Saturday, November 07, 2015

7 on the 7th: meal planning must-haves

On Monday, I shared I plan to post our weekly menus to be more organized. I've been struggling in the meal planning department for several reasons despite being well aware of how beneficial it is to be prepared. Hopefully by sharing some of our recipes and tips, and by hearing from y'all, we will all be more prepared! Here's a few must-have tips and tools for meal planning that help me with the process:

1// use your calendar/agenda/planner
Know your schedule for the week. Is one day longer/harder than others? Will anyone be out of town? Do you have plans for people coming over? Are you going out to eat? Another reason to use your planner is to make notes of any prep work needed ahead of time. Write in tasks that can be done days in advance for your meals. For example, we keep quite a bit of frozen meat, which is great but it requires planning ahead to properly thaw. I feel like Mondays are always crazy so I try to plan for us to have leftovers that night just to make it a little easier.

2// search for inspiration
Once I know what our week looks like, I look for meal inspiration. I search instagram, pinterest, magazines, and cookbooks for ideas. I aim to try new recipes and sometimes seeing what other people are preparing reminds me of my own recipes I haven't made in a while. I also try to have Dustin provide an idea or two just so I am keeping his preferences in mind. Sometimes inspiration comes from the pantry or fridge. Those random canned goods would make a tasty vegetable soup. The sausage and bacon in the freezer reminds me we haven't had breakfast for supper in a few months. Consider different cuisines or themes when cooking: Mexican Monday, Thai Tuesday, Fish Friday, Soup Sunday, etc.

3// make a list
After I have an idea of what I want to prepare each day, I make a list of the meals and also my grocery list. I try to be sure we actually need what I write down so I'm not buying duplicates. Sometimes I overestimate my memory skills and end up with four containers of sour cream. My Simplified Planner has a nice little box on each day's page where I can write what we are eating. I love it.

4// notepads/printables/etc
I'm a sucker for a cute notepad, especially one that relates to food. I snagged a few at Target a couple years ago in the dollar aisle. I also have seen several printables on pinterest for grocery lists or menus. For me, pretty paper gets me excited to write my list and get organized. Fix a yummy snack, turn on your favorite music, light a candle or do whatever you enjoy to get excited for meal planning.

5// do the prep & find shortcuts
If I know we are having a roast on Sunday, I know to put it in the fridge to thaw on Thursday. Prepping this prevents me from trying to thaw a huge hunk of meat in a short amount of time (aka chaos). If I have spare time, I try to chop any veggies I know I will need in the coming days. I enjoy chopping vegetables; however, some days I just don't have the time. I've become BFF with the frozen chopped onions and bell peppers in the freezer section at Kroger. Find shortcuts that help shorten the time of your meal preparation.

6// consider all the meals/snacks
I only have shared our supper menus because typically for breakfast/lunch are pretty much a routine of any of the following: eggs/salads/leftovers. Snacks are usually nuts/lunch meat roll ups/fruit/avocados/etc. (nutrition tip: always have protein + carbohydrate + fat at your meals/snacks to prevent spikes/drops in blood sugar and to stay full longer). If you have people in your family who like different things each day, be sure that's considered.

7// plan for flexibility
This is one I struggle with at times. I get a plan going and then something comes up. Maybe the day doesn't go as I thought, plans change last minute, or we didn't like the new recipe we tried. Try to have things on hand you can make a quick meal out of: greens for a salad, frozen burritos that your husband loves, condiments for sandwiches, etc.

What helps you with your meal planning process? I'd love to hear your favorite tools, tips and tricks. What do you keep on hand for "emergency" meals?

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