I'm sure you've heard it countless times before. 'Eat balanced meals'. 'Maintain a healthy diet.' 'You need to meal plan.' But what are the easiest ways to do meal planning without thinking hard? Is there a way I can plan out my meals and not drag myself down and make it really simple? In other words, is there a way I can meal plan which doesn't take long but I'm still getting foods that are good for me?
It shouldn't be that hard to figure out what time you're gonna make dinner. But it can be, especially if you have date night with your boo, a girls night out, or just a good old fashioned sleepover with your BFF.
Meal planning is the secret to staying on track with your healthy eating goals. It can also take up a lot of time.
So if you're short on time, how do you meal plan without having to think too hard about it?
Here are five simple tips for meal planning:
1. Keep a running list of your family's favorite meals.
This is the easiest way to start meal planning — just look back at what worked last week and note it down. It might take a few weeks before you have a good sense of what works for your family, but once it's established, it'll be much easier to make decisions about what to eat each day.2. Plan around leftovers. Leftovers are awesome because they take less time to make than fresh meals, which means more time for relaxing!3. Stock up on staples when they're on sale or when you see them in the store and freeze them for later (like fruits and veggies).4. Cook extra portions of dinner so you have leftovers for lunch the next day (or vice versa). This is especially helpful if there's something that reheats really well (like soup or chili).5. Keep an eye out for recipe ideas online and pin them.
2. Use what you have on hand.
If you're starting from scratch, take inventory of what ingredients are already in your kitchen (and consider any staples that might be lurking in your pantry). Use this as a jumping-off point for creating meals and snacks, even if they seem random at first glance. For example, if there's one egg left in the carton and some leftover rice, it might be time for fried rice! If there's some tortilla chips in the pantry and some leftover vegetables from last night's dinner, it might be time for nachos! You get the idea.
3. Pick one or two nights a week to get creative.
Whether it's tacos or burgers, pizza or pasta, every now and then, we all need something different for dinner. Thankfully, there's no rule against mixing it up once in awhile — just make sure to stick with your usual grocery store rotation and include some staples like protein and veggies (and maybe even brown rice if you're going Asian). You'll have enough on your plate when it comes to having fun with your meals without worrying about what ingredients you'll need for the next seven days.
4. Create a shopping list that matches your meal plan.
When you know what you're going to cook for dinner each night, it's easier to create a shopping list that matches those meals. So if you have tacos on Monday night, buy the ingredients for tacos instead of just getting ground beef and tortillas. If you're having lasagna on Tuesday night (and who isn't?), buy all the ingredients for lasagna instead of just putting them in your basket at random. This will save both money and time in the long run because you won't need to go back to the store later on when all you really wanted was cheese or chicken broth but forgot about it when you were at the store last time.
5. Don't be afraid to repeat your weekly menus throughout the year.
Here's nothing wrong with having some "regular" meals on your menu — especially if they're ones your family loves. If you make tacos every week, there's no need to keep reinventing them; just add new toppings or fillings each time so they feel fresh and exciting again! You can even take this approach with breakfast or dessert — if your family loves pancakes or chocolate chip cookies, they'll probably enjoy them just as much if you have them once a week instead of twice or three times per month.
Just about everyone has meal plan ideas. Make lunches the night before. Always have frozen meals on hand for those busy days. Use Pinterest for recipes. Grill every weekend. The list goes on and on. The real challenge is making it easy and acting on these meal plan ideas, consistently and without fail. Here are 5 easy ways to do just that; you're ready to start cooking!