When you're trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, it doesn't matter how crazy your schedule is, you can't let your nutrition or that of your family slide. The secret lies in meal planning. But, with the 1,001 items that you have on your to-do list every week, this is much easier said than done, of course. So how can you plan daily meals for the family without pulling your hair out? Below are some handy meal planning tips to help you stay on track all week.
1. It all starts with the recipes.
It's nearly impossible to win the meal planning battle if you have no idea what you're going to be preparing each night of the week. Your first step toward total meal planning mastery is to compile a solid list of recipes by way of healthy cookbooks and/or online resources such as Epicurious and Skinny Taste.
As you choose the menu for the week, ask your family members what dishes they like to eat and keep in mind that they all need to be healthy and simple to prepare. You're working with limited time, so you don't need to focus on recipes that require excessive amounts of preparation.
2. Choose your finalists.
You'll probably have far more recipes than days in the week, so you'll need to make some cuts. Again, keep simplicity in mind as you narrow down your selections for the week. In addition, take full advantage of your current resources by choosing recipes that incorporate the foods you already have in your pantry. This will cut down on your grocery bill and maximize the ingredients that you have on hand.
3. Shop for your ingredients.
After you've settled on your recipes and taken stock of what you have on hand, hit the store and grab whatever ingredients you may be missing. To save a little extra money, try to shop on Wednesdays in either the early morning or late evening, as these are usually the times when the weekly sales circulars are released. Make sure that you have a list in order to maximize your time and minimize impulse buys.
4. Get to preppin'.
Do as much food prep as possible as soon as you get back from the store. This can be peeling potatoes, chopping onions, shredding cheese, slicing vegetables, etc. Store your ingredients in containers and keep them in the fridge or pantry (whatever applies), so that they'll be at the ready whenever showtime comes. Whatever it takes to cut down on the overall meal prep time will be well worth the effort.
5. Cook certain components of your meals ahead of time.
Not only can you slice, dice, chop, and shred your way to food prep glory, but if there's any way you can cook certain elements of your meals ahead of time, definitely go ahead and do it. For example, if you're making pasta one night, you can go ahead and cook the marinara sauce while you're chopping onions. Once you're done, keep it in a container until it's time to use it.
6. Make enough food for leftovers.
There's nothing wrong with your dinners making an encore performance. This can really come in handy when you're looking for something quick and easy to prepare for lunch the next day.
7. Keep your fridge and pantry stocked with the essentials.
When you're in the heat of battle, you don't need to run out of your basic supplies. Make sure that your fridge and pantry are stocked with essential ingredients such as olive oil, spices, lemons, herbs, etc. The last thing you would want is to delay or abandon ship on your whole meal due to one simple ingredient being missing.
8. Freeze what you can for later use.
Extra sauce, stews, soups, cooked beans, etc., are prime candidates for freezing for future use. Having a decent stockpile of strategically frozen goods will provide you with plenty of options for future meals.
If you use the ideas listed above to make thorough preparations, your actual cooking time during the week will be very minimal. Most of what you'll be doing is either heating something up in the oven, or adding a couple of ingredients into what's already been prepared. The only thing you'll need to worry about is what to do with all that extra time on your hands!