Top 5 Tips to Creating a Smart Meal Plan
How It Works
For the uninitiated, the process of meal planning may appear daunting.
Here are five key tips to creating a meal plan.
1. Think Ahead
When creating a meal plan, there are several things to remember. First, consider nutrition. Stick to whole foods and minimize packaged or processed foods. When creating a shopping list, include fresh produce for simple salads or cooked vegetables, and fruit for snacks or desserts.
When choosing packaged foods, make sure to check nutrition labels and select options with the least number of additives, colorings, and artificial flavorings. Also consider any food allergies or sensitivities, as well as personal preferences.
Planning meals ahead of time can help save money, especially if you set and stick to a budget. For example, $15 per day gives you $105 per week to spend on groceries. Search the internet for healthy, budget-friendly recipes to create dishes that are nutritious and delicious.
2. Stick to Basic Food Principles
Getting good nutrition requires adequate preparation and a solid education in basic food principles. For simplicity, stick to whole foods that are biodynamically or organically grown and animal products that are naturally-raised and pasture-fed.
3. The Basics of Meal Planning
The goal of meal planning is to prepare all meals as far in advance as possible. Start by selecting 10-12 recipes and make a list of foods needed for making these meals. Consider creating a personalized cookbook with your favorite ingredients or enter these recipes in your phone or save them as a bookmark. A personalized cookbook will facilitate the growth of your family recipes as you discover new favorites. The time you invest in organizing recipes will pay off when you approach meal preparation.
After you have selected the recipes you plan to make, take time to clean and organize your fridge or freezer. Consider getting a spare freezer for the garage or basement. Stock up on food storage containers and baking dishes, particularly those with airtight lids, in addition to plastic freezer bags.
A toaster oven or microwave will facilitate easier and faster thawing and reheating of foods. Keep a pencil and paper handy to jot down grocery items as you run out and put it on the fridge and/or pantry door. With the list accessible each day, your staples will be properly stocked, and other family members can also contribute to your list. Then, before you go shopping, either grab the list or take a picture of it with your phone.
4. Practical Ideas
Incorporate one or even all of the following meal preparation methods in your planning routine. When doing that, keep in mind the recommended allotment of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Purposeful leftovers
Bulk cooking will go the extra distance. Invest in Tupperware-like containers, or just start saving the plastic containers from food purchases or take-out. Instead of making one batch, make three or four batches and freeze the extras. To do this, get multiple pots or large cookware pieces and allot more time to cooking. It’s more effort, but it’ll make life easier as the week progresses.
Purposeful leftovers will work for meals like casseroles, meatloaf, lasagna, sloppy joe mix, muffins, pancakes, and cookies. After the extra batches cool, keep enough for several days in your fridge and freeze the rest in freezer bags or glass storage containers.
- Base ingredient doubling
Instead of roasting one chicken do two or three at once. The same should apply when making fish or meat. By making more food at once, you will have adequate leftover protein to add to your other meals. For example, if you have roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed veggies, and gravy for your dinner, you can freeze the leftover portions instead of eating it for lunch the next day. You could also make a large omelette on a baking sheet in the oven and then cut up and freeze for breakfast, or a large pot of chicken soup or beef stew and freeze for rainy days as Fall and Winter approaches or a large baking dish of enchiladas and freeze until you host a Game Night with friends.
Do 1-2 four hour sessions to prepare several dishes at once is always a good idea. That way, you will maximize the use of your appliances and equipment. Try roasting, boiling, frying, and baking different foods. After that, you can freeze the meals in right-size portions and to eat later. This method works best on weekends. Store all the extra food in freezer bags and Tupperware.
- Consider creating a cooking group or sharing batches with friends
Cooking with your friends or in a cooking group can be an opportunity to learn and have fun while preparing nourishing food. Bring together friends and share your recipes and ingredients. Pick a time to prepare dishes together or divvy up meals so that if one makes lunches, you make dinners, and another is in charge of snacks or breakfasts. You can share your shopping responsibilities and take advantage of buying in bulk without fear that food will go bad before it’s consumed. Also, swapping meals can bring variety and liven up your diet if you ever get in a cooking rut.
The frequency of shopping will highly depend on your meal plan and the number of times you would want to go shopping each month. Most people do it once a week. You can shop once a month for non-perishable items and then pop into a local grocery store once a week to buy milk, cheese, vegetables, fruits, meat, and the other perishables.
Once you are ready to shop, take your list and reusable shopping bags and try to get all the items you require within one visit. When bringing the groceries home, take a few minutes to pack it all away properly. Freeze the meat in portions suitable for the recipes you selected. Dividing up the chicken and ground beef you bought in bulk while still raw and unfrozen will be much easier on you than after it’s been frozen.
Everyone takes a unique approach when it comes to meal planning, which means that you are likely to glean ideas from your friends and family. Whatever your approach, you rest assured that meal planning is not hard after a little practice. Each time you go through the meal planning process you will learn something new and get faster and more efficient. With the above tips, your work in the kitchen will pay off in better nutrition, extra savings and delicious meals.
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