Tips for Effective Meal Planning

One of the most effective ways to ensure that a home-cooked meal gets on the table each night is meal planning. Of course, this is easier said than done- meal planning can be really hard! Things come up that we weren’t expecting and can throw off our meal plan; the mere task of meal planning itself can be daunting- it takes a lot of planning ahead to get it done!

But it’s not impossible, nor does it need to be a daunting task! While the idea of sitting down and planning 1, 2, or even 4 weeks of meals may be overwhelming, here are a few tips to make it a little less so!

*Use the help of the ads. When I think of sitting down and planning a month of meals off the top of my head, I get a little overwhelmed! But when I spend the time to look through the ads of my local grocery stores, it not only saves me money, but gives me a place to start to make my task a little less daunting. For example, if I know that onions, tomatoes, and peppers are on sale this week, I can use the search feature in Cook’n to look up recipes that utilize those ingredients. This is a great way to make the most of your money, and to get meal planning done quickly!

*Use themes. If you’re not an ad person, or the idea of looking through tons of ads overwhelms you, an easy place to start is simply by picking a theme for each night of the week and basing your meal plan on that. For example, Monday could be Meatless Monday or Mexican. Tuesday could be Chinese or Italian. Look at the recipes your family loves and pick themes that are appropriate for your family’s tastes. You can simplify the process for the future by sorting these recipes into cookbooks in your Cook’n program (e.g. a cookbook full of your meatless recipes, a cookbook of your most loved Italian dishes). You could have one theme for each night of the week, or rotate through a few different ones (for example, Wednesday night could switch off between soups or salads and sandwiches, or crockpot vs. casseroles). Some theme ideas to get you started: Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Ethnic, Meatless, Crockpot, Casserole, Soups, Salads, Trying something new, Breakfast Foods, Sandwiches, Family Favorites, Kid-friendly meals, Rice-based dishes, American, Fun Food or Appetizer Night (perfect for a Friday!), and of course- Leftovers!

*Be flexible. I think one of the biggest things that can stop us from meal planning is the fear that things will come up, leading us to abandon the meal plan- so what’s the point? The point is that sticking to a meal plan most of the time is better than not having one at all! If something comes up and you can’t stick to your original dinner plan for an evening- it’s ok! Skip that day, or shuffle things around to fit that recipe in later in your meal plan. A meal plan is great place to start- but it doesn’t have to be the final say!

*Plan ahead. When putting together your meal plan, have your calendar in front of you. Plan appropriate meals for when you know you’ll be busy. If Thursday nights are kids’ sports nights for you, make that night Leftovers and plan on making a little extra food for your Wednesday night recipe. If Sundays are the night when Grandma comes over and she’s not a fan of beef and chicken, make that your Meatless meal. Make the meal plan work FOR you. Planning ahead also means day-to-day prepping and planning. If you find yourself needing to run errands, and you know you’ll be gone most of the afternoon, put together your lasagna recipe before you go out, so that when you get home all you have to do is put it in the oven! Chop up veggies, assemble casseroles- do what you can to prep for the meal ahead of time if you know you’re going to be in a hurry when it’s dinner prep crunch time.

These are just a few really basic tips- but they are ones that definitely help me stick to my plan! Meal planning takes time and effort, but it is absolutely worth it! Does your family do a meal plan? Do you have a system or do you like just winging it? I’d love to hear all about it!


    Camille Hoffmann
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2014
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