It’s back-to-school time which means a busy season is about to start for many of us. Even though Nora isn’t in school yet, we live near a university so it seems like the whole city runs off of the school schedule. Everything is laid back in the summer then gets crazy come fall. Don’t let the busyness keep you from making healthy meals for your family. Whether you’re a newbie to meal planning or just need some fresh ideas, here are a few tips on how to plan a week of meals.
Use what you already have
No sense in spending more money if you’ve got plenty to work with in your home. I keep a list on my fridge upstairs that shows what we have in my beloved deep freezer in the basement. It’s nothing fancy and looks something like this:
3 packages- 1# ground beef
2 whole chickens
5 salmon burgers
2 mahi mahi filets
When I take something out of the freezer, I update my list. This keeps me from buying more meat when I don’t need it and it also helps me come up with dinner ideas. I don’t keep a list of what’s in my fridge or pantry but I take a mental inventory when I’m reviewing my grocery list.
Keep a running grocery list
I use the “notepad” app on my iPhone and add an item to it once we run out. This has become a helpful tip for me after learning the hard way. I wanted to make our favorite salmon dish and didn’t realize I was out of black bean garlic sauce until it was 5pm and I was about to make dinner! I add things to my list like yogurt, peanut butter, etc. when we’re close to running out as well. Can you imagine how awful it would be to run out of peanut butter?? Don’t let it happen to you.
Make a list of your favorite go-to meals
Sometimes we forget about those gems in our recipe box or Pinterest board. Again, the notepad app is great for keeping a list of favorite meals. I usually put them into categories of quick meals versus meals that take a little more prepwork. It can keep you from getting into a rut and making the same things week after week.
Write it down
I use an old calendar marker board from college that’s now hanging on our fridge. The only thing I actually write is the protein source for dinner and then I decide what veggies I want to serve with it the night I make the dish.This helps me plan ahead by knowing what I need to pull out of the freezer to thaw by the day I’m going to use it. This is what last week looked like for us:
Monday- Homemade meatloaf & sweet potato hash
Tuesday- My birthday! We went to one of our favorite local restaurants with my family. I ordered blackened swordfish topped with an avocado mango salsa. Instead of broccoli and couscous I asked for Brussels sprouts and a baked sweet potato.
Wednesday- Rotisserie chicken (leftovers in lunches) with sauteed zucchini & squash
Thursday- leftover chicken, a hard boiled egg, and oatmeal with blueberries, cinnamon, and nuts (odd combination but it worked!)
Friday- Wild salmon burgers (from Costco) and a big salad
Saturday- Veggie and egg scramble & sweet potato hash
Sunday- PFC salad with hardboiled eggs, chicken, kalamata olives, beets, walnuts, and my homemade balsamic vinaigrette.
Get out your planner
Use your schedule for the week as a reference so you know when it would be best to make your easy go-to dishes versus dishes that take more prepwork. Mondays are like my catch up day when I get produce prepped for the week, boil a dozen eggs & peel them, and make anything else we need. Therefore, Monday dinners are usually an easy one because I’m prepped-out by dinner time. Last time I made a bunch of freezer meals with my neighbor I made a big batch of meatloaf to freeze. All I had to do was put it in a pan and leave it in the oven for an hour. No hard work on my part. Breakfast for dinner happens on a weekly basis because eggs are so cheap and easy to make. I also love having a crock pot recipe for days when I’ve got commitments and won’t be home because you don’t need to be home to “cook” dinner!
Lastly, but very importantly, make extra when you cook dinner! Instead of making one rotisserie chicken, throw two in there (if you have room). You can use one for dinner and some leftover meals and then freeze the meat from the second chicken for a future meal. I’m always cooking for 6-8 even though it’s just Dave and I eating the meal because then it gives me enough for two dinners, leftovers for our lunches, and I can freeze the rest for another day. I always do this with taco meat, soup, or grilled chicken.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal. Start with meals you already know how to make and gradually add in some new ones. I know how long it takes me to make one of our reoccurring meals from start to finish so that helps me plan better for the week. Adding a new recipe in might take longer than you think so maybe just add one new one a week to your rotation. A little planning ahead can pay off greatly as this busy season starts!
If you meal plan, what tips do you have to be efficient and budget-friendly?