The two most difficult things for me in the kitchen (ok, I’m sure there are more, but these top the list): wasting food and not knowing what to make. Deciding what to cook and what to serve with what isn’t always easy for me. And having to toss out unused or uneaten food at the end of the week is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Some years ago, I started planning a weekly menu to help avoid that dreaded, “What do you want for dinner tonight?” dilemma. Dinner prep became easier, spending on unnecessary groceries lessened, and a lot less food hit the garbage cans.
Meal planning isn’t hard at all. Just takes a little discipline and time each week, and the results are well worth it. Here are some helpful tips to get you started.
Start with a quick inventory of what you already have in the pantry. If you have six cans of beans in there, it might be a good week for some baked beans or a bean salad. And don’t forget the fridge and freezer. Use up those fresh veggies and any leftovers before they go bad. Food in the freezer spoils, too, so make sure you’re using them up before adding more to the pile.
Create a weekly menu that aligns to what you have in inventory, as well as your schedule. If you’re working late on Tuesday, an elaborately cooked meal planned for that evening may not work out so well. Instead, you may want to have a big meal on Monday with planned leftovers to make a quick mustgoes meal on Tuesday.
Pull a list together before you head over to the market for groceries. This will most certainly help you to save time and money. You may need to re-inventory your pantry and fridge, too. If a recipe you selected for your weekly meal plan calls for certain ingredients, it’s always good to check and ensure you’re don’t already have it. I currently have three large bottles of hot sauce in my pantry and a half-bottle in the fridge. This is a perfect example of what happens when you forgot to check first before finalizing the grocery list. Good thing I put that ^#@$ on everything because I got a lot of it to use up!
Weekly planning allows you to get super organized and reduces the stress in the kitchen. When it’s time to cook, you have a plan and everything you need to put it into action. I also find that making different food choices and trying new things is much easier when planning.
Meal planning is a process for sure, though so worth it even if you’re not going to cook every day of the week. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with adding cereal to the menu for Thursday’s dinner. I use a spreadsheet for my weekly menu (yes, I’m a closet geek!). Feel free to download a copy below and use for your own planning.