Meal planning is one of those things that we have the best intentions of doing, and then with everything else going on, it’s usually the first thing to fall through the cracks.
It is easy to look at it as “one more thing on the to-do list,” but in the long run, it is actually saving us time. When I do make a point to sit down and write out meals for the week, it makes grocery shopping and prepping dinner much easier—even when my days are full of to-do’s. So, I thought it would be fun if I gave you a few tips to help make meal planning easier so you can get in the routine of de-stressing your meal time!
Don’t go to the store listless.
Does this sound familiar? You insist on storing your grocery list in your brain when you shop for ingredients, which inevitably means that a few things don’t make it into your shopping cart and leave you in a pickle when you’re ready to cook. We’d all love an impeccable memory but when it’s hard to even recall our Facebook passwords these days, let’s not put extra pressure on ourselves to remember every last item on our meal plan.
Put it on paper (or an app)! List out the ingredients you need for each of your meals for the week, then grocery shop with list in hand. It’s that easy, but many don’t do it!
It is also very helpful to have a template already prepared. This can include the foods you buy weekly and/or food categories that you can fill in as your meal planning will need.
Not only will it help you remember what you need, but it will also help you stick to the list and help you save money in the long run.
Start small and plan leftovers.
Flexibility is key. Believe it or not, part of meal planning is not planning. When you plan and shop for every meal from Monday to Sunday, it can take some of the fun out of last minute dinner invites because, in the back of your head, you are afraid that those asparagus spears are going to go brown and soggy if you don’t make them, like right now!
Planning and mapping out an entire week of meals is just a lot of work that can lead to wasted food and may be entirely overwhelming if you are just starting out. Start small and plan 2-3 meals with leftovers. This will allow you the flexibility to take that dinner invite, but also use your leftovers for breakfast or lunch. You can even use them differently, giving you a bit of creativity to your weekly meal plan.
Kitchen chaos and multiple stops at the drive through on your way home from work may be a direct result of not preparing meals (or having a plan) ahead of time. If your plan consists of rushing home from work and trying to quick whip up a healthy meal in time for dinner, you may find yourself falling short — not to mention falling back on unhealthy meal options.
Finding one day or evening to prepare multiple meals ahead of time will save you money and stress, not to mention it will decrease a potential headache! Weekends typically work best for most people, but maybe it is a day during the week that works best for you. It really doesn’t matter!
You will also save time in preparing meals because you have the kitchen primed for cooking. As a whole, less time spent on prepping and cleaning up.
Don’t be a short order cook.
Want to raise a picky eater? Let your child eat whatever he/she wants and cater to his or her food preferences. Want to not raise a picky eater? Expose your children to healthy and diverse foods from a young age and don’t make any specific foods for them. Children learn habits that they are exposed to — enjoying the tastes of healthy foods, learning to try new things, understanding that they are part of the whole family’s needs, etc. Not only is this more nutritious for kids, but it will really be a benefit to them in the long run. It will also save you a ton of stress.
Do you find that your kids resist? Rules work well with children when they are exposed to them consistently. For example, kids are required to try one bite of everything cooked before they can have more of any one food. And, if they are truly not hungry they are not required to eat BUT then can NOT complain about the food or interrupt the meal with a bad attitude.
It is about setting the parameters in your kitchen. They may not like it at first and you may have push-back, but, in the long run it will make meal-time happier!
Focus on core recipes.
As you find recipes your family enjoys, make them core recipes that get re-used every few weeks. Try to build up about 20 of these and you won’t ever be bored with your meals. Each week, use these core meals for 5 of your dinners and try something new for 2 dinners. If you get really motivated, build these 20 core meals for each season using seasonal produce and rotate with the seasons. This will also save money on produce.
And, you can tweak your core recipes to make them even more interesting. For example, add different veggies to a stir fry or a different protein source in your favorite soup base.
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