As if meal planning wasn’t easy enough already–list your dinners, list your ingredients, go to the store–the process just got easier! Here are ten of my top tips for making meal planning easy and stress-free:
1. Choose the Meal Planning Method that Works Best for You
Meal planning is not a one-size-fits-all process, so choose the method that works best for you. Store your recipes on Pinterest, in cookbooks or on recipe cards. Plan only dinners or every single meal. Write your list with a pencil and paper, store it on your phone, or use a meal planning app. It’s up to you!
2. Stay Flexible
While meal planning does provide structure, it should only be helpful–never rigid. Switch the meals around, go out for pizza, or invite friends and family over for a last-minute barbeque. Meal planning is designed to help you be prepared, not to constrain you. Loosen up and have fun!
3. Set Aside a Certain Time to Meal Plan
I’ll be honest. Sometimes I don’t feel like setting aside the time to meal plan, so I’ll procrastinate. There has even been a week or two when I tried to go to the store without a plan. Trust me–I learned my lesson! Going to the store with kids was so stressful and it took so long, when usually it’s really quick and easy.
So now, I set aside a certain night to write a meal plan. For me, it’s usually Wednesday nights before I go to the store on Thursday. Find a time that works for you, then do it! Eventually it will become habit and you won’t even think about it.
4. Gather Your Recipes in One Place
Choosing a great recipe is easier when you have a large collection of them all in one place. Store them on Pinterest, print them and put them in binders or use a meal-planning app on your phone. Whatever makes the process easier for you!
5. Assign Theme Nights
If you have trouble thinking of what to cook every night (and who doesn’t?), assign theme nights. For example, maybe Tuesday is Italian night, Wednesday is crock-pot night and Friday is pizza night. Gather a stack of each type of recipe, then just pick the one you want each week. Easy!
6. Factor in Important Events
Before you assign a single meal, glance at your calendar real fast to check for upcoming events. If you have a baseball game, a dance recital or a class party coming up, you will want to factor these things in.
7. Put Your Grocery List in Order
When I write out the ingredients I need, I write them out in order by where I find them in the store. Then, as I walk through, I just go right down the list. If you usually always go to the same stores and you often buy the same ingredients, you probably already know where everything is. Seriously–this saves so much time! I put the kids in the cart and we just breeze through the aisles without much thought, tossing the items on our list into the cart as we go.
8. Save Your Meal Plans
If you truly don’t have the time to write out plans every week or if you don’t want to–write them out for just a couple of weeks and then save them. Or create a bunch all at once and then just cycle through them. Sure, it takes out some of the spontaneity, but it REALLY speeds up the process when you already know what you are going to make!
9. Cook Double Portions
Tired of cooking every night? Double the portions and freeze the second batch for later. The amount of time it adds is negligible, and next week, you have one less meal to plan, shop for and cook! This works especially well for casseroles and slow cooker recipes.
10. Declare a Leftover Night
Just because you have seven days doesn’t mean you need to plan seven meals. If you don’t use your leftovers for lunch and they are starting to pile up, declare a leftover night! In fact, if you routinely have leftovers, you can have the last day of your shopping week always be leftover night, and that’s one less day you have to plan.
Have another tip I haven’t thought of? I’d love to hear it! Share it below!