The benefits of meal planning are numerous, but two of the greatest benefits are its cost effectiveness and its ability to ensure you and your family are eating a balanced diet. When you meal plan for a week or two at a time, you simply pick and choose meals to eat each night. This allows you to go to the store only once every week or two, with just a few little trips for fresh produce if needed. Even then, you can eliminate those little trips and plan your meals so the dishes which need the freshest of ingredients are the first ones made and the more pantry friendly dishes are the last. Everyone meal plans differently and you will find your own style of arranging your menus. You may decide to have meat one night a week, pasta another, a crock pot dish for a busy evening, or even a night you eat leftovers (if there are any!) to clean out the fridge before the next week starts.
If you are new to meal planning, we suggest designating specific nights to showcase a certain type of main dish. IE: Monday is chicken, Tuesday is pasta, so on and so forth. This will give you some direction and you can go through your cookbooks or on line and pick recipes accordingly, taking some of the stress out of the situation. Once you are used to meal planning, making sure you are feeding your family a balanced diet will not only be easier, but it will make figuring out what to make for dinner a cinch. If you like to be a little more spontaneous, you can still meal plan! Just have a list of meals you are prepared to make and decide each night based on what’s available. It takes a little getting used to, but it is well worth the discipline.
Have you ever wandered aimlessly through the grocery store, picking items up here and there that sound good, but then arrive at home with maybe enough to make one complete meal? Meal planning eliminates buying unnecessary items at the grocery store -- you need to make a grocery list based on the recipes for the week, but it also typically eliminates those random trips to the grocery store for last minute or forgotten items. To make your grocery list, collect all the recipes you will be using and write down any items you don’t have on hand. Also make sure your pantry is stocked and write down items you’ll need to keep it up to date. A well stocked pantry is a cooks best tool.
Meal planning is also very cost effective. Not only will you be making less trips to the store, and therefore buying less items if you stick to your grocery list, but you have complete control over what you are buying based on what you’re serving. To help keep costs down, you can make sure that for every meal that requires more expensive ingredients, you also have a meal on the list that is easy on the budget. Also, each week, you have the ability to make a dish that is easy to double and freeze. Just remember to use the frozen half the following week!
Meal planning also cuts down on food waste. Do you have a recipe that calls for half a bunch of scallions? Find another dish that calls for scallions as a garnish so the other half doesn’t end up in the trash. If you have a recipe that calls for part of something, try to find another recipe that can use it to cut down on food spoilage. Even pairing recipes up for future reference is a good idea.