Meal planning can be difficult, time consuming, and stressful. Not to mention after you plan a meal then you need to get the food, organize the food, prepare the food, and cook the food. When you think about it, we spend a lot of time feeding our families and ensuring they have healthy, tasty food to eat. Save yourself time and energy with these meal planning tips.
Best Meal Planning Tips to Make Life Easier
It is difficult to get motivated to meal plan and meal prep. I am right there with you. After a long day the last thing I feel like doing is spending an hour making a meal for my family. Follow these meal planning tips to give your family a delicious, healthy meal without the stress.
1. Use a Meal Planning Worksheet
Meal planning is easier if you write it down or type it out each week or month. Use a weekly meal planning worksheet to guide you through the meal planning process. When you know what you are having each meal of the week it is easier to check your stock of ingredients, make a grocery list, get groceries, and prepare food. Then you will be sure to have all your ingredients as you prepare a meal.
Save your weekly meal planning worksheets for several weeks to see what you had recently for ideas on upcoming meals. If I am drawing a blank on what I should make for meals I check my meal idea list. This always gives me meal planning ideas.
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2. Plan an Easy Meal for Busy Nights
When you are running from event to event or have a busy day/night, plan an easy meal to prepare or use a freezer meal. Some nights there is barely time to sit down and eat much less prepare a healthy, home cooked meal. So on these nights, eat a meal that you prepped on the weekend or the day before, eat leftovers, something you can quick heat up in the microwave, or that does not require any preparation.
3. Batch Meal Prep
When you make a meal that takes more preparation, batch meal prep and make one, two or three more and freeze them. This especially works well when you buy economy size ingredients and can use it all up instead of having to put part of it in a container or package it up for later.
4. Meal Prep Multiples at a Time
In addition to batch meal prepping, make multiple meals at the same time. While I have the pans, utensils, and food out, it is easier to make more meals than doing it at 3 separate times. For example, if I am making homemade pizza, I may make a lasagna and spaghetti casserole at the same time while I have the meat, sauce and cheese out.
I prefer to batch or multi meal prep on the weekend. Then, I use those extra meals on Monday and Tuesday evenings for dinner. Save the meals that you can’t prep in advance (like grilled cheese, tacos, salads, etc) for later in the week or the weekend.
5. Save and Use Leftovers
Do not throw away leftovers. Depending on what it is, you can put leftovers in the fridge and eat the next day for lunch or dinner. Some leftovers can be frozen and used weeks or months later. Saving leftovers saves you time from meal prepping more in the future. In addition, it saves you money with buying less groceries.
For example, if we do not use all the meat for a meal I will save and use it for another meal. When we do not use all the veggies I will toss them in a casserole later that week. If we do not use all the noodles for spaghetti I may make something like fettuccine alfredo or Italian spaghetti later that week.
6. Meal Prep When you Have Time
Meal prep when it works for you. I tend to meal prep on the weekend so there are meals ready for the busy work week. The weekends are when I usually have time to cut vegetables, cook meats, and bake. However, there are times I meal prep early in the morning before everyone gets up. Find a time that works best for you.
7. Prep Fresh Fruits & Vegetables in Advance
You are more likely to use fresh fruits and vegetables in meals if they are cut and ready to use. So get vegetables and fruits washed and prepped in advance for the meals you are making.
In fact, I found preparing vegetables on the weekend works really well when making meals during the week. In addition, with fruits and vegetables prepped we eat more of them as snacks too.
For example, on the weekend I will peel and cut onions, wash and cut up broccoli, cucumber, and tomatoes. If we have any seasonal fruit like grapes, melons, strawberries, etc I will wash, prepare and cut it up so it is ready for lunches and easy for my family to grab.
Lastly, try adding vegetables in as many meals as you can. Most recipes easily have room for vegetables and if you cut them small enough you can “hide” them from your kids. If they do not see them they can’t taste them:)
8. Meal Prep Meat When You Purchase It
Sometimes it is easiest to prep certain foods right when you buy them instead of waiting or freezing it first. For example, when chicken breasts are on a good sale, I usually purchase a few packs. First, I cut the fat off the chicken breasts. Next, I cut some of the chicken into smaller pieces. I put the large and small chicken pieces in separate ziplock bags and label what is in it, the date, and about how many. Lastly, I either put the meat in the freezer or bake it so it is ready to use. Now I have chicken breasts and smaller chicken pieces ready for various recipes.
9. Get Easy Sides to Serve With your Meals
Get easy sides to have with your main entree. As my family has gotten larger, the kids older and eating more, meals that I use to make for my husband and I do not feed all 4 of us. Instead of making a double meal or batch, I have 1 or 2 more sides. For example, a 9×13 pan of lasagna use to be enough to feed us all and that was all I had to make and we would have leftovers. Now, with a pan of lasagna we will have salad and garlic bread, or coleslaw that I got at Aldi for $2, or a side of frozen vegetables that I heat up. These are all easy sides that do not take time to prep, are relatively cheap, and provide a variety of food options.
10. Eat Out During the Week
If you want to pick something up from a restaurant or go out to eat consider doing it during the week instead of the weekend. The reason being typically people have more time to meal prep on the weekend. So make your more difficult or time consuming meals on the weekend. Then during the week, when you are strapped for time, get carry out or something delivered.
Furthermore, you can get some great restaurant deals and specials during the week that you can’t find on the weekend. This makes meal planning during the week easier and keeps more money in your pocket.
Final Thoughts on Meal Planning Tips
Try these meal planning tips to save yourself time and energy without compromising good meals for your family. We all have days or weeks where we struggle to come up with meal ideas. For more meal planning and meal idea resources check out my planning printables library below.