The act of figuring out what to eat each evening – whether you’re feeding yourself or an entire family – can feel like a huge burden. The good news is, planning ahead is a great way to take control of your meal choices and reduce the stress of weeknight cooking.
When you sit down to create a meal plan, first lay out your weekly schedule and any commitments. This will help you estimate how much time you can spend each night cooking or reheating food. Once you have the parameters set, look at your pantry and fridge to determine what ingredients you already have and need to use up. This step is crucial because it can save you from buying a ton of different foods that might go bad before you get around to using them.
After identifying any refrigerated or frozen items that need to be used up, start looking for dinner ideas that incorporate these ingredients. This could be as simple as tacos, salads, or pasta bowls that can be adapted to each person’s individual preferences with the addition or removal of certain foods. It’s also a good idea to include at least one “quick and easy” dinner in your meal plan each week. Not only does this reduce dinner time stress, but it also helps to ensure that everyone in the household has something healthy to eat when they’re not feeling motivated to cook something more complex.
If you’re new to meal planning, keep in mind that the level of culinary sophistication of your meals doesn’t matter as much as simply making a meal plan and following through with it. As you get more comfortable with the process, you can work up to more advanced recipes if that’s what you prefer, but don’t be afraid to stick with simpler options for the bulk of your meals.
Full-on meal prep can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the kitchen and have picky eaters in your house. However, there are many ways you can cut down on prep time without sacrificing quality or flavor. The most common way to make dinner prep easier is by preparing “building blocks” — or parts of recipes that can be easily swapped in and out for each meal. For example, you may want to prepare a batch of chicken breasts on the weekend that can be used for tacos, soups and stir frys.
Another way to cut down on prep time is by utilizing your oven. If you’re making several dishes that require the oven, consider setting up a rotating schedule where you bake one night and reheat the leftovers on other nights of the week. You can also minimize food waste by labeling and storing prepared foods with their expiration dates front and center in your refrigerator or freezer. This will keep you from accidentally throwing out forgotten frozen veg or a pot of stew that has been sitting in the back of your freezer for too long.