It's 7:00 pm, you open the fridge to find empty shelves and don't feel like running to the store, so instead you order an overpriced pizza. Avoid this unprepared moment by following a simple process called meal planning. Meal planning is an uncomplicated, organizational habit that can save time, money, and stress.
What Is Meal Planning?
In the simplest terms, meal planning is outlining your meals for the week. This is done by setting a schedule, choosing recipes you'd like to make, purchasing or making sure you have the ingredients, and then cooking the meals. These steps can simplify and organize anyone's daily life.
1. Set a Schedule
When meal planning, setting a schedule means determining how many days of the week would you like to cook; it can be one, two, or even seven days a week, but cooking days need to fit your schedule. When people only cook two to four times per week, it's important to double or triple recipes to have meals for non-cooking nights. Once cooking days are selected, choose which days of the week those will be. Next, select when you will look for next week's recipes, when you will shop for the ingredients, and when you will be cooking.
2. Choose Recipes
Fulfilment from meal planning largely comes from enjoying the food cooked. To select recipes, use your favorite recipe source such as Pinterest, LoveToKnow, Foodnetwork.com, etc. or write down some old family favorites. Choose as many recipes as nights you are planning to cook. For example, if you are cooking three nights of the week, choose three recipes to make. If you are a novice cook, pick simpler recipes with few ingredients.
3. Purchase Ingredients
The next step in meal planning is getting all the supplies. This means looking over the ingredients for your recipes, taking stock of what you already have, and purchasing what and how much you need. Be sure to double or triple your ingredients if you are doubling or tripling the recipe to have for multiple meals.
4. Cook Your Meals
The last and, for some, the most challenging step is cooking the meal. To make cooking as simple as possible, always read the whole recipe first before cooking. Then, prepare and measure all ingredients before you start to cook so you are ready to add them to the dish when the recipe calls for them.
Benefits of Meal Planning
The benefits gained from meal planning quickly become clear once meal planning is incorporated into day-to-day life. These benefits include:
- Saves money - Meal planning has your weekly meals covered, therefore there's no reason to splurge on take out or at a restaurant in response to "What's for dinner?" Additionally, grocery shopping familiarizes you with in-store sales and coupons that can also save money.
- Saves time - Instead of hunting for food to eat or hitting the grocery store for the fourth time this week, meal planning has it ready for you. The only time used should be to reheat or cook the meal.
- Can improve health - Cooking at home eliminates many unhealthy ingredients used at restaurants and fast food joints such as excessive salt, frying oils, and heavy fats. The CDC suggests that choosing the recipes you cook allows you to pick healthier options if you desire.
- Can help with dieting - Meal planning can help people stick to diets by eliminating temptations found at restaurants. Portioning food is also easier through meal planning as restaurants typically over portion.
- Reduces stress - The moment when evening comes and you don't know what to have for dinner is a stressful moment. Beginning the week knowing exactly what will be eaten removes that stress.
Meal Planning Tips and Tricks
Meal planning is a great organizational tool. But it is important to do it smartly to avoid over-packing the fridge and to avoid food waste.
Tip 1: Be Strategic
Pick recipes with similar ingredients during a week such as multiple recipes that all use chicken stock and mozzarella cheese or parsley and basil. Additionally, avoid selecting recipes that have multiple unique ingredients and spices as these can run up a grocery bill and may not be used again.
Tip 2: Do Things in Bulk
Make the week's cooking as streamlined as possible by preparing ingredients in bulk. For example, if you have three recipes that all call for chopped vegetables, chop them all at one time and then store until needed to save prep time.
Tip 3: Cook All at Once
For weeks that are hectic, spending one day on the weekend cooking all of your meals saves time for you during the week. You can make the day of cooking enjoyable by cooking with others, listening to music, and taste testing your creations.
Tip 4: Buy Storage Containers
When cooking ahead, it is crucial to have plenty of storage containers to keep food for later. You can purchase single serving containers for single serve meals or larger ones for family meals. Food should stay good refrigerated for three to four days and frozen for at least 2 months.
Tip 5: Cook For Your Needs
Whether you have diabetes, are vegetarian, or are gluten-free, meal planning can fit into your lifestyle. Find recipes that follow your eating pattern at websites associated with your needs such as the American Diabetes Association, vegetarian food bloggers, or the Celiac Disease Foundation.
Meal Plan to a Better Life
When meal planning is incorporated into your life, meals and daily life becomes more organized. There is no guessing "What's for dinner?" when you follow the steps of creating a schedule, picking recipes everyone will enjoy, getting the ingredients, and making the food. Meal planning can save money, time, stress, and improve overall health if added into your daily life.