3 Tips for Meal Planning
Cooking during the week can be the worst. Even as an avid cook, I know that if I don’t plan my meals ahead of time, I’m bound to end up with something less than ideal for dinner. We spend long days at work and when we get home, there is little energy leftover for preparing delicious and healthy meals. When we are tired or overwhelmed, our instincts often lead us to order take-out or make daily trips to the grocery store on the way home. However, with a little bit of advanced preparation on the weekend (when you’re not exhausted!), you can be ready to create healthy meals all week long.
1. Take stock of what you have already
First and foremost, what’s floating around in your refrigerator waiting to be used? Do you have vegetables from last week’s trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store that are still waiting to be used? What kinds of grains or proteins do you currently have in your cupboard? Start a list of what you already have and look for recipes that contain those ingredients so they don’t go to waste.
If you have a whole bunch of parsley hanging out in your crisper, you could use it in a salad or in smoothies. If your fridge is bursting with mushrooms, maybe it’s time for mushroom tacos or a soup. Planning around what you already have means you won’t have to trash (or compost) those food items later in the week when they go bad.
2. Plan your meals ahead of time
Planning ahead saves both time and money - and who doesn’t love saving money? Take time on the weekend to write down your meal plan for the week and create a list of what you need to buy at the store or farmer’s market. This will save you from wandering into the store and dropping $100, then coming home wondering how you are supposed to compose a week’s worth of meals out of the items that you bought.
When planning my dinners, I almost always plan to make enough so that I can have the leftovers for lunch the following day. Tacos for dinner on Tuesday means taco salads for lunch on Wednesday. Pasta with red sauce and veggies on Monday could turn into a pasta salad on Tuesday (if you don’t mix all the sauce into the pasta when it’s cooked!) with the addition of some fresh veggies and a little olive oil & lemon dressing. If you make a big pot of soup, voila - you’ve made a few days’ worth of lunches or dinners right there!
3. Prep produce and grains ahead of time
When you get home from the store, take an hour and do some veggie and grain prep. Yes, it takes a bit of of your weekend time, but it will set you up for successful meals all week long. For example, if you meals include rice, you can cook it a day or two ahead of time to save the hour(s) of cooking time during the week.
Cut your veggies to pack for grab-and-go snacks and dice up any that you need for meals. Carrots and celery can be kept in a glass container with a little water in the bottom to retain freshness and moisture. Cut and wash all of your greens ahead of time and store them in containers so they are ready to grab and use when you need them.
When you first start meal planning and preparing for the week it can be a bit overwhelming. Not to worry - with a little practice, you’ll get better at it and it will take less time as you get used to the ritual. The benefits of easy, healthy weeknight meals are completely worth your time and effort!