I can honestly say that meal planning has changed my life. It has changed the way that I cook, but more importantly it has contributed to my family having a better life balance, less stress, and given us more time to spend together.
Meal planning has really changed the way that I cook. When I was a student I didn’t really take the time to meal plan and with the chaotic schedule that I had that was more flexible I didn’t really need to. But since entering the workforce, I have realized that meal planning and prep is key for my life.
While I love cooking, I have found that it can also take up a huge amount of my time and contribute significantly to my stress load. I have found I often experience analysis paralysis when trying to come up with meal ideas. Not to mention, the stress that comes from the cost of food and constantly trying to save money.
So, I have found meal planning can make cooking feel more manageable, enjoyable, help you save money, keep you eating healthy home-cooked meals, and give you more time in your busy life.
Here are my 10 Tips & Ticks for Successful Meal Planning:
- Outline the time period (1-2 weeks is what I would suggest) that you would like to plan for. It seems obvious, but actually putting targeted dates and laying them out helps you to consider what might impact your meal planning (i.e. work commitments, after work/school activities, outings). But it also allows you to figure out how many meals you really need to plan for.
- Set “theme” days. I love to use what I call “theme days”, basically days where we always eat the same category of things. For example, for a long time we had Soup and Sandwich Wednesdays, Pizza Fridays, and Breakfast for Dinner Mondays. The themes allowed me a number of days out of the week where I didn’t have to come up with recipe ideas, I just had to get the ingredients for them. For those of you worried about variety, I hear you, but you can always vary the way you meet the theme (i.e. different kinds of soups or pizza or sandwiches).
- Keep your meal plan simple & be realistic with your time. Don’t expect that you’ll cook a 4 course meal on a weeknight after work (unless you want to that is). Grilled cheeses and tomato soup is okay too. Be realistic with your time, assess how much time you have to prep and cater meals to that. There’s no point in scheduling recipes you don’t have time to make because chances are you won’t make them and you’ll waste more money on take-out or a quicker meal.
- Batch cook. When you do have time to cook try to make extra that can be frozen or set aside for another meal. These give you more meals sort of for free because you already put in the work.
- Freezer friendly meals are key. This goes along with batch cooking, try to find and make recipes that freeze well. My suggestions include: chili, pasta sauce, curry, and soups. It’s sort of like investing in future meals.
- Schedule-in days off. Just like with a regular job, if you are the main meal cooker in your household you will get tired and need days off. So, work into the schedule at least 1 day where you don’t cook. There are a lot of ways to do this like: heating up frozen meals (that you made in your batch cook), order in, or get another member of your household to cook (or even just help you cook). Kids can help too!
- Optimize ingredients. Plan recipes that use similar ingredients, that way you don’t have to worry about having as many different ingredients on hand, you’ll have less food waste (less odds an ends that end up in the garbage), and if you can buy in bulk you’ll save some money too!
- Let the people you are cooking for have input and make suggestions. Don’t take all of the responsibility and stress of choosing the meals only on yourself. If you are providing food for others, even kids, they should also take on some of that responsibility. If you live alone, try following a food blog (like this one!) to help give you suggestions.
- Make a grocery list as you go through the week. Stick it to the fridge and build it as you go, the task will be less daunting that way and you will be less likely to forget items.
- Put the meal plan on your fridge or somewhere visible so it’s easy to follow throughout the week and it helps prevent other people in the house eating the ingredients you need for later in the week.
Those are my 10 tips & tricks for meal planning! I really hope that they are helpful if you are just starting out with meal planning, or maybe if you’ve been meal planning for a long time but feel like you want more strategies.
Let me know in the comments if you have any tips for successful meal planning!