4 Simple Steps to Meal Planning
Have you been meaning to try meal planning but not sure where to start? I'm here to share my routine that allows me to save time and money, and avoid the 5:30pm drive-through at the local fast food joint because I'm too "hangry" to cook after work.
Why do I love meal planning? Let me count the ways....
While meal planning takes a bit of brainstorming, it saves me time in the long run. I often batch cook and store extras in the freezer. I always have dinner ready to pop in the oven when I come home from work. This allows me to get in a quick workout, go for a walk before the sun sets, or just spend time relaxing with my family before we eat.
By planning a few recipes in advance, I only buy the ingredients that I need. Nothing goes to waste as every ingredient is used up during the week. With lunches and dinners ready to go, we rarely spend money dining out. Home cooked meals are always cheaper!
Always having healthy meals available ensures that you won't run out for fast food during your lunch break or after work. When we are "hangry" we usually make poor food choices! Get your kids involved in the meal planning and prep - studies show that kids are more likely to eat new foods when they take part in the process.
Are you convinced yet? Here's how to get started...
STEP 1: Take inventory of perishable foods
Go through your fridge, freezer, and pantry and jot down the foods that need to be used ASAP (that wilted bunch of asparagus, pork shoulder that's starting to get freezer burn, or potatoes that are beginning to sprout).
STEP 2: Brainstorm a few recipes that use your perishable foods as a base
Use the list of foods that you've just created and come up with at least 2 lunches and 2 dinners for the week (breakfast recipes too, unless you like to do quick things like smoothies or yogurt on the go).
STEP 3: Create a shopping list and remember to bring it to the supermarket!
Using your recipes and list of perishable items, figure out what other ingredients you have to buy. Don't forget to add extra items like breakfast foods, snacks, and quick side dishes. Another bonus of shopping with a list is that you won't buy extra junk that you don't need!
STEP 4: Designate some time during the week to do prep work and cook
Depending on your schedule, you might want to do all of your chopping in one day. If you set aside time on 1-2 days during the week you can batch cook and pre-portion your lunches and dinners for the week. Put some fun music on and enlist your kids and partner to help out!
So how does this look in real life? This is how my week plays out...
Thursday: Spend 30 minutes meal planning using a spreadsheet (I'm a huge fan of Sheets for Google Drive...you can find pre-made templates or create your own ). My spreadsheet has 4 boxes - one for each of the steps above. For Step 4 I literally write down what has to be chopped, thawed, washed, etc. That way I can pin my spreadsheet to the fridge and everything is spelled out for my husband to help out. You can get as detailed as you'd like - for my hubby I have to give pretty specific instructions (i.e. dice 4 carrots) to avoid hearing confused shouts from the next room every 5 seconds.
Friday: Grocery shop! The beauty of using Sheets for my meal planning spreadsheet is that if I forget to write my shopping list down I can access it from the Google Drive app on my phone. If you plan to cook on the weekend, be sure to thaw any meat that you will need.
Saturday: I like to do the majority of my chopping on Saturdays. I use my meal planning spreadsheet and work recipe by recipe - storing the chopped veggies in glass containers or Ziploc bags in the fridge. If I will be using any grains or beans in recipes, I start soaking these ahead of time (more on this in a future blog post!).
Sunday: I cook a lunch and dinner recipe for 2-3 days worth (usually to cover Monday through Wednesday). I portion everything in separate containers so that they are ready to grab for work lunches or heat for weeknight dinners.
Wednesday: Round 2 of cooking - I prep another lunch and dinner recipe for 2-3 days worth (for Thursday through Saturday). I don't always prep specific recipes for the weekends as we tend to do quick things like eggs with avocado toast or tuna with salad.
So that's it! Do you love meal planning? Let me know what techniques work for you!