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9 Meal Planning Tips You’ll Wish You Knew Sooner

 

What is meal planning? It’s whatever way you organize yourself to cook a meal, whether that’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is the plan you make before you shop. Some people plan a month in advance, freezing neatly-labeled packets of soup and stew. Others wing it, shopping for that evening’s meal at the farmers’ market and picking up whatever looks good to them. Meal planning is a really personal thing. What works for you may not work for me. The goal, I think, is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.

This list of tips is all over the map — there are plenty of ideas here for getting more organized and helping yourself think ahead.

 

1. Keep a well-stocked pantry

Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Don’t run out of olive oil at inconvenient moments. Have spices ready to dress up chicken and beans quickly. Keep a lemon and a sheaf of fresh herbs in the fridge at all times.

 

2. Don’t overstuff the refrigerator

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when your fridge is over-full. Also, things get hidden in the back, lost behind the mustard. Don’t let things go bad. Keep your fridge airy and light, with a sensible, realistic amount of food in it. Keep a list nearby of everything in the fridge, especially leftovers, as a visual reminder of what remains to be eaten.

 

3. Be strategic about freezing

The freezer is your friend. Actually, it’s the friend of future you. Make a double batch of that sauce mentioned above and freeze half for later. Make a double batch of soup, stew, chicken cacciatore, cooked beans — throw it in the freezer. Let a month go by, and those leftovers will look fresh and tasty!

 

4. Cook components of your meals

Going beyond prep, cook components of the meals. For instance, start a batch of tomato sauce while you wash greens and prep squash. The sauce can go on pizza one night, and in lasagna the next. Or roast a chicken right then that you can eat that night and use for sandwiches and pasta the rest of the week.

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5. Plan for leftovers

Most of us have at least some tolerance for leftovers. I regularly cook one or two big healthy casseroles at the beginning of the week and eat off them all week long for lunch. Some people can only eat leftovers for a single night. Either way, try to make your cooking always do double duty. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don’t want it right away, freeze it.

 

6. Choose a shopping day and make a shopping list

A lot of the readers who seemed to have success in meal planning shopped very purposefully. They looked at their recipes and made a shopping list. Some of the meal planning and recipe-saving services let you do this easily, extracting ingredients from the recipes you have saved.

 

7. Check the weather

Again, you may say, duh, but seriously. Right now, the weather is changeable in many parts of the country. Look at the weather forecast, and try to predict if you’re going to be in the mood for soup (or grilled shrimp salad!) on Friday.

 

8. Ask your partner, family, and roommates what they like to eat

This might sound obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in our weeks and forget to ask our households what they would like to eat. I get extra inspired, too, when I feel like I’m cooking a meal as a gift — trying to please and delight the palate of someone I love.

 

9. Create a place to save recipes, and keep it SIMPLE

Do whatever works for you. Don’t get caught up in a system, just use whatever works best and most easily. Personally, I like Pinterest because it’s easy to visually browse what I’ve saved. (Watch for another post coming soon with a rundown of our readers’ favorite places to save recipes.)

 

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