Five Quick Tips To Make Meal Planning A Cinch!
1. Buy a large desk top calendar from Staples
For some reason this was a game changer for me! Having a large calendar hung up in our laundry room close to the pantry listing all of our meals has been super helpful. I can check to see what meals are coming up and easily jot down what ingredients I need to pick up at the store, and what ingredients I already have I can pull out the night before or day of and keep on the counter. It's really helpful to have your meals planned at least one week ahead of time so that you can remember to thaw the meat, pick up last minute ingredients or prep any sauces you may need. Having this large calendar posted near the kitchen is just a helpful reminder and also keeps you on track with making healthy, well balanced meals as opposed to constant take out meals, or fast food, or meals that are carbohydrate heavy.
2. Take out your go to recipe binder/basket or google some new recipes you want to try!
When I am in meal planning mode for the month (or week) I like to look through my recipe basket and pull recipes I haven't used in awhile. I also enjoy trying a few new recipes to keep John on his toes, and just because I actually enjoy cooking when I have everything ahead of time. Nothing is worse than looking for a meal last minute and then having to run to the store with all the kids to pick up only 1 or 2 things that you need. I just like that feeling of not being rushed or hurried when I cook. I also keep binders of previous years that I have planned out the whole month and it helps to see what meals worked or what dishes were in season during Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall. I also love looking for new recipes in the Real Simple magazine or on The Pioneer Woman website.
3. Ask the people in your home for their 2-3 favorite meals
One way to get some dishes/meal ideas is to ask the people in your home! In my house John loves Chicken Francaise, Julia loves Shepherd's Pie, Mark enjoys spaghetti and meatballs, Micah really likes raw veggies and guacamole or salad with tortellini, Amelia loves the spinach quiche I make! I try to use those ideas at least once throughout the month and that's 5 meals right there! Everyone isn't going to be happy every night but at least there will be a few times that you cook their particular favorite meal. I also like to keep those particular meals on the rotation at the beginning of the month. At every meal I like to have a protein, a salad and a small carb, and a fruit. Sometimes I can't get Micah to eat anything but a yogurt and an apple or a banana but at least he ate something!
4. Choose one day a week to food shop!
I hate food shopping. I try to have a good attitude about it but I just don't enjoy it at all. I try to make it as painless as possible so once a week is enough for me. Monday is usually the day I go, and John does Costco on Saturday for me to get all the bulk items like paper towels, granola bars (he has a problem) diapers, wipes, toilet paper, etc. When you meal plan ahead of time food shopping is so much easier because you get everything you need for the entire week! And you save money not stopping at the store throughout the week buying unnecessary things every time you go.
5. Choose a day on the weekend to cook 2-3 meals to get the week started off right and the freezer/fridge packed!
Saturday and Sunday I try to start prepping for the next week's meals. If I know we are having spaghetti or red sauce I make a huge pot of it ahead of time and freeze it. If I know we are having grilled chicken or chicken thighs I season them ahead of time and let them marinate in a large ziplock bag. Soups and chilis freeze really nicely and can easily be prepped by chopping all the vegetables and then cooked in a crock pot. I like to cook bigger meals for Monday-Wednesday and let Thursday (Our Awana night) be left over/buffet night and Friday can be an easy meal like homemade whole wheat pizza or baked salmon and salad.