When I still lived at home, I would say I visited our local supermarket twice, maybe three times a month, to pick up little things here and there. But after I got married, I quickly realised our newly minted, two-person household required a far more regular kind of shopping schedule. Before my very first trip to the store, I found a Post-it, and hastily scribbled down two meals I imagined us having that week. In the end, predictably, I had to run down to the store to pick up some more food, because we ran out of it in about two days.
Thankfully, since then, my meal planning system has grown out of its awkward, sticky-noted beginnings. These days, I sit down at our dining room table at the end of each month, surround myself with my cookbooks and recipe binders, and write out an entire meal plan for the upcoming month in one go. Planning out your meals ahead of time not only saves you from having to come up with an answer on the spot to that all too common “What’s for dinner?” question, but it’s also helpful for your budget and your personal efficiency.
I remember all too well how hard it was to figure it all out on my own, so today, I’m sharing five tips to make your meal planning better, simpler and easier.
01 / Take stock of what you have, and then choose your recipes. Before making any sort of plan, I would always recommend checking your cupboards and your fridge to see what you already have at hand. This prevents you from buying things you don’t really need.
Additionally, if there are any things that are expiring soon, now would be the time to include them in a recipe. I’ve found that when I write those ingredients down at the top of my list, I don’t forget to include them when I’m choosing the recipes for my meal plan.
02 / Factor in your schedule. When meal planning, it’s important to factor in how much time you actually want, and have, to spend in the kitchen. If you know you have a busy day ahead, you’ll make it easier on yourself when you put aside the recipe that requires 18 ingredients, and instead choose one that allows you to make everything in one pan (like this tomato and basil one pot pasta).
03 / Schedule days for leftovers. One thing I learned quite quickly when I first started meal planning is to remember to actively schedule days where you finish whatever food is left over. Not only does it save you from having to cook seven days a week, but it also ensures no food goes to waste.
Alternatively, if you don’t fancy having that dish for dinner again that week, you can always put the leftovers in a container in the fridge, and take them to work to have as your lunch the next day. Or, if the recipe allows for it, you can freeze your leftovers, so you can have a meal at the ready for another day.
04 / Write your grocery list ahead of time. After all that careful planning, it would be annoying if you forgot to purchase an ingredient and had to go back to the grocery store to get it, so I would recommend writing your grocery list ahead of time. When I list all of the ingredients I need for each recipe, go into my cupboards and my fridge to see what we already have on hand, and cross off those items we do have, I never forget, or over-purchase, anything.
05 / Prepare what you can in advance. With life seemingly getting so much busier with each passing day, I’ve found it to be very helpful to take some time and prepare whatever food you can in advance. If you can, take the meat out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge, wash and peel the carrots, cut up all the onions, and put everything into either reusable plastic bags or glass containers, so you can save yourself some time on those busy weeknights.
So those were my five tips to make your meal planning better, simpler and easier. What are your top tips for meal planning?