When experts offer their advice for saving money and eating healthy, one of their top suggestions is to utilize meal planning. However, sometimes that is easier said than done. If you’ve tried meal planning and weren’t too thrilled with your meals or all the work that had to go into it, you may have gotten discouraged and steered clear of the tactic—and ended up ordering takeout and eating cereal for dinner all week. But don’t give up just yet—we’ve got some great tips and tricks that will help you master the art of meal planning.
1. Save Recipes As You Find Them
Searching for new meal ideas each week can be time consuming, but if you file away some go-to recipes as you come across ones that you like, you won’t have to go digging when it’s time to put together your meal plan for the week. Keep a folder in your kitchen to collect recipes you find in magazines, create a Pinterest board with favorite recipes or use the app Yummly, which lets you save recipes you want to try and even pulls all of the ingredients into a shopping list.
2. Create Themed Nights
Coming up with new meal ideas can be daunting, but if you give each night of the week a theme, that can help you not only narrow down your options, but get you excited about different types of food as well. Whether it’s Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday or a number of other creative options, creating themes for every dinner will help streamline the process and make grocery shopping easier.
3. Utilize Leftovers
Not every meal has be it’s own unique recipe. If you have chicken leftover from dinner, use it in the next day’s lunch. Make things easier for yourself by anticipating that you’ll have food that carries over to the next day, and plan your menus with that in mind. Need some inspiration? Here are 65 yummy ways to use up leftovers.
4. Meal Prep Right After Grocery Shopping
Your work isn’t done when you get home from the store and put away the groceries. We know, you just want to open that new box of cookies and sit down for a few minutes. But, if you put in a little extra work to prepare the food you just bought, it will be easier to turn it into delicious meals all week long. Chop up your veggies and portion everything out—you’ll thank yourself later.
5. Keep It Simple
Sure, it’s tempting to want to whip up fancy and complex meals, but then you end up buying a bunch of ingredients that you may only use once or twice (how many recipes call for dragon fruit or Japanese mayo?). Stick to simple recipes that use basic ingredients that can be used in a variety of meals (think: chicken, potatoes, rice, beans) and you might find you have an easier time cooking dinner.
6. Use A Meal Planning App
If you’re having a hard time keeping track of your meals in your head, try using a meal planning app to help you get organized. There are a number of apps to choose from. Some provide you with recipes, while others can be used to organize your own recipes, and some even create shopping lists based on the ingredients in the recipes you select.
7. Plan Only Parts Of The Meal
Planning an entire week of meals can be a daunting task, so instead of planning out every last morsel you will eat, stick to just planning marinades, dressings or sauces. Make those ahead of time, and then use them during the week to create different meals. If you’ve already got a chimichurri sauce on hand, for example, you’ll be more inclined to cook the steak you planned on serving for dinner.