Did you know you only have a set amount of decision making power a day? It’s true!!
Some of the most productive people do a lot of advance planning for mundane things (what to eat, what to wear) so that they reserve their “think power” for more complex and creative tasks. (For more on that, see productivity guru David Allen!)
Meal planning helps you remove the guesswork at the end of a long day AND helps you eat at home more often. With a little advance planning, you can save your family time and money, and experience more enjoyable meals at home.
Need some inspiration? Here goes!
#1 Block Time to Plan Meals & Shop
Your day off is the ideal day to do your meal planning and shopping. But if your day off is Saturday, that means it often conflicts with other family or recreational activities.
Figure out a time (early morning perhaps?) that you can set aside each week to plan meals, create shopping lists, and shop. If you can do the majority of shopping for the week on this day and time, you’ll avoid extra trips to the store during the busy work week.
#2 Be Intentional when Trying New Recipes
I’m obsessed with searching and pinning recipes on Pinterest. But I’ve found that if I attempt to try multiple new recipes in one busy week, it can become overwhelming (and often an epic fail :)). It takes time and “think work” to test out these new creations.
Mix in family favorites with one or two new recipes a week. If the new recipe turns out to be a new fan favorite, build that into your meal rotation.
#3 Have Theme Nights
As discussed above, taking the “think work” out of the process saves you time and energy. Make use of theme nights in your meal planning:
- Taco Tuesday
- Pizza Friday
- Pasta Night
- Chili Night
- Steak Night
Every Friday night is “Steak Night” at my hanai parents' house. I know that if I go over there on a Friday, I’m going to enjoy medium-rare steak cooked to perfection by my hanai dad along with some great company. It’s something we all look forward to.
It can be helpful to have the “Theme Night” coincide with a specific day...again removing the guesswork from the planning process and creating habits for the family :)!
#4 Plan Using Ingredients that Can Be Served Twice
This may sound like “leftovers” but that’s not exactly what I mean :)
For example, you may buy some meat at Costco that is too large in quantity to use all at once. Build into your meal plan recipes that call for the same item but are prepared in different ways. For example, buy a large quantity of ground beef and one night may be meatballs and the next, burgers.
Or if you plan to buy a rotisserie chicken (or roast the bird yourself), find a recipe that calls for the breasts one night and the thighs the next.
#5 Use the Slow Cooker
Full disclosure: I have never mastered the slow cooker. The meat dishes I’ve tried are not winning any cooking contests...
BUT...I LOVE the concept. To do a few minutes of prep in the morning and come home to a prepared meal is GENIUS!
Find a friend who’s a slow cooker whiz or try your hand at some recipes that look interesting. If you master it, please share your tips with me! :)
#6 Use Your Freezer
Make a double portion of meals that freeze well and freeze half for a future meal. I love doing this with Bolognese sauce or pork fried rice.
Also, freeze excess prep leftovers. For example, does your recipe only call for 1/2 a red pepper and you don’t know what to do with the rest? Chop it up and freeze it. Having frozen vegetables or meats on hand makes a future meal much easier to put together.
#7 Focus on “Easy” During the Week...Especially at the End of the Week!
After the weekend, you tend to have a little more spring in your step as you’ve usually had a little time to relax. We often start off the work week with a little more pep than when we finish it.
If you want to try new recipes, consider building them into the first part of the week when you have more energy.
You may also want to try doing a major cook-a-thon on Saturday or Sunday and freezing dinners for later in the week.
#8 Use Apps to Create Shared Shopping Lists and Save Recipes
- If you have an iphone, you can keep shopping lists on your Notes app and even share it with your spouse or other family members so all can update as needed.
- “Listables” is another free app that you can use to create and share shopping lists.
- Big Oven
- Food Network in the Kitchen
I actually use Pinterest almost exclusively as I like the image focus and being able to save different types of recipes on different boards.
#9 Create and Use “Staples” Lists
There are certain items that you and your family will use each and every week. Always having them on hand makes food prep much easier. Use your preferred list app to create a “staples” list so that every time you go to the store, you can restock as needed on items that are low.
When your pantry is stocked with your staples, weekly shopping is quicker and focuses on the fresh stuff (meats/fish, produce, dairy).
P.S. We focused more on "dinner" meal planning in this post. Do you have tips for breakfast and lunch meal planning? Please share them in the comments!