Taking time out for meal planning can ultimately save you a ton of time and money each week. You will avoid eating out regularly, stop buying away groceries you never use and avoid the frustration of not knowing what to cook for dinner.
It may seem too good to be true but I promise you meal planning is easy. If you are new to this technique, follow these simple steps to learn how to plan your meals in an easy straightforward manner.
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Meal Planning For Beginners
A Step-By-Step Approach
If you are a beginner, meal planning may seem overwhelming. But, all you need to do is break it down into baby steps and you’ll be fine.
Follow the steps below to get started:
- Use this free meal planning printable to map out what you will eat each week. It also has space for the groceries required.
- Examine your weekly schedule and take note of your busiest days. Save crock pot and freezer meals for these days to make life a bit easier.
- Select quick and easy recipes. You can find a bunch of 15-minute meal ideas here.
- As you list the order in which you will cook meals. Be sure to place those that use fresh ingredients at the beginning of the week to avoid groceries going bad.
- List the recipe source. I can’t tell you how many times I found a recipe on Pinterest and didn’t take note of the source. Then, when I wanted to try the recipe, I couldn’t find it on my board. Learn from my mistakes. You can even create a secret board on Pinterest where you store the recipes you will use in the upcoming week. After you have completed them, remove them from the board and start fresh the following week.
- Write down the groceries you need to cook the meals you have planned. Make sure to check your pantry first so you don’t buy duplicates of anything you already have. Check quantities required so you know you have or purchase enough. There’s nothing more frustrating than cooking a meal, only to run out of an ingredient. Also, be sure to check expiration dates of ingredients you have at home. You don’t want to be cooking with food past its due date. When it’s time to purchase groceries, take your shopping list with you so you don’t forget anything.
Types of Meals Great For Meal Planning
The slow cooker is one of the greatest kitchen tools ever when you live a busy life but still want to enjoy wholesome home-cooked meals. They cook ingredients at low temperatures throughout the day. The result is tender and flavourful food that required very little preparation.
Pare these dishes with a simple side or enjoy them alone. Either way you will have a satisfying meal at the end of a long day.
You can take time out to prepare meals or ingredients and then freeze them but my favourite way to do this kind of cooking is to make extra of a dish I am cooking. It takes pretty the same time to cook double or even triple of a meal as it does to make one.
This option is perfect for casseroles. Place the extra one(s) in a foil baking pan so you don’t tie up all your dishes in the freezer. These baking pans are easy to stack and they make cleaning up easy.
Freezer To Slow Cooker Meals
This method is sometimes referred to as Dump cooking, which is not the most appealing name. Freezer to slow cooker meals are great for those who have little time for prep. Simply place the ingredients in a Ziploc bag and freeze them. I lay them flat in the freezer until the contents have completely frozen and then you can stand them upright in a basket for easy storage. Make sure you label the Ziploc bag with the name of the recipe and the use-by date.
Then, the night before you are ready to cook the meals, defrost the ingredients in your refrigerator. Dump the food into the slow cooker the next morning and, hey presto! A lovely meal is served!
15-30 Minute Recipes
When you’re short on time, quick meals that take no longer than 30 minutes to cook are essential. Convenient, pre-packaged foods like frozen pizzas and salads are great for this.
There are also meals that you can cook in no time at all. I love pasta dishes for this reason. Simply cook the pasta according to the directions, add pre-cooked chicken (this can be leftover from earlier in the week) and a jar of sauce. Dinner will be on the table, steaming and ready-to-eat quickly.
Eating fast food is not a bad thing as long as you plan and budget for it. The occasional meal out can save your sanity on the busiest days.
Be sure not to overdo eating out as it is the most costly option and it can be hard to find healthy choices.
Meal Planning Tips
Shop at home First
If you have a ton of meat or other ingredients at home that you bought on sale or in bulk, include those in your meal plan before you go buy new foods. This ensures that you avoid wastage and saves you time and money.
Create A Routine
Everything seems challenging when you’re new to it. When you first start meal planning, set aside time on your calendar every week to do it. After a while, it will come naturally and you won’t think twice about sitting down to plan your meals.
Keep It Simple
If you are used to eating out regularly every week, include simple meals that require very little prep time and ingredients. Don’t attempt to cook huge complicated meals because you will just be setting yourself up for failure. Keeping it simple is key until meal planning and cooking become a habit, especially if you’re not fond of cooking like I am.
Store Go-To Ingredients
Keep ingredients at home that require no prep at all. These will come in handy on those days when you forgot to defrost your meat or didn’t go grocery shopping. Life happens and sometimes, unexpected things get in the way of your plans. Don’t let this derail your progress.
Items like bread, nut butters, frozen convenience meals and canned soups are ideal options to store in your pantry. Then, you won’t be tempted to buy food.
Create A List of Recipes
Pinterest is a great way to store online recipes. If you do create a secret board for recipes in your weekly meal plan like I mentioned above, transfer the ones you attempted and liked onto a Permanent Recipe Board. Delete any that weren’t crowd-pleasers.
Print recipes or copy them and store in a binder. Again, only keep ones that you absolutely love.
Having a list of tried and true recipes is an awesome source of inspiration when it comes time to planning meals. You’ll have a list of favourites that you can pick from. Swapping out meals regularly will keep you and your family from getting bored. You will look forward to home-cooked meals because you actually enjoy them.
So, now you have the step-by-step guide to meal planning. It doesn’t seem that bad, right? You can totally do this!
Meal planning is a lifesaver. The more you do it, the more comfortable you will become with the whole process until it’s like second nature to you. After you’ve done it for a while, you will see for yourself just how much time and money it saves you. Then, you definitely won’t want to stop!