Do you waste time each day wondering what you should make to eat? Or maybe you’ve come up with an idea, only to realize you don’t have the ingredients necessary? A lack of adequate meal planning can make it difficult to prepare meals or make use of ingredients before they spoil. It can also lead to a less nutritional diet, which can have negative effects on health.
Meal planning might sound difficult, but taking some time each week to assess your diet and plan out your meals will save you a great deal of time (and trips to the grocery store). Here’s how you can schedule and plan out meals with ease.
Assess Your Schedule & Diet
The first step to developing a meal plan is to understand how much time you have each day for making your meals. Begin by making a chart or list of days in the week. Which days are you busiest? Mark or highlight the most difficult days so you can prioritize them. It might be a good idea to prepare meals for these days when time allows, perhaps ahead of time on the weekend.
For each day, write an idea for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dinners should ideally be easy to make (we’ve got some dinner ideas below), though you can make life easier by sticking to things that use similar ingredients each day. Lunch (and maybe even breakfast) can include leftovers, so plan accordingly—part of developing a meal plan is ensuring you don’t waste any of the food you make. When you’ve picked your meals, make a list of all the ingredients you’ll need on another sheet. This is your grocery list!
A final scheduling tip: keep meals that require the freshest ingredients at the start of the week. Things like freezer meals can be kept at the end of the week. Also, try to plan for nutritionally balanced meals that make use of all the food groups.
Simple Meals to Try
Some of the simplest dinner options include 15-minute meals. These are fast and easy meals that perfectly suit a busy lifestyle, and they cover all the nutritional bases. Whether you want to whip up a quick salad, an easy pasta dish or a delicious burger, 15-minute meals are a simple solution. Even better: pair a 15-minute entree with a frozen or refrigerated side dish for a complete meal.
Another great option for time-strapped home cooks is the slow cooker meal. These are ideal because you simply let the slow cooker do all the work throughout the day. By the evening, you’ll have a delicious and tender meal waiting for you! Some great slow cooker ideas include BBQ shredded beef, chili, taco soup, beef stew and more.
Finally, freezer meals are perfect for when you’re hurt on time some days, but free to cook others. With freezer meals, you can make a full dinner ahead of time, freeze it, then heat up later in the week when it’s time to eat. Because you can store them for a month (or even longer), freezer meals make for the most versatile entries in your meal plan. Great ideas for freezer meals include waffles/pancakes, chicken strips, lasagna and pot pie.
Take Things Further with a Food Diary
If you really want to get Type-A about meal planning, consider keeping a food diary. Repurposing a weekly planner into a food diary is a great way to easily plan out meals. You can even include notes on recipes as you make them, which will help you cook more efficiently when making those dishes again.
Every so often, look back at your food diary to identify how you can improve your diet according to your eating habits. Do you need more greens? Should you cut out red meat? Use this data when planning the next week’s set of meals to ensure you stick to a well-balanced diet.