No time for meal planning? Then that’s exactly why you do need a plan—a strategic approach to the week’s dinners will, in the end, save you oodles of time.
- You can often cook once, and eat twice or even three times.
- You’ll need fewer runs to the grocery store, shaving hours off your week, and likely saving money as well because there are fewer opportunities to impulse buy.
- You’ll eat healthier because you’re not just grabbing what’s in the fridge or beelining to a fast-food chain for a meal to-go.
- You’ll reduce food waste—and stress—big time.
- With an organized approach, it’s easier to budget, economize and buy in bulk or on sale, ultimately saving you dollars—again.
Try these tips from the pros to get your meal planning down to a fairly exact science. Soon you’ll be patting yourself on the back for your seamless new modus operandi!
Write it all down.
Sunday evening is a good time to sit down, preferably with a nice glass of wine, and choose the week’s meals. It shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes. Jot down the main event, starch and vegetable for each night’s dinner on a paper calendar, notepaper or in your e-calendar, whichever you prefer.
If you’ve got a harried week ahead, select meals you know how to make, and that are simple and not fussy. If you’ll be enjoying an easygoing week, on the other hand, toss in a few intriguing new recipes you’d like to test out. And, add helpful notes or reminders. For example, if you’re having Easy Steak and Creamer Potato Kabobs on Friday, make yourself a reminder on Wednesday to move the ribeyes from the freezer to fridge to defrost.
Make a shopping list.
As you’re recording each dinner menu, create a corresponding shopping list. Write down the ingredients you’ll need for each, checking the pantry, freezer and refrigerator to see what’s on hand. (Maintaining a well-stocked pantry will help streamline things.)
Check the calendar.
Are you working late Tuesday, or do you have concert tickets? Are you on soccer pick-up duty Thursday or have a school meeting to attend? Peruse the calendar and adjust your meals accordingly. Grilled cheese with a side salad, hearty soup made ahead or an entrée such as Quick BBQ Potato Skillet are good choices for nights when you’ll realistically have little if no time for meal prep.
Link the meals, if you can.
Think about parlaying one dinner into the next. For instance, if Monday is herb-crusted pork tenderloin, roast two tenderloins, then save the second for Wednesday night—perhaps an Asian-fusion-style slider with Hoisin-tossed slaw over thin-sliced pork. If Tuesday is grilled salmon with Spiced Roasted Potatoes and Cranberries, make a double batch, then mash up the leftover potatoes for Thursday’s dinner and serve with your protein of choice (try Lebanese Roasted Chicken).
Cook once, eat two or three times.
Similarly, make recipes designed to yield two meals or more. Here are our favorites.
Go whole foods.
Remember “real” versus processed wins every time. For example, Little Potatoes are more nutritious, lower calorie and cheaper than additive-heavy French fries. Broccoli and carrots are healthier than a frozen veggie casserole side. So incorporate as many “whole” ingredients into your menus as you can.
Shop the freezer.
It’s a good idea to delve into the freezer once or twice a month to see what the heck is actually in there (again, saving cash). You might be pleasantly surprised, and you can create a menu revolving around one of your discoveries. (Lobster tail in the deep freeze? Make Summerside Lobster & Fingerling Potato Salad.) Some pros are fans of the weekly “clean out the fridge” dinner concept—a reasonable idea.
Make one-dish or one-pot dinners.
We love these. Not only do they create fewer dirty dishes, they’re generally quick and straightforward, melding flavors in an old-fashioned, satisfying, comfort-food kinda way. One-Pan Lemon Chicken with Roasted Potatoes or General Tso’s Little Potatoes and Chicken, for example, make a zesty, well-rounded meal.
It’s easy to chop ingredients, toss them into the Crock Pot, set it on low and forget it for the day. When you arrive home after a long day at the office, your food—and tantalizing aromas—are waiting for you in the kitchen. Dinner is served!
Finally, don’t forget to relax and have fun. As one expert points out, there’s no right or wrong way to go about meal planning. Just do what works for you—that way, you’ll stick with it in the long run.
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