I have been religiously doing my "meal planning" for good 2-3 years now and I love it. I can't believe I am saying this because who in their right mind would LOVE to spend a gorgeous Sunday grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning 3-4 hours every week. Ideally, I'd like to dedicate my Sunday to brunch and a Netflix binge but eating more balanced, nutritious, cooked meal at home is my priority. Also, I'd like to spend my time at the gym instead of cooking after work. It's all about your priorities, amount of time you have, and your food budget. Since I am limited on all of that, Meal Planning takes over everything else on Sunday (unless I am traveling or something). Two things I repeatedly hear from people is that "they don't have time to cook" or "they are too tired after a long day at work". To that I nod my head in agreement because we have all been there..Right?
It is definitely more convenient to eat out - it's quick, easy, and sometimes even cheaper than cooking at home. But, the cost of eating out adds up quickly and so does your waistline, which is no bueno. I did a post on meal planning a long time ago and since then I have learned few things, tips and tricks that have worked well for me. I hope you will find this post on "How to Simplify Meal Planning"? resourceful in eating well, balanced meal for you and your family!
Few things to remember before we dive into simplifying meal planning.
Meal planning is NOT EASY - it takes time & practice but it gets better as you do more.
Make it a weekly priority like you do for cleaning, laundry, and vacuuming.
Start small, simple, and slow to keep things less complicated than it needs to be.
Write, Raid, Plan - Rather than aimlessly walking around the grocery store and coming home with 15 things that you don't need, grab yourself a pen, paper (or an app) to list what you have/what you need to use up, how many meals you will need, and plan meals based on that. Trust me, it will save so much $$ and trouble when you have 3 bottles of the same spices, 4 different types of cheese, and plenty of leftover. Been there, Done that. Pro tip: Try to use up what you already have, substitute when possible rather than buying ingredients.
Chop & Cut - Chopping vegetables and cutting meat may not seem like a lot of work but it is time consuming. Depending upon the recipe, I am finding that chopping, peeling vegetables for the week at once helps ALOT. Same goes for meat. I buy my meat in bulk, so I chop, dice, marinate whatever needs to be done in separate containers/plastic bags for the week. This also means, cleaning knives and chopping board only once! Pro-tip :Designate a big bowl or a plastic bag for all the scraps from chopping, helps cleaning up easier and you don't have to walk to your trash can multiple times.
Cook, Bake, Grill - I don't mind eating reheated food, so I usually make my grains/lentils ahead of time. I usually cook grains, which works great with curry-based dish and lentils/beans are perfect for lunch-friendly salads. Lately, I have been grilling/baking 2-3 chicken breast ahead of time to use it in salad and quesadillas - it's a game changer after a long day at work! If you like hard-boiled eggs, you can make that in advance as well. Pro-tip : Allow grains, lentils to cook while you are chopping your veggies!
Freeze & Reheat - As much as I would like to eat fresh meals every night, it's not feasible for me right now, so I depend a lot make ahead meals and slow cooker. There are so many dishes that can be prepared ahead of time and simply reheated or assembled right before serving. Pro-tip:Make a big batch of chili or soup one week and portion out how many servings you need that week and freeze the rest for later.
Keep Things Simple - Unless you have extra time to spare, weeknights are not the best for elaborate or time consuming recipes. At least, it's not what I am aiming for. My goal is to have nourishing, simple meal as quickly as possible. I usually opt for one pot dishes, stews, or assemble me a Nourish Bowl with cooked grains, roasted veggies (both of which are cooked ahead), and throw some protein (mostly it's over easy eggs) for a complete meal. Also, include your truly tried and favorite,simple recipes into the rotation!
Grab n' Go Breakfast - Breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day but in my case, it is the most rushed meal. However I make sure to eat something in the morning. If you don't have time in the morning, make grab and go breakfast for the week. Some of my favorite includes smoothies, yogurt parfait, and granola bars.
Let me reiterate that meal planning is a learned skill that comes with time. It's taken me many Sundays to figure out what works best for me and my lifestyle. Also, don't feel like you have to apply each and every tip mentioned here to be successful at meal planning. What works for me, may or may not work for you and that's okay.
If you are into meal planning, I'd love to hear what type of things do you do to keep things simple?