Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tips For Meal Planning

15 Tips for Meal Planning

    Getting Inspired

    Spend time each week looking for recipes. This may feel like an indulgence, but just let yourself do it. Browse blogs and websites for recipes that look delicious. Hang out on Pinterest. Pile up some cookbooks and reach fo the sticky notes. Get inspired!

    Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE. Do whatever works for you. Don't get caught up in a system, just use whatever works best and most easily. Personally, I like Pinterest because it's easy to visually browse what I've saved

    Ask your family, and roommates what they like to eat. This might sound obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in our weeks and forget to ask our households what they would like to eat. I get extra inspired, too, when I feel like I'm cooking a meal as a gift — trying to please and delight the palate of someone I love.

    Check the weather. Right now in Texas, the weather is changing all the time! Look at the weather forecast, and try to predict if you're going to be in the mood for soup (or grilled shrimp salad!) on Friday.

    Keep a meal journal. One of my best inspirations is my own record of things I've cooked in the past. Take a look at what you were cooking a year ago, two years ago. It's a good way to remember things you used to cook, and still love. It happens you cook something your family loves...one time because you forget what it was. Record it! I've made a family binder of favorite recipes I just add new ones to.

    Getting Organized

    Start a calendar. Now that you're getting inspired in what to eat, start a calendar of what you'd like to cook over the next few days or few weeks. It can be as organized as a Google Calendar, with notes on each day for that day's menu. Or you can just jot notes to yourself in the corner of your laptop screen. The important thing is to write it down.

    Go with theme nights (soup night, pasta night, taco night, pasta, beans) Some find it really helpful to have a theme night each week. Monday is pasta, Tuesday is fish, Wednesday is tacos. This doesn't work for everyone, but it may be especially helpful for those of us with kids. See if they want to get involved with planning their favorite tacos one week, or suggesting soups for the next month. Keeping the focus narrow will help you and your household make quick recipe decisions.

    Choose a shopping day and make a shopping list. Those who have success in meal planning shopped very purposefully. They looked at their recipes and made a shopping list. Some of the meal planning and recipe-saving services let you do this easily, extracting ingredients from the recipes you have saved.

    Check what's on sale. Some folks really like to organize their meals around sales. Is organic chicken a dollar off this week? Or canned chickpeas? Check out your grocery store circular and adjust your meal plan or shopping list a bit.

    Plan for leftovers. Most of us have at least some tolerance for leftovers. I regularly cook one or two big healthy casseroles at the beginning of the week and eat off them all week long for lunch. Some people can only eat leftovers for a single night. Either way, try to make your cooking always do double duty. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don't want it right away, freeze it.

    Getting It Done

    Prep food as soon as you get back from the store. Wash and dry lettuce. Chop onions. Roast vegetables. Brown sausage for pizza. Shred zucchini for quick stir-fries. Stack up glass containers of prepped ingredients in the refrigerator and bask in your own awesome preparedness. If you have to pack a lunch for work I highly recommend preparing those meals in advance so they are ready to go! A chicken breast & a side all neatly packed in a special to-go box. Pop them in the fridge and you are set! You may even be able to do this with dinners, especially if you are following a special meal plan for a certain amount of time. It's also very smart to prepare ready to go snacks in advance. This can save your healthy eating regimen. We all need snacks, have them ready to go! 

    Cook components of your meals. Going beyond prep, cook components of the meals. For instance, start a batch of tomato sauce while you wash greens and prep squash. The sauce can go on pizza one night, and in lasagna the next. Or roast a chicken right then that you can eat that night and use for sandwiches and pasta the rest of the week.

    Be strategic about freezing. The freezer is your friend. Actually, it's the friend of future you. Make a double batch of that sauce mentioned above and freeze half for later. Make a double batch of soup, stew, chicken cacciatore, cooked beans — throw it in the freezer. Let a month go by, and those leftovers will look fresh and tasty!

    Don't overstuff the refrigerator. It's easy to get overwhelmed when your fridge is over-full. Also, things get hidden in the back, lost behind the mustard. Don't let things go bad. Keep your fridge airy and light, with a sensible, realistic amount of food in it. Keep a list nearby of everything in the fridge, especially leftovers, as a visual reminder of what remains to be eaten.

    Keep a well-stocked pantry. Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don't run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Keep a lemon and fresh herbs in the fridge at all times.
All right! What did we miss? What keeps you motivated, inspired, and on track with cooking for yourself during the week? Leave us a comment below! 


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