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If you're like most people, preparing healthy meals for your family each day is a constant struggle. Instead of giving in and going through the drive-thru or ordering out multiple nights a week, why not try meal planning? Here are some ideas for saving time, and money, while still satisfying your family's nutritional needs.
What is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is the process of creating a menu for the week, or even the month, in advance. This can be done by looking at recipes online, in cookbooks, or even making your creations. Once you have a plan for what you will be eating each day, you can make a grocery list of all the ingredients you'll need. Meal planning can save you both time and money. It helps to prevent last-minute trips to the store or restaurant.
Meal planning simply entails deciding what meals you'll prepare in the near future. If you provide more information in your meal plan, the easier it'll be to execute. Meal planning is one of the most important aspects of food prepping since you can't prep without knowing what you're prepping!
How Far Ahead Should I Meal Plan?
The first thing you to think about is how far ahead you want to meal plan for. This is strongly dependent on you and several things should be considered. Consider how much time you can set aside for meal planning. Think about how frequently you and your family like to modify meals. And consider whether or not you can commit to following the plan you create.
Meal planning for just a few days at a time may be more your speed if you're short on time or if your family has picky eaters. On the other hand, you may want to plan out an entire month's worth of meals if you have more time on your hands and know your family enjoys variety. Meal planning can be done for any length of time. It's really up to you how much you want to plan.
Also, think about how much space you have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for food storage. It's fine to plan a whole month ahead of time, but you won't be able to store all of the food if you don't have a place to put it.
When you're just getting started, try to schedule for only one week. This should include every meal and snack your family will consume throughout the week.
It covers all of the food you'll make at home with leftovers, lunches your children and you will bring to work or school, as well as any other items you may need, such as bringing cookies to the church's potluck or other important events.
How to Get Started with Meal Planning
Not sure where to begin when it comes to meal planning? Simply take a look at what's in your pantry and freezer. Keep track of everything in your pantry and fridge. Make a note of it all, then see what meals you can create from those ingredients.
This should get you off to a good start, and then all you'll need are some filler ingredients. You may even find that have all of the ingredients needed for some of your family's favorite meals already. Taking an inventory before planning your meals is a great way of saving money and time.
When you've already seen all there is to see, start thinking about the different meals your family will enjoy. Don't forget to think about how each of those dishes will be cooked. If you know you'll be short on time, consider foods that can be prepared in advance. Or consider dishes that can cook in a slow cooker all day while you're at work or running errands.
What Should I Include in My Meal Plan?
Now that you've decided how much time you want to spend on meal planning and what you already have in your pantry, it's time to start filling in your plan! Begin by creating a list of all the meals you want to make for the week or month. You should also include some snacks and desserts, as those are important parts of any diet.
As you create your list, be sure to note what ingredients each meal will require. This will help you when it comes time to prepare the food, as you'll know exactly what you need to buy at the grocery store.
You should also include any special dietary needs on your list. For example, if you have a gluten-free family member, be sure to note that so you can plan accordingly. Meal planning is all about making things easier on yourself, so be sure to tailor it to your specific needs.
Being Detailed In Your Meal Planning
Once you've started keeping track of some meals you want to prepare every week, make it as precise as possible. If you expect to have chicken leftovers for lunch for 2-3 days, write that down in your plan!
This helps you cut down on how many lunches you'll have to make, which saves you a lot of time when it comes to preparing your week's worth of meals. Make a second list with all the food items you'll need to buy, minus what you already have.
Allow Flexibility In Your Meal Plan
Planning every meal may help you save time during the week. However, there are going to be times when things don't go as planned. Make sure your meals and meal planning allow for some adaptability.
You may have a day when you want to go out to dinner because your child got on to the soccer team and you want to rejoice. Don't be hesitant about celebrating just because you planned to make chili that night. Simply move your plans around and celebrate another night. Meals should be planned to make life easier, not put restrictions on yourself.
Extend Your Grocery Budget With Leftovers
Consider leftovers or utilizing certain components from your menu for future dinners. If you know you'll be making baked chicken, buy more than you need and freeze the rest. You'll save money and time by having extra chicken on hand. It also makes a quick lunch option as chicken salad.
Leftovers are also a great way to extend your grocery budget. If you make a big pot of chili, you can have it for dinner one night, then use the leftovers as a topping for baked potatoes.
Meal planning is all about being efficient with your time and money while still eating healthy, delicious meals. By following these tips, you'll be able to create a meal plan that works for you and your family.