Have you always wanted to finally start meal planning, but you find it too overwhelming? Or maybe you’ve been meal planning for awhile but just don’t feel like you’ve really mastered the art.
You head to your computer, thinking there can only be so many dinner recipes that are healthy and won’t break your budget, but then you find yourself scrolling through Pinterest for hours, only to find countless complicated dishes you know you’ll never make because they require the use of every pot and pan in your kitchen. And then you find one that sounds like a winner, until you remember you have picky eaters in your family who refuse to touch anything remotely flavorful or new.
Take a deep breath. We’re here to help.
Luckily, there are tons of families all over the country (and the internet!) planning their meals and sharing their secrets with us. Here are some of our favorite tips for making meal planning a breeze.
1. Make Food Do Double Duty
If you’re serving up pork carnitas tacos one night, make that leftover meat work double duty and throw together an easy pork posole soup the next day. If you have a plan for your leftovers, you’re more likely to eat them than let them languish in the back of the fridge. This will save you time and money. We’re big fans of this grilled sausage and peppers dish that also makes a tasty pasta salad the next day.
2. Keep It Simple
You don’t have to act like a celebrity chef in your own kitchen. When you’re planning meals, stick to the basics. You can always jazz them up with sauces, dressings, marinades, rubs and other flavors if your family starts to get bored. This Skinnytaste recipe for Korean chicken livens up the boring grilled-chicken-and-veggie routine in my house.
3. Recycle Recipes
On a related note, don’t be afraid to recycle recipes regularly. Kristi Dalnoky, who runs the blog Klover House, keeps a stash of her old meal plans nearby at all times for reference. In other words, meal planning gets easier the more you do it.
“By keeping all of my previous lists, I am creating a library of meals from which to choose when it comes time to plan for the next two weeks,” she wrote in a guest post for Money Saving Mom. “I never have to think too hard when it comes to meal planning, because I’ve already done the legwork ahead of time.”
4. Let Sales Guide You
Take a quick peek at your grocery store’s weekly ad as you make your meal plan for the week. Base your meals around what’s on sale, especially meat.
“I tend to jot down on a sheet of paper the cuts of meat that are on sale at each store and then mark the prices,” writes Jessica Fisher of Good Cheap Eats. “Next I brainstorm what meals I can make with those.”
One of the reasons you’re making a meal plan is to save money. Looking at the weekly ads will help you do that, plus give you a starting point for recipes.
5. Shop Your Kitchen
Before you make any lists or head to the store, check your at-home food inventory. There may be items in your refrigerator that are nearing their expiration date—is there some dish you can make to use them before they go bad? You can find inspiration everywhere, even in your condiment stash.
This is especially useful if you’re getting close to your next shopping trip, writes Dalnoky for Money Saving Mom.
“I use what we still have on hand to inspire and drive the next list of meals,” she wrote. “For example, if I have Red Hot, chicken, buns and leftover fruit salad from the previous day, I’ll plan for buffalo chicken sandwiches and fruit salad.”