Meal planning

Lately I’ve gotten back on track with proper weekly meal planning.  This process has been so instrumental in keeping me on track and successful that I thought I’d share a bit about it here.  I’m far from an expert in this (or any) area, but here are some of my tricks.

Starting out with meal planning can be daunting, but it certainly doesn’t have to be.  You should invest the time to find a system that will work for you and that you will be able to use for years to come.  For me this meant creating a template that I could print off and fill in meals and snacks for each day of the week.  It also meant investing some time in creating a few weeks worth of meal plans and complete ingredient lists.  Now when time is tight, I can grab one of those pre-made plans and lists, run through the pantry and fridge to check what I have on hand and go to the store.  For the pre-made plans, I included everything that we would eat in the week – 3 meals a day plus snacks – on the plan and the shopping list.  The shopping list is grouped by area of the store.  Yes, it took a bit of time to set it up.  But I’ve gotten great return on that investment when I’m able to reuse the plans over multiple weeks.

A quick and easy way to start would be to just make a list of 4-5 meals you’d like to prepare for the week.  Buy the necessary ingredients for those meals and post your list on the fridge.  When it’s time to prepare supper, pick one of the meals from the list and grab the ingredients.  Keeping that list of meals on the fridge helps reduce wasted unused food.  It also helps prevent the after work brain paralysis that I’ve experienced so often where I open the fridge, stare at full shelves and drawers, declare that there is nothing to eat, and order pizza.

A few things to keep in mind when meal planning…

  1. Consider unused portions of packages.  For example, I like to buy the bigger trays of chicken breasts because they’re only $10/kilo.  I can get 2-3 meals for myself and my husband from one tray.  I plan the meals to use the chicken close together.
  2. Try pre-cooking meals or portions of meals.  Continuing the chicken example, we may want to have chicken stir fry on Tuesday night and cold chicken salad on Wednesday.  While I’m preparing Tuesday’s stir fry, I’ll turn on the oven and bake the remaining chicken breasts to use on Wednesday.  Stuff like this is ideal for those busy multi-tasking evenings.
  3. Save all your meal plans!  I have a binder that I keep with my frequently used cookbooks.  I slip all the meal plans I create in there, even the simplest ones.  I’m building up a library of weekly plans that I can return to over and over.
  4. If you’re counting calories or points, put the values right on your meal plan.  This is especially useful if you’re going to save the plan to use in future weeks.
  5. Check the fridge and pantry for food that should be used soon.  Find meals to use those ingredients.
  6. Plan breakfasts and lunches as well as suppers.  DH and I both enjoy leftovers for lunch, so we indicate on the weekly plan when a supper will create leftovers and plan to use them for the next day’s lunch.  If there won’t be much in the way of leftovers for the week, we’ll plan on buying stuff to make sandwiches or salads for lunches instead.  Planning breakfasts and lunches cuts down on the early morning brain paralysis when you stare at a fridge full of food before work, declare that there is nothing to eat, and buy a fast food breakfast and/or lunch (or skip a meal altogether).

Happy planning!  I’ll be sharing some of my own weekly plans in the weeks to come.

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