The Challenge of Meal Planning

I have a love/hate relationship with meal planning. I’m betting most of you do too. It always feels like so much work on the front end: researching sales, taking inventory of your pantry, gathering recipes, creating variety within the week, and making a comprehensive grocery list—not to mention just working up the motivation to start that process!

But once I’ve finished, my sense of accomplishment, my pride in the savings, and the huge relief I feel at the thought of not visiting the supermarket the whole week makes those couple of hours of planning entirely worth it. Not only that, but I get excited every day when I glance over at my perfect little menu. Excited that all the ingredients are already in my house, excited that I don’t have to ask myself “what’s for dinner?” and excited to prepare meals that I’ve had a chance to look forward to.

This checklist can be applied to any budget, diet, or family size, and will insure you have a well thought out plan.

  1. Incorporate a new recipe. I choose one (sometimes two) new recipes to incorporate into my menu because the bigger your repertoire of meals the more flexibility you will have when planning a coordinated week of meals. Also a new recipe often means buying a few new ingredients, which expands your list of pantry staples, which saves you money in the long run. For example, if you don’t usually cook Asian food, but plan a new Asian recipe one week, you will now be the proud new owner of soy sauce, sesame oil, maybe even some fish sauce. All of those ingredients keep for a long time, and will be used in any other Asian recipe you make in the future.
  2. Use things on hand. I assess what I have already in my fridge and pantry and make a list of the major items that need to be put to use. I then search my recipe database in ChefTap (more about that here) by ingredient and it very quickly pulls up any recipes calling for that ingredient.
  3. Plan Variety. I make sure I have a well balanced list of meals that include a variety of proteins and carbs. In other words, I don’t want to cook chicken or pasta three nights of the week.

    Easy-Grilled-Pork-Loin-with-Sugar-and-Spice-Rub-and-Grilled-Peaches-by-DelightfulEMade-3

    Easy Grilled Pork Loin with Sugar and Spice Rub and Grilled Peaches

  4. Cook with the seasons. Plan fruits and vegetables that are widely available and in their peak season. Summer is the perfect time for grilled peaches, not in December. If it’s in season it’s less expensive.

  5. Plan one splurge. Choose thrifty proteins for most meals, such as bone-in chicken, canned tuna or salmon, ground beef and beans. This will give you money for a “splurge” protein like fresh fish, lamb, or skirt steak.
  6. Factor in leftovers. I hate to waste food. So think about how many meals will leave you with leftovers and how much of those are used up at lunch. This will help you plan how many nights off you can have when leftovers will do just fine.
  7. Consider the work load. I like to make sure I have a mix of meals that are more and less laborious. In this case, your schedule will dictate what is best for you. But even if you are crazy busy, try to work in one meal that requires a little more love. Those can have the greatest payoff in flavor! Besides, if you are planning ahead, you will have extra time to prep things, so it won’t take as long as you might think.

hungarian-goulash_10-20-13_6_ca

One of the meals on my menu this week is an affordable, one-pot Hungarian Potato Goulash from The Cozy Apron. My hubby adores this one. I adore how many brands of sausage are now available with no added nitrites or nitrates.

I hope this puts a little pep in your meal-planning step! It really does bring me a whole world closer to a week of sanity, so I hope it will do the same for you. ♥

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