if your children have extra curricular activities twice a week that gets you home late in the evenings then perhaps on those days you can purchase a pizza or choose to cook a meal that takes a few minutes to prepare. Another example, is what if you have to work late because it is the busy season or you work a shift schedule. In this instance you can plan to use leftovers or even pick up something on the way home.
Keeping your weekly schedule in mind will keep you more organized when it comes to meal times. Also, as mothers we are busy doing so much we may just not feel like cooking. When organizing your meals take into consideration that you may just not feel like cooking so always have a go to meal on hand for those times.
Tip #3 – Planning Creative Meals
This part of the process can be fun because you can be creative but at the same time very overwhelming. Even more so if your family consists of different diets and you are not sure what to make. But having a resource of recipes to pull from can help make it a little easier for you. As you get better at meal planning you will be able to create your own meals through mixing and matching.
Just begin with step one and see what you already have that is perishable and start there. For example, you had tacos one night and had left overs in the fridge. You can consider having tacos again for dinner or you can take the same ingredients left over and combine it with egg for an omelet. Or you can add it as toppings over lettuce with Mexican cheese as a garnish and serve with your favorite dressing. Or you can take the same ingredients and put it over rice with salsa. As you can see there are plenty of ideas that you can come up with just from left over taco ingredients. If a family member can not have dairy then skip the cheese toppings and everyone can eat the same meal.
You may have chicken tenders in the freezer and consider them as a choice for dinner the kids will like but isn’t necessarily healthy. Here you can add broccoli, and macaroni and cheese and instantly its a balanced meal that they will love. Or you can take the same tenders cut them up add them to a spinach wrap shell with lettuce, tomato, onion and your favorite sauce and have it as a wrap for lunch with sweet potato fries.
Tip #4 – What Meals Should You Make?
This step is perhaps the most challenging because you not only have to think of meals but ones that you can actually cook. Sometimes we can get stuck in a loop having the same meals over and over. Its fine when the kids continue to cobble them up but when you start hearing, “chicken and rice again” or “didn’t we just have this?” can add more stress. Try asking the family members what they may want to eat for dinner.
If you pack a lunch for your children, ask them what they like to take. This reduces the horror of seeing them waste the foods because its not what they like. Consider theme nights to help break up the monotony of dinners. The idea here is not to stress. Maybe you can have pancake Tuesday in May. Or its super bowl time and you need more party foods than full meals. Think of meals where the whole family can join in to make so the burden is reduced off of you. Getting kids involved in the cooking process is a good way to help them learn about meal planning. Purchase recipe books catering to the specific diets can also help increase your ideas for meals to make.
If you think about being healthy but have lots of produce that may spoil soon, consider making a smoothie instead of a full meal. This way you increase nutrients and effectively use all the fruits before they perish.
Tip #5 – Meal Planning Grocery List
The most crucial step when meal planning is to have the ingredients on hand for whatever you decide to make. Once you have come up with your ideas for meals throughout the week make a list of ingredients needed. Next cross reference what you already have with what you will need to create the meals. The difference is what you will have to purchase from the store.
If your counting the cost, consider how long each meal will last as some may be enough for leftovers. This way instead of purchasing enough ingredients to make seven dinners you may only need enough to make five thus reducing the cost of your grocery bill. Another tip is to imagine going through the grocery store isles and what you will need from each to create your list. This can sort of help you organize your shopping list in a way that you won’t miss anything. All of this makes you a more efficient shopper which could also help reduce your time in the store!
Tip #6 – Don’t Stress
Meal planning is an organized way to ensure you and your family are having tasty meals each and every night no matter the circumstances. It can help you save time, money and frustration as well as improve overall nutrition and happiness. Just think you’ll be able to use the perishables before they spoil and use all that you purchase at the store. At the end of the day don’t stress there are plenty of resources to help you beginning with the tips outlined above.
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