There are so many reasons you should plan your meals, from eating healthier to enjoying greater variety in your meal rotation and, of course, saving money. (Plus it saves you the disappointment of throwing out expired food because you didn’t use up that delicious, overpriced bunch of asparagus in time.) However, meal planning can seem like a daunting task when you first begin. It can be time consuming, and if you don’t plan carefully enough, you might end up spending more than you expected.
With a little bit of prep and a few clever hacks, meal planning doesn’t have to be a stressful event—you can do it without wasting your time, money or sanity. Whether you’re a seasoned meal planner or a total newbie, these seven hacks are sure to up your meal-planning game.
1. Write it down.
The most important rule of meal planning is to write it down. Make a written menu and post it somewhere you can see it. That way you won’t forget to defrost chicken a couple days in advance or use up all that zucchini in the produce drawer.
2. Limit new recipes.
There are so many amazing-looking recipes to try out there, but make sure you limit yourself on trying new recipes so you don’t burn out. Trying out new recipes takes extra time both to plan and to make, and they don’t always turn out to be a new favorite. Limit your stress by minimizing new recipes on your weekly menu.
3. Make a list.
Once you have your menu finalized always, ALWAYS make a list before you head to the store. Make sure you check your recipes so you don’t forget anything because making mid-week trips for “just a couple things” can easily turn into a cart full of unnecessary items. Cross items off your list as you shop, and stick to what you need.
4. Plan a seasonal menu.
Make sure you are taking advantages of the best deals by shopping seasonally. In the height of summer, for example, corn is cheap as dirt and its uses are so versatile. Not to mention seasonal produce always tastes better and is far more likely to be locally sourced.
5. Do a super cheap night.
One way to save you a ton of cash is to have a super cheap dinner once a week. Having breakfast for dinner is always a good option, but if that’s not your jam, there are plenty of budget-friendly meals that will keep your stomach and wallet full. Remember, cheap doesn’t have to mean tasteless. Leanne Brown’s downloadable cookbook Good and Cheap is chock-full of amazing meals designed for a small budget.
6. Plan simple meals.
There is nothing wrong with having a favorite simple dish and putting it on the menu regularly. A good slow-cooker dish or one-pan meal with minimal prep can save your sanity on busy weeknights when you have more important items to tend to than a complicated dinner.
7. Reuse ingredients.
Make sure you are stretching your ingredients instead of your budget. You can significantly slash your grocery bill by planning multiple meals with the same core ingredients. If you are using carrots in a stew one night, maybe plan carrot muffins for breakfast, use shredded carrots in coleslaw for lunch and make buttered carrots as a side for another dinner.