This month, I wrote a blog on Meal Planning for my friends at Simplicity Organizers. They have been the organizing experts in Charlotte for more than 10+ years, and specialize in all things home & office organization. My favorite area of organization includes the kitchen (duh) and meal planning, so I was honored to write a few tips I’ve picked up through the years.
It all started almost 12 years ago. I was a newlywed and the only thing I knew how to cook was scrambled eggs (and “fancy” ramen, where you add in vegetables to those $0.29 packs of noodles, but I don’t think that really counts). I wanted to learn how to cook, but more importantly, I was also trying to manage our newlywed finances as well, so I wanted to learn how to cook efficiently. Thus began my love affair with meal planning.
Fast forward to the present where I find myself trying to balance work, married life and the manic whims of a precious 3-year-old. Once again, I’m in a place where meal planning is ESSENTIAL for our finances, for our health and also for our sanity.
So, how can we simplify our meals and routines? How can we reclaim peace and joy in cooking?
Do a quick Google search and you will find hundreds of websites giving you “7 Tips” here and “10 Steps” there to simplify your meal planning. Hours and hours go by, hundreds of clicks to and from sites on Pinterest, and you might still end up totally confused and unsure of how to actually get started. I’ve been meal planning now for 12+ years, and I feel like I’ve tried it all. Through it all, I’ve discovered a few successful ways to simplify our lives (& our food budget) by meal planning:
Plan One Week at a Time: Gather your family calendar and decide how many nights you can cook at home vs. take-out/going out to eat. Everyone’s schedules are “so busy” these days, so plan which nights you WILL cook…aiming for at least 3-4 per week.
If you’re really ambitious, try meal-planning for two weeks. Calendars, practices, appointments, etc., are typically set in stone for at least two weeks at a time. I am usually at my MOST efficient financially and with groceries (avoiding food waste) when I plan a couple weeks at a time. Flexibility is key, groceries can carry over, and impromptu nights out don’t matter as much because you can move that night’s meal to the next open night.
Take Stock: What items do you already have? A huge part of simplifying your meals, is simplifying your ingredient list. Try to cook 5-6 ingredient meals. Use healthy, whole ingredients when possible; simple, unprocessed and whatever produce is on sale that week.
NOTE: Taking stock of your pantry and fridge are a LOT easier to do if they are organized ahead of time. Before you get started with meal planning, take an hour to go through and organize; dispose of expired food and group by “like-items” (cans, grains, breakfast stuff, etc., in the pantry and fruit, veggies, dairy in the refrigerator). Store items in clear bins or baskets for easy visibility.