Now that fall is officially here and winter is on its way, we’re ready to take another look at turning on the oven for some comfort-food classics. If you’ve never tried meal planning - or have tried, but have not been successful - here are some tips that will allow you to stick to a plan, save time and spend less with fewer shopping trips and healthier recipes.
1. Plan to break your plans
The key to successful meal planning is leaving room for real life. There are lots of factors that contribute to what’s for dinner on any given night, and it’s impossible to guess how you may be feeling at 5:30 PM on a Monday evening. If you’ve assigned a labour-intensive lasagna to that day, but can’t muster the energy to make it, chances are you’ll opt for delivery instead. When planning meals for the week, choose a range of recipes from easy to complex, so you’ll have room to swap out dinners depending on how you’re feeling. Buy your groceries with specific recipes in mind but give yourself some flexibility on which days to prepare those meals.
2. Optimize ingredients
Try to choose meals that share ingredients. This will prevent spoiled groceries or leftover pantry items (I’m looking at you, Red Iranian Saffron) bought for one recipe. To choose recipes optimized for smarter meal planning, try:
● Searching by ingredient
The internet is a wonderful tool for meal planning, particularly if you’re looking to use up what’s in your fridge, or plan around a recipe on your list. Use the ingredient as your key search word, and then add filters as you go. “No-cook” or “30 minute meals” will give you a range of fast and fresh recipes using what you’ve got or are planning to buy.
● Building a library
Don’t waste all the time spent searching for recipes - bank the ones you like for later by using bookmarks and other organizational tools. You can really nerd out here and create your own library, categorized by meal type, cuisine type or flavour. Meal planning is way easier when you’ve got all your favourites in one place. Organizing as you go will keep you on track when you’re short on time. Include a ‘family fave’ folder for nights when you need a guaranteed hit.
● Smarter social media searching
Rather than an endless scroll of babies and cat videos, use your screen time to get inspired by people whose literal job is to create fun, fresh and easy recipes. Social media has endless food accounts with stunning pictures, easy recipes and honest reviews that can provide inspiration for even the pickiest of eaters.
3. Supercharge your shopping trips
Tried and tested, there are three simple rules for a more successful trip down the (grocery) aisle: go when the stores are less busy, don’t go when hungry, and always bring a list. Another tip to reduce the stress of shopping is to assign a specific date and time, when you’ll be free from distractions and as relaxed as possible. It sounds boring to shop at the same time every week, but the less you have to think about it, the less you’ll stress about it too. Try pairing your trip with a treat - a yoga class, a stop by the local bakery or a car detail - whatever it takes to make your weekly trips something to look forward to.
4. Outsource your grocery list
If your family members make their own meals or snacks, delegate responsibility for their grocery lists and only buy what they’ve written down each week. If it’s not on the list, it’s not in the kitchen. A variation on this is to have each family member create a recipe each week - even better if they’ll agree to cooking it too.
And of course, the golden rule: give yourself a break when you need it, and have a backup plan ready. Whether it’s takeout or your favourite fast food, don’t guilt yourself when you need a fast, no-fuss, family-friendly meal. Enjoy every bite. You deserve it.
Amanda Ashford is a Brand & Communications consultant building brands with purpose and using business as a force for good. As a global traveller, Amanda is constantly inspired by the sounds, scenes and stories found around the world, and our shared passion for purpose that connects us all.
Amanda Ashford is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.