How often do you end up eating something for dinner that isn’t healthy, or that doesn’t even taste good, just because it’s the fastest, easiest option? Or maybe you feel guilty because you are so rushed at the end of a busy day, that you can’t prepare the balanced and delicious meals your family deserves. When you don’t plan ahead, you end up making poor decisions about what to eat for you and your family, but turning that around can be easier than you think. There’s a bonus for readers at the end of this article! Keep reading.
If you spend a little time at the beginning of each month to plan a calendar of meals, you’ll save a lot of time, money, and probably a lot of wasted calories, too. Here are a few tips to get your menu sorted out for better health and time management:
There’s no right or wrong way to do it. As with any change in habit you’re trying to create, you have to find the method that works best for you, which means the method you can stick to. Most people start by perusing cookbooks, magazines or the Internet for appealing recipes. Check out Pinterest for pre-curated collections of recipes in any category from healthy to indulgent. Make sure that you’re choosing items that are within, or not too far out of, your cooking comfort zone.
When you sit down with the recipes you selected, it’s a good idea to have a calendar handy so you can lay out your menu according to your real-life schedule. You can find several meal planning tools online, but I like this simple PDF on my friend Erin’s blog unclutterer.com. It has room to list all your meals, as well as a section to the side where you can create your shopping lists.
Start each month by going through the calendar and crossing off dates where you know you’ll be dining out. Then, with an eye toward simplifying your weekly shopping, organize your collection of recipes by protein. This will save you from overbuying at the grocery, and bringing home more food than you could eat in a week. This is important because if you overstuff your fridge, you aren’t able to see what you have and you’re likely to have to toss much of it out when it goes bad. Stick to buying a reasonable amount of groceries – enough for a week or less – to save money and reduce waste.
Next, go through the calendar and mark off any pre-designated meals, like Friday Night Pizza or Tuesday Tacos. This may not be right for you if you thrive on variety, but the routine can be very helpful, especially if you have kids. Also note any days where the kids have evening activities, school plays, recitals, etc., and schedule an easier meal (less cooking/prep time) for those occasions.
Take your recipe list and start to fill in your calendar. Keep your shopping list off to the side as you go, and remember to factor in days when you’ll be lunching on leftovers. You can also repeat your favorite meals throughout the month. Once your shopping is done, make prep time easy by grouping together meals with the same protein. You can grill up all your boneless chicken breast, serve some with rice and veg for dinner, use the rest over greens for a healthy lunch later in the week, and stash another portion in the freezer. Think about how you can save time by preparing multiple meals at once, preferably enough for three or four days, and then you can freeze even more for later in the month. This way, there’s always something tasty on hand ready to be heated up and served when you’re short on time.
You already know that it’s not good to go food shopping when you’re hungry, and menu planning is just the same. Hunger fogs your brain and causes you to make poor decisions, so don’t wait until it’s already dinnertime to decide what to eat. A bit of smart planning will keep you, your family, your schedule and your wallet a whole lot healthier.
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What are your best menu-planning tips? Please comment below and let us know how you stay ahead of the cooking curve. Bon appétit!