It’s 5 p.m. and you find yourself, once again, staring in the refrigerator, wondering what the heck is for dinner. Odds are, it’s at that point you reach for the phone to order a pizza. It doesn’t have to be that way! Meal planning is a process that only takes a few minutes a week and can save you money, time and calories.
By outlining what you’re going to cook for the week, you save yourself the hassle of winging it every night and you save money by eating out less. It’s also easier to plan healthy, and delicious, meals for your whole family. So how do you get started? It’s easy with these tips and tricks.
Start a master recipe list. We all have our stable of go-to recipes that we know by heart, (if you don’t, now is a good time to start compiling one). Make a list of these recipes (or ones that you want to master) and make them the base of your plan. It’s easy to add one or two new recipes each week when you know that you’ll be making easy and popular dishes the rest of the time.
Look at your plan as a puzzle to be assembled. Beef and broccoli stir-fry one of your go-tos? Why not make beef tacos with a side of broccoli later in the week? By picking recipes that use the same ingredients, if not leftovers from previous nights, you can save time and money in the grocery store.
Construct a shopping list that works for you. Maybe you buy the same things every week and need a permanent shopping list so you don’t have to write a new one every week. Maybe you need a shopping list organized by location in the store so you don’t forget anything. Maybe you need a pad on the front of your refrigerator where you construct a list as you run out of items. Figure out what works for you and stick to it. Don’t forget to take an inventory of your current pantry and refrigerator stock before adding in your recipe-specific items.
Plan for sides and desserts. Even if the sides are as simple as “frozen peas and rice” and the desserts don’t go past “fresh fruit and cream” or “frozen yogurt,” having them written down will save you the mental gymnastics of figuring out what the heck you were going to serve with that delicious baked chicken dish you were dying to try.
Post the plan in a conspicuous place. Want to lessen the chances of forgetting what you’re cooking Wednesday night? How about answering the pesky, ever present question asked by family members since time immemorial ‘What’s for dinner tonight’ without having to say a word? Posting your meal plan in an obvious and visible place in the kitchen can help keep you on track with your plan and serve as a reference for all of your family members.
To help get you started on the road to meal planning, there are a wide variety of websites, templates and smartphone apps to help out. Pepperplate is an app that tries to serve as a one-stop shop for your meal planning process and is available for free on iPhones, Android, Windows Phone/Windows RT, Nook and Kindle devices. It will let you import recipes from online, allows you to build meals based on saved recipes, generates shopping lists from your meal plans and will even set up cooking timers for when you’re ready to cook.
Another great app for meal planning purposes is FoodPlanner. This app allows you to import recipes from your favorite website or blog, automatically generates grocery lists based on your imported recipes and keeps track of what is already in your kitchen, so you don’t end up with three jars of cinnamon. A new, recently added feature is the ability to calculate nutrition information based on the recipe. The in-app calendar allows you to add recipes for breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner which you can then save and select later as a fully-formed meal plan.
Now that you’re on your way to being a professional meal planner, what are you going to fill those meal plans with? There are some great online resources for filling your meal plans with easy, healthy recipes your family will love. Pinterest started as an online pin-board where users could easily bookmark online content in an organized way. As of 2014, there had been 30 billion things pinned on the website. With an easy to use search function, you can search these billions of pins to find a recipe for just about anything. The website is a great place to find lists of freezer friendly or slow cooker friendly meals. There are also many pins dedicated to hiding vegetables in kid-friendly foods for those with picky eaters.
Another website you may not think of immediately when looking for new recipes is Buzzfeed. The website that was once king of random content is undergoing a transformation to more of a news magazine, with a healthy dose random internet content as well. The food section of the website is home to many curated lists that focus on a variety of topics such as healthy eating and seasonal ingredients, as well as some of the most decadent looking desserts you can imagine.
Finally, don’t count out perennial favorite AllRecipes.com. As the name suggests, this treasure trove has multiple recipes for any dish you can imagine, all of which come with helpful ratings and comments by users who have tried each recipe.
With a little time, a little effort, and some research, the daily struggle of what to put on the dinner table every night can be a thing of the past. Just check your meal plan.