Taking 30 minutes each week to inventory food and plan your menu can drastically reduce your spending on groceries. Meal planning can also improve the quality of meals and reduce mealtime stress. Here are some tips to help you plan healthy meals.
- Make a master list of 10-20 meals. Ask family members to contribute their favorite meals. Prioritize the list into the fastest to prepare and the recipes that do not require too many ingredients. Gather these recipes and keep in a notebook or on your computer for easy reference.
- Write your meal plan on paper. A blank calendar with a side area to include grocery list works well, but notebook paper is just fine. Make it something that is easy to take to the store with you. You can plan one week at a time, one month, or whatever you find works best for you.
- Plan for all three meals. Not planning for breakfast and lunch will make you more likely to skip meals or rely on convenience food. Make extra servings for dinner that you can pack for the next day’s lunch.
- Review your family calendar. Do you have a late work meeting, soccer game, meeting at school or family function? Take any schedule conflicts into consideration so you can plan accordingly. For example, you can plan to have leftovers, a crock-pot meal or take the night off from cooking to help when your scheduled events would delay mealtime or make meal preparation more difficult.
- Plan your menu around what you already have on hand. Organize your pantry, refrigerator and freezer. Throw out any expired food. Take inventory of what you do have on hand and plan meals around these items. You can help reduce your grocery bill and reduce waste that results from duplicate purchases.
- Plan your meals around your grocery store’s weekly sales circulation. Have a designated place to gather sales papers and review weekly as you make your meal plan/grocery list. If there are items that work for a meal that is on your master list, take advantage of the sale to stock up on these items that could be frozen or stored easily.
- Make a double batch of your favorite meals: One for dinner and one for the freezer. Also, cook extra staples that freeze well and can be used in several of your meals. For instance, grilled chicken can be cooked and frozen to use later for soups, salads and many other dishes. It is so helpful to have a frozen meal available when you have last minute schedule changes.
- Refer to your meal plan daily. Checking your meal plan daily can remind you if you need to defrost an item or make any adjustments based on last-minute schedule changes.
Marcy Bowman, RDN, LDN, CDE