Nutrition

A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning

Is cooking more meals at home one of your goals for this year?  Great!  Now the next question:  where to start?  Standing in front of the fridge at dinnertime hoping to find some inspiration might work for some, but if cooking at home is new for you it’s probably a good idea to adopt a habit of meal planning.  Essentially, meal planning helps answer the question “what’s for dinner?” for the whole week.  If done regularly, it can help reduce some of the stress of cooking weeknight dinners and save money.  Begin your meal planning practice with these tips:

Plan:  Set aside time to devote to meal planning.  The weekend is usually a good option as you can plan your meals for the following week.  Decide how many meals you will need to prepare, choose your recipes and make a grocery list.

Shop sales/shop in season:  Read through grocery store flyers and plan your menu around what’s on sale.  Fruits and veggies are less expensive (and more flavorful) in season.  Also, look for opportunities to use the same ingredient(s) in more than one recipe.

Stay organized: Get a calendar and fill in the menu for the week.  Keep it someplace you can see it easily (like on your refrigerator).  Save all your recipes in one place so you can find them easily.  If you find recipes online, a Pinterest board may be a good option.

Prep ingredients:  Do as much of the prep work as possible ahead of time.  This is another reason it’s helpful to do your meal planning over the weekend.  Chopping the veggies you need for each recipe or making a big batch of quinoa on Sunday saves time during the week.

Use leftovers:  Practice “cook once, serve twice” when possible.  Make extra servings and bring some for lunch the next day.  Soups and chili can also be frozen for later (just thaw and reheat).

Have a backup plan:  There’s always the chance something unexpected will happen to throw off your plans.  Keep a couple of simple recipes on hand to fall back on in a pinch.

If you’re just starting to cook more at home, start small.  Maybe plan for one or two meals a week.  As you gain more confidence in the kitchen, you’ll be able to do more.  Remember, there’s no right or wrong way to do meal planning.  The most important part is finding a system that works for you and that you can stick with.

Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE

 

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