Meal planning can be tricky, but it's worth the effort. When you come in from work tired and hungry, the last thing you feel like doing is sorting through the refrigerator and cabinets trying to find something to eat. Meal planning removes much of this time-consuming process. As a result, many people find they spend less on food, waste less, and often experience improved health. If you know you have something waiting for you at home, you are less likely to succumb to the temptation of fast food or snacking through the evening.
It can be tempting to dive right into costs, grocery lists, and recipe sites, but there's an important step before these processes. Take out a piece of paper and make a list of your favorite meals. Don't get caught up in the cost or prep methods yet, just write down what you like. Think of what you would like to have when you come home from work, and what you wouldn't mind taking to the office for lunch. Your meal plans can become a way to shift to different eating habits, but it's best to start with what you know.
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Once you have plenty of ideas, start to narrow down your choices. For example, you probably don't want chicken every night; instead, consider changing up the base ingredient day to day, though it is also good to take into account leftover spoilable groceries.
Now think about how easy or hard the prep will be. When making several meals in one day, you might want to minimize the meals that require lots of chopping, sauteing, and other labor-intensive prep methods.
After deciding on your meals for the week, make your grocery list. If you are used to shopping multiple times a week, having one big shop can feel a bit overwhelming, but you will find it saves you a great deal of time. Aim for early morning or late evening trips when the store isn't as crowded.
Once you prepare your meals, you need somewhere to store them. While you can keep them in the refrigerator in one container, dipping out a portion daily, having multiple, smaller containers makes more sense. That way you can do all the prep work at once, and only need to grab a container for each meal.
There is no getting around it, preparing meals for the week all in one day will take some time. Make it more enjoyable by streaming your favorite show, binge-watching a new favorite, or catching up on a podcast. Inviting a friend over to make meals for both of you is a great way to get in a good chat, share the work, and mix up your menu.
If there is a recipe you have been eager to try, this is the time to do so. You aren't pressed for time, and no one is waiting to eat. However, don't get so caught up in trying new recipes that you set aside meals you can make quickly and easily and that are inexpensive. A combination allows you to enjoy both the exploration and potential cost-saving benefits of meal planning.
You don't have to make seven different recipes for your meal prep. Don't worry about eating the same thing a few nights a week. This allows you to use up an entire dish without it going bad and saves you prep time. Some foods, such as seasoned taco meat and chili, can be eaten a variety of ways, but even eating the same thing two or three nights a week is fine as long as you are making foods you enjoy.
If you are feeling adventurous, make a few meals to throw in the freezer. This allows you to have something for dinner on the weeks where your weekends are too busy for meal prep. Freezer meals aren't just for the sick or new moms, having some frozen lasagna or another casserole in the freezer can be life-saving during busy periods. Adding a bagged salad creates a well-rounded meal.
Sometimes, even with the best planning, you will not feel like dealing with dinner. When this happens, give yourself permission to take the night off. By meal planning, you have reduced the amount of take-out and fast food in your diet, so cut yourself some slack and grab a pizza.
The meal isn't over until the kitchen is clean. Using good quality glass containers for food storage makes clean-up easier, as does rinsing them as soon as you serve the meal. By the time you are finished eating, the storage dishes should be easy to clean. On the other hand, plastic storage containers stain easily and never really look clean after a few uses.