How to Meal Plan Efficiently and Effectively
Let’s start with the most important question – “Why should you meal plan?” In a nut shell, by planning meals ahead of time you will eat better, save money, waste less food, and reduce the stress associated with mealtime. Wow! Meal planning sounds so awesome! So, now let’s discuss, “How should you meal plan?”
First and foremost, meal planning should not be confused with recreational reading. Reading food blogs or food magazines for fun is leisurely, meant for free time. Meal planning is what I like to call “Life Admin”, so the more efficient the better. Here are some tips to meal plan efficiently and effectively:
1. CHOOSE RELIABLE SOURCES
When it’s time to shop for groceries, I’m sure you go to the same store(s) over and over again. You learn the store, and how to get in and out as efficiently as possible. The same should be true for finding recipes, ESPECIALLY if you do this on-line. Pick a few favorite food blogs and visit them over and over again. You’ll learn how to navigate the content, recognize new stuff more immediately and get familiar with the authors recipe style.
2. BE DECISIVE
Don’t hem and haw. You are not planning the last supper! Figure out how many meals you need for the upcoming week and then be decisive! If the dish looks good, the ingredients are familiar and the recipe steps seem easy for your skill level, try it! Remember, some meals may be a bust, but that’s a worthwhile risk. Over time, the more dishes you try the more wins you’ll have, and the bigger your rotation of reliable recipes will grow.
3. SAVE TO THE DATE
Whether you are a techie planner who prefers phone apps and on-line tools, or a non-techie planner who prints on paper and files away hard copies, create an organizational system that works for you. Most importantly, save recipes according to the week or day you intend to make them so you can easily retrieve the recipe when it comes time to cook.
A well-organized system can also help you get ahead of the game. While browsing, save additional good recipes under a future date and now that week’s planning is already underway!
4. SHOP SMART
Shopping can be a large chunk of the meal planning effort, especially for working folks who can’t shop until the weekends. Going to the store on a Saturday seems to take twice as long. Surely there are better ways to use your time. Consider using a delivery system instead. Here in Michigan we now have local stores offering home delivery or curb-side pick-up. If you like to shop the old-fashioned way, go early before stores get too crowded. And stick to your list! Nothing increases food waste like buying ingredients you have no plan for!
5. BATCH COOKING
Cook once to feed twice. Or, more than twice! Soup in large batches, whole grains that can be tossed with various ingredients, proteins that can be served one way then shredded into taco shells or casseroles for another, and anything that can be frozen for future use are worth cooking in batches. Anytime you cook something, ask yourself if it would repurpose well. If so, make extra.
Grain bowls are all the rage, find out why they are so handy at mealtime with my Southwestern Quinoa-Rice Bowl recipe.
6. STOCK UP
Having a well-stocked pantry is key to making meals quickly. For one, you save time shopping when you don’t need to buy every last ingredient. Secondly, you save money shopping when you buy things on sale or with coupons or in bulk, and not just little by little as you need them.
For pantry supplies, think beyond the cupboard. Ingredients that last a long time in the fridge or freezer also count. Every household eats differently, so only you know for sure what would make the most reliable pantry items. Make a list and stock up, and remember, your pantry is an investment in eating well.
So how does this efficiency play out in real life? Here’s a sample schedule:
THURSDAY OR FRIDAY – PLAN
Start thinking about next week before it’s next week, and consider spreading the planning process out so it’s not all crammed into one tedious session. Look ahead to figure out how many meals will you eat at home and how much time you have to make those meals. Then, search for recipes and write your list.
Remember #2 – Be decisive! Keep your planning to one hour or less.
SATURDAY MORNING – SHOP
Head to the store early, or remember #4 and order for delivery. Depending on the service, you could get groceries later that day or first thing Sunday morning.
SUNDAY – PREP & COOK
Get a jump by prepping ahead for the busy week. Clean or dice veggies, defrost proteins, boil grains, make a batch of soup, or get some items ready to toss in the crockpot before work in the morning. Carve out one hour, or do extra prep while you make Sunday Supper, and you’ll save yourself time later in the week.
I’m a visual planner, hence to-do lists and check lists. Which is why I created the Weekly Meal Planning Tool you see above. This simple document is a a great way to map out your week and then refer back to it as a reminder of the original plan. We will send you this tool to download, along with our Pantry Checklist, when you subscribe to our email list! Just enter your email below:
Hopefully this planning flow can help you more efficiently prioritize meal planning. If you have any questions or extra tips that work for your household, include them in the comments below!