What exactly is meal planning? How can we use this strategy to save money and eat healthier?
Meal planning means you are thinking about each week ahead of time and planning out the exact meals you will have. The purpose is to relieve the daily stress of deciding “what’s for dinner,” and it has the added benefit of being economical and healthier than playing every day by ear (since that can quickly lead to take out). In our house, we meal plan for weekdays mostly, but if we know we will be home on a Friday or Saturday night we will plan for those too. Before we had kids we just did weeknights.
Here are some steps to take each week in order to achieve meal planning goals:
1. Take inventory of the fridge, freezer and pantry
- Decide what you can use for meals for the week
2. Write it down
- Start making a list of your meals and add items you will need to your grocery list. It will keep you mentally organized and will help you stay on track.
- Organize your grocery items by area of the store to make shopping easier. That is, all produce items in one column, all meat in another, etc.
- You can do just dinners to start or you can dive right into all meals.
3. Pick a few easy or “go-to” meals that you already know how to make
- Too many recipes can be overwhelming and unsustainable
- You may already have some of these pantry items
4. Have the ingredients handy for a back-up meal in case one of the nights doesn’t work out
- Something easily defrosted, microwaved or otherwise prepared. This will avoid being overwhelmed which leads to fast food or takeout.
- Some ideas: Grilled cheese and tomato soup, deli sandwiches, frozen pizza (Cauliflower crust is now more available in stores!)
5. Think about fresh ingredients that can be used for more than one meal, or leftovers that can be repurposed for another night
- This avoids food waste, is easier on the wallet, and can save cooking time to give you a break
6. Start looking for inspiration for meals
- Cookbooks, magazines, food blogs, even Instagram
7. Choose 1 new recipe per week to try, and incorporate the unused ingredients into the other meals for the week.
- Soon your repertoire for “easily made meals” will expand and cooking on the regular will be less overwhelming
8. Focus on home-cooking first, and nutrition second.
- It’s better to have a frozen pizza and side salad at home than pay too much for take out on a weeknight and end up eating pizza anyway.