Most individuals who do the grocery shopping and cooking, whether just for themselves or for their families, tend to do some meal planning. This often stays informal and does not extend beyond briefly thinking about what to eat that week while they are grocery shopping or while making a simple grocery list before they head to the store. Those with busy lives, who want to try new meals, who may be on a budget, or who simply enjoy planning, often find themselves unhappy with an informal meal planning approach such as this.
Keep A Simple Recipe Saving System
Meal planning can seem overwhelming to those who have not tried it before, but it doesn't have to be! When you find recipes you want to repeat or are going to try for the first time, don’t make your system overly complicated. You can print them out and insert pages into a binder, use bookmarks on your internet browser, or even just write them in a notebook. In any case, keeping the system of saving simple recipes is key. Otherwise, more of your time will end up going towards collecting recipes and recording them rather than meal planning itself. If the cycle of collecting and recording seems endless, the chances that meal planning appearing overwhelming will increase.
Ask Family For Favorites
If you are the one who cooks most of the time and have a hungry family to feed, try generating ideas by asking them what they like to eat. Of course, you won’t want to repeat the same meals all the time, but you can create variations on favorites to add interest or use favorite meals to spark entirely new ideas. For instance, if someone in your family loves pizza, try varying the toppings each time you cook it! You can apply the same strategy to spaghetti. Besides, did you know stir-fry with noodles is a great alternative to a traditional Italian spaghetti or pasta dish? Compile a list of your family’s favorites and store them for the future. If nothing else, they make for a good backup.
Try Out Theme Nights
Chances are you have heard of Taco Tuesday at popular restaurants at some point. Why not apply this thinking to your meal plan? You can stick with Taco Tuesday, of course, but you may also open up other possibilities by choosing broader themes such as Mexican Monday (e.g., tacos, burritos, empanadas, and tamales). Other popular choices for theme nights include Wing Night, Thai Food Thursday, Pizza Night, Breakfast For Dinner, and Meatless Monday. You can also develop themes around specific ingredients you want to us, such as chicken, beef, and pork. Some individuals choose to have the same theme nights each week, but those looking for even more variety may wish to create a monthly schedule for theme nights and minimize the number of times they repeat a particular theme.
Plan For Nights Off Cooking
Meal planning does not mean you need to cook every day of the week. Everyone needs a night off every once in awhile, after all! Incorporate nights off into your plan. If you have a partner, ask them to cook meals every so often and work out a frequency that works for both parties. You can also choose to go out to eat one evening, order delivery, or get take out. This relieves some of the pressure of preparing and cooking meals. The only decision you need to make here is what kind of food you want to eat. After that, it’s just about placing the order!
Check Grocery Store Flyers
If you want to stay on a budget when it comes to meal planning, or are genuinely stuck for ideas, checking out flyers from the grocery stores in your city is perhaps the best option for you. You may be able to get them in the mail, but most grocery stores also make their flyers available online. In any case, read through the flyers to see what products are on sale that week. Is ground beef on sale? Dive into your recipes to see what meals you can make with this. Good standbys for ground beef include meatloaf, pasta sauce, meatballs, and tacos. Is chicken on sale? Work dishes like chicken wings, chicken fried rice, baked chicken breast, and chicken noodle soup into your meal plan.
Create A Calendar Or Schedule
Even if you take all of the previous tips into account, the backbone of any good meal plan with variety is to have an actual calendar, digital or on paper, to show the meals planned for particular days. Without a calendar or another type of schedule that indicates what meals you have planned, you may find you are liable to forget the meals, meaning you might not do the right meal preparation such as chopping vegetables or defrosting meat.
While sticking to the calendar is ideal, you should feel free to switch up your schedule if circumstances dictate it. A prime example of this is craving the pizza you had planned for Friday on another day, such as Wednesday. There is no reason why you should not simply switch what you had planned for Wednesday with the pizza on Friday, so long as you are prepared to put in any extra effort needed.
Pick One Day For Grocery Shopping
When it comes to meal planning, especially when you are trying to stay on a budget, one of the best things you can do is pick one day each week for grocery shopping and only go then, rather than visiting the grocery store each day. Plan your meal schedule for the week and write the list before visiting the grocery store on your scheduled day. Ideally, you should make your list and meal plan the day before and go the next morning, but you may also choose to create your meal plan and grocery list immediately before grocery shopping. Pick a strategy that works for your needs! Your meal plan and budget will thank you for this in the long run. In both cases, picking one day for grocery shopping helps ensure you get what you need and only what you need, thus saving money, and also ensuring you are less likely to forget key ingredients for your planned meals.
Make Use Of The Freezer
Meal planning can be much simpler and cost-effective if an individual makes use of their freezer, especially if they are only cooking for themselves. Using the freezer means you can buy meat in bulk when it's on sale, portion it out, and freeze it. You can also freeze leftovers of most dishes (e.g., pasta, spaghetti, even soup) to defrost on busier days. Furthermore, you can prep vegetables and other ingredients for a meal well in advance and freeze them, so they do not go bad before you have to cook them.
Carve Out Prep Time
Meal planning does seem overwhelming, especially if you are one of the many individuals who leads a busy life. But the good news is you can cook nutritious and delicious meals every night, even if you are busy! The way to do this is as simple as carving out a chunk of time for meal prep. The most common day for this is Sunday, where most individuals have some downtime. Use this time to chop vegetables, slice chicken, and prepare other necessary components. You can store what you prep in the fridge if you will be using it quite soon or in the freezer if you don’t need it for a few days. Then when the time comes to cook the meal, all you need to do is throw the ingredients together in a pan, into the oven, in a slow cooker or however, you need to cook them and get the meal ready!