Meal Planning

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bell pepper
bell pepper

You’re busy, I know. We’re all busy. It’s hard to come up with different meals every week while trying to keep the meals healthy as well.

How often have you come in from work, realized you had too much to do to make dinner from scratch? Do you order pizza? Do you get back in the car and drive to pick up take out? (Country folk aren’t in a position to have food delivered.)

Why not take a stab at meal planning and meal prepping? Doing so will give you options, quick easy meals to feed your family saving you both time and money.

What is Meal Planning?

Well before you can prep for a meal you have to plan a meal. Meal planning is as simple as planning out your meals for the coming week (or month). Once you know what you’re going to eat you can better plan for it.

Do you remember as a kid that you often had meatloaf on Mondays, spaghetti on Thursdays and chicken on Sunday? Those structured meals were because the cook (most likely your mother) planned and prepped for those meals. These days, your meals don’t need to be quite so structured.

Meal planning before your weekly (or bi-weekly) grocery shopping trip will keep costs down because you know ahead of time what you’re going to cook and what you need to accomplish that meal. No more running to the store at the last minute. No more ordering pizza or picking up Chinese.

How Many Meals to Plan For

How many meals should you plan for? If you normally grocery shop once a week, then you need to plan for a week’s worth of meals. If you shop bi-weekly, then you’ll need a fortnight’s worth.

You also need to take in mind the time factor. Do you have time after grocery shopping to prep two weeks worth of veggies? (Dicing peppers, slicing onions, precooking beef…)

Funds can also be a factor. Do you have the room in your budget to buy two weeks worth of food at a time?

Do you have room in your refrigerator and freezer for two weeks of prepped food?

I’ve done a month’s worth of pre-packed meals before. This meant a run to the dollar store for aluminum freezer containers, an entire day prepping (scalloped potatoes, au gratin potatoes, meat loaf, Mexican seasoned beef, chicken cubed, shredded… …) and barely had room in my freezer for all those meals!

Most people should start meal planning with just a week’s worth. Choose your family’s favorite dinner time meals (although don’t include extravagant meals like standing rib roast just because it’s someone’s favorite. This also goes for desserts like cheesecake….think simple at least for the first week.) and write down everything you need to make those dishes. Try to keep it simple, meat loaf, ground beef stroganof, pork chops…

Plan for side dishes such as potatoes or pasta. Plan for veggies and fruits. Remember to include lunches and breakfasts and snacks too.

Start Meal Planning

An easy way to get started on your meal plan is to make a note of what you already have on hand. Do you have items that can be used up in a dish?
Websites such as allrecipes.com can be a big help. At allrecipes.com you can put the ingredient in the search box that you’re trying to use up AND it’ll give you all the recipes using that particular ingredient. How handy is that?

You should also keep certain basics on hand at all times. When you have flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda you can make all kinds of things. Of course, some recipes will need eggs, or milk or… but there are a world of foods you can make that are flour based. Biscuits, pancakes, crepes, cookies…

Detail Your Meal Plans
What if you plan on using a whole chicken one night for a roast chicken dinner? There will be leftovers. What can you make on day two that will use the leftover chicken? A casserole? Chicken Salad? Chicken and rice? Chicken noodle soup? You can even save the bones and make some nice hearty stock for later use.

After you make a list of meals, make your grocery list by listing everything you need to make all the dishes, minus of course, what you already have in the house.

Don’t Be Afraid of Changing Your Plan
Stuff happens. While meal planning is a great way to wrangle in those food expenses cooking does take time. Stuff happens and there will be times when there isn’t time to cook dinner. There might be a special celebration to attend, a last minute birthday party…. Just be flexible. Just because you ate elsewhere one day does not mean you can’t get right back into your meal plan.

Sale?
One should always be aware of what’s on sale or special at their local supermarket. Is chicken dirt cheap this week but you only planned on one poultry dish this week? If your budget allows, buy some and freeze it for later use. That way you’ll have chicken already to go for the next time you want to make a chicken dish.

Meal Prepping vs Meal Planning
Meal planning is planning your meals for a certain time period. Meal prepping is doing something with those ingredients for future use. This might mean you’ve purchased 6-8 bell peppers. You don’t just stick them in the fridge you prep them for the intended meals. You might be cutting the peppers into strips for fajitas, or dicing for incorporating into soups/casseroles.

It also might mean cooking five pounds of ground beef then separating them into five different freezer ziplocks for future use. A pound of precooked hamburger can become tacos (or chili or …) pretty darn fast!

Meal Prepping Tips

• Cook all your meat at once.
• Dice all your veggies at once.
• Label every container so you know when to use it by.
• Note what prepping is being done for leftovers.
• Prep for multiple meals.
• Combine slow cooker recipe ingredients into one large freezer bag.