There are just so many benefits: less trips to the grocery store, lower grocery bills, less wasted food, less stress during the day about what the heck we’re going to eat for dinner, and of course … the greatest benefit of all … more home-cooked meals!
So what’s the secret to meal planning?
Here are six secrets that have made meal planning a success at our house:
1. Choose Dishes By Appliance
When you’re planning a meal, choose one dish to cook on the stove, one to cook in the oven, and one that doesn’t require any cooking at all. This way, you won’t run into “appliance bottlenecks” (e.g., waiting for one thing in the oven to finish cooking so you can add the next thing; or trying to manage three different pots on the stove at the same time).
So, you could do salmon in the oven, rice on the stove and throw together a simple salad on the counter. Everything is going at once, and no one thing needs all of my attention. Get the idea? Here’s a sample meal-plan separated by appliance if you’d like some more examples: sample-meal-plan
2. Include One Thing You Know The Kids Will Like
As you plan your meals, include at least one food that might appeal to even the pickiest eater in the house. It could be bread, rice, carrots, fruit, chicken, corn, whatever. I’m not saying plan your meals around picky eating habits, and I’m definitely not suggesting that you short-order cook. All I’m saying is that, when you plan your menus, include one thing that the kids will (probably) eat without engaging in a power struggle.
So for example, if we are having a steak dinner with roasted cauliflower and wedge salads, I’ll also serve cut up fruit and warm bread. Between all of those things, no one will eat everything, but everyone will eat something without a lot of drama. Amen to that, right?
3. Prep On Sunday
As you go through your meal plan, find 2-3 things you can do on Sunday to prepare for the week.
Some dishes I like to make on Sunday include: Easy Bolognese Sauce, Gluten-Free Egg Casserole, No-Knead Bread Dough, Easy lentil soup, Rolled grape leaves, Chicken Broth, or Easy Homemade Hummus. I also try to whip up whatever sauces I’ll need for the week, like chimichurri, lemon-dill sauce, cilantro-lime sauce, or easy basil pesto.
While it does take some time and energy to do the meal prep on Sunday, it’s a satisfying way to start the week and I’m always SO glad I did it when Monday rolls around.
4. Take Shortcuts
There’s just no reason to make everything from scratch these days. So buy a few things prepared already! Some of my favorites are a no-antibiotics/additives/preservatives rotisserie chicken, freshly made pesto, freshly made guacamole, cut up fruit, raw whole wheat pizza dough, freshly made remoulade sauce, seasoned or marinated meats or seafood, broccoli florets, grated cheese, shaved brussels sprouts, toasted and salted nuts, diced pancetta, washed baby spinach, pre-cooked bacon or sliced mushrooms.
My other favorite shortcut is a grocery shopping service, like Instacart. While this seemed indulgent at first, the $6 delivery charge plus a tip is totally worth it. I put my order in on Sunday morning and two hours later, the groceries arrive on my porch. It saves so much time and hassle, and best of all, my grocery bills have actually decreased because I’m only buying what I really need.
5. Double up and Freeze
The challenge for me with this one is finding dishes that freeze well and still taste good after defrosting. Do you have any favorites? My go-to freezer dishes are Chicken Broth, Bolognese Sauce, Lentil Soup, Rolled Grape Leaves, and Basil Pesto. Once you have a few of those picked out, the rest is simple: Just double the recipe when you cook it, and save half for another day.
6. Lower Your Standards
Does anything ever go as planned? Not in my life. Pretty much every day is some combination of crazy, surprising, frustrating, fulfilling, exhausting and exhilarating. And all of that chaos applies to meals and meal planning. So give yourself a break. If you’re too tired to cook the meal you planned, order pizza and call it a day. Because the goal of meal planning is to relieve stress, not cause it. As I often tell my son Jack, I’ve come to realize that success in life depends on your ability to adapt when things don’t go as planned. And that, most definitely, applies in the kitchen.