Do you cringe when you think about how to streamline meal planning? Do you think meal planning is too complicated? Takes too much time? Works only for special occasions?
Meal planning CAN work for you if you make it so! Effectively streamlining the process to fit your circumstances is the key. In a recent conversation I had with a working mom, she said, “If you make time for meal planning, it’s easy.” Making time is what’s important.
What are the benefits to meal planning?
With meal planning, you have complete control over what you eat, the ingredients you use, and how the meal is prepared. Yes, there are plenty of different meal plans out there for purchase, but let them serve as a transition point for you to move into planning your own meals. Just like meal kit delivery services are a transition point into cooking your own meals, so are purchased meal plans a transition into doing your own meal planning.
Yes, you need to spend a little time planning your meals. Doing so, however, saves you time having to scramble to come up with something at the last minute. You may end up making less than optimal food choices.
Diversity of Food Choices
Meal planning gives you a world of diversity. You can have anything from hometown favorites to international cuisines. You choose where in the world you will go, so to speak. For example, in my own meal planning, I often plan a mixture of tried and true recipes with many new cuisines. I try new recipes from different countries and regions. Culinarily, we have gone to places such as Argentina, Portugal, and South Africa, among others. It’s fun to learn about the cuisines, along with the traditions and origins of those dishes. This information also makes great dinner conversation as well as a delicious meal!
Different cuisines often contain similar ingredients. For example, South African dishes often use the spices of India, England, and other areas based on the settlements in that area many years ago. The same is true for other cuisines. Immigrants and colonists brought familiar spices with them from their different countries of origin. That’s what makes cooking so exciting! You are infusing diverse flavors into your meals!
6 Tips to Streamline the Meal Planning Process
With a little creativity, ingenuity, and effort, you can turn meal planning from a chore into a fun activity. Streamline your meal planning! Check out the tips below to get the biggest bang for your buck.
1. Use a meal planning app.
Meal planning apps help you organize recipes, prepare menus and daily planners, and generate grocery lists. Many apps also allow you to add notes to help you remember meal details for next time.
2. Brainstorm meal ideas.
Get input from family, friends, and associates. Ask, “What should we eat this week?” Meal ideas need not be restricted to only dinner. Effective meal planning should include everything you eat during the course of the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, snacks, appetizers, etc.). Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that no one will care what you make. Chances are that if you are excited about it, they will be excited about it also. Enlist the help of friends or family members in looking up or making recipes.
3. Create the plan over the course of several days.
Meal planning need not take a large block of time. As you or others think of meal ideas over the course of the week, write them down. While searching online for a recipe, you may encounter several that sound good and are doable. Use those recipes accordingly.
4. Include leftovers in the meal plan lineup.
If it was a great meal to begin with, the meal should still be great the second or third time around. The desire for a fresh meal is great, but proper food storage techniques usually allow leftovers to still be fresh and taste great. (Mix in ingredients, such as fresh herbs, greens, or grated cheese, fresh each time you serve a dish.). Depending on your family size, there may be no such thing as leftovers, since everything is eaten in one sitting. If it’s a quality meal, and there happens to be food left over, it is worth eating again.
5. Cook a double batch of that awesome meal.
Deliberately creating leftovers is another option. That saves you having to cook a meal from scratch, and extends the life of the wonderful meal you cooked. It’s much easier to double or triple a recipe than to cook a meal from the beginning each night. It’s easier to do all that work at once. Cook 10 pieces of chicken instead of 5. Cook additional sauce. It’s easier to make a larger amount and knowing that you are making enough for at least one other meal, if not two.
It makes sense in that you are saving time in having to plan and prepare an additional meal. You are going through the effort anyway, so why not maximize the outcome? You also don’t have to decide on as many recipes. In our home, for example, I cook 3-4 days a week, and the rest of the week we eat leftovers. This method is not limited only to dinner. You can just as easily mix up a large batch of hummus, pasta salad, or other tasty dishes to munch on during the day.
6. Subscribe to a variety of recipe websites to give you plenty of ideas.
Here are some of my favorites to start you off:
Let me end with a little pep talk…
I know how overwhelming it may seem to even consider meal planning. You are likely already swamped with home, family, and career responsibilities. If you’re like me, you are running in many directions at once. It may seem counterintuitive to spend time up front with meal planning. But that time you spend up front can pay off immensely afterward. You are actually saving time with having to make meal decisions in a hurry from day to day.
Meal planning is not restrictive at all. You have enormous flexibility with what you make. The wonderful thing is you get to choose. As you do, I know that it will save time in the long run. It gives you something to look forward to. Food comes to the center stage instead of the back seat of your life. You can feel confident in building your skills and using your creativity, whether you find recipes on the web or create your own dishes. A little planning goes a long way.
Meal planning saves you time and money, and inspires creativity and diversity!
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What can YOU do differently to streamline meal planning to fit your life?