Meal Planning: 10 Tips from a beginner’s perspective


A lot of things I have read recently about food waste have referenced that having a plan for food is a main component to reducing food waste. It is estimated that Americans are wasting about 40% of food grown for human consumption! Wow.

Collectively, we can all contribute to reducing food waste, decreasing methane emissions of rotting food in landfills, and leave more money in our pockets. Today I want to chat about meal planning. I have been a come-and-go meal planner over the years. But in 2015, one of my goals was to be better at it. I want to share some of the things I have found that work for me.

1. Start small. I do not plan each and everything thing we eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks 7 days a week. I just plan our evening meals, and usually just for five nights.

meal list2
Our menu for the next week.

2. Align your menu with your week. There are some weeks I have two to three night meetings, during those weeks a strict menu is not in the cards for me. If possible, I try to do the bulk of the cooking on the weekend prior to my week of meetings. It is a win-win in our house, I can take leftovers during the week and the Hubs has dinner on the nights I am gone.

3. Make a list. Have you ever gotten to the grocery store, just to realize you left your list at home? Ugh me too (I know what you are thinking, just make your list on your phone and then that is not a problem, I use my phone for a lot of things, but as my grocery list, it is just something I just have been able to do yet). For me the list is very important. I rely heavily on it for remembering what I need to get. I have also been that person that goes to the store with my mental list of four items, and I come home with $80 worth of stuff! Creating a list helps to just shop for what you need (reducing waste) and it keeps more money in your pocket by limiting impulse purchases. When I buy canned vegetables or dry goods I will also buy an extra here or there to keep a healthy supply in the pantry.

4. Don’t beat yourself up if the menu changes. I write down a list of things I plan to make during the week and decide the day before what we will be having, some people I know assign food items to each night. There is no right or wrong way to do it, do what works best for your family. Sometimes during the week something else comes up and I don’t get around to making something I had planned, we just move that item to the weekend (one of the reasons I usually just plan for five meals a week).

5. You don’t have to always cook. Some nights I come home and I just want to have a glass of wine and kick my feet up. Luckily no little people depend on us for food in those cases. On those nights I will just cut up cheese, fruit, vegetables, and gather some crackers. If we have french bread for dipping (sliced wheat bread just doesn’t do it for me), I will bust out some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This meal is perfect on the nights where you don’t want to cook, clean your kitchen, or even be in the kitchen.

6. Have fun with it. I like to cook and try new recipes, so I challenge myself to try one to two new recipes a week. Some of these new recipes have turned into family favorites for us. Even with this goal, we still get stuck in the rut of having some of the same things over and over, that is when I start increasing the amount of new recipes I try.

7. Don’t forget the staples. As I said before, I only plan for our dinner meals, however I know our eating patterns and shop for those. Breakfast items usually consist of things like oatmeal, yogurt, milk, string cheese, toast, smoothies, fruit, or any combination. Lunch is either leftovers or sandwiches (meat/cheese or PBJ). Plus I always make sure we keep stuff on hand for spaghetti, which is great for a quick and easy meal and one meal the Hubs has mastered. Additionally, I always purchase fruits and vegetables that are great in a main dish or by themselves as a healthy snack. In our house having these things always on hand makes food prep for all meals easy.

8. Embrace your leftovers. With just two people in our household leftovers are pretty common. But we love leftovers. They are great to take for lunch in the following days. Sometimes we also have a “leftover night” where we eat all of the random leftovers, think of those nights as a 5-course meal nights ๐Ÿ™‚ If you are not a leftover person, I encourage you to work on cutting your recipes so that you are only making what you can eat in that one setting, thus reducing food waste.

9. Random ingredients left at the end of the week. Sometimes you may not get around to making something you had planned, or you bought more of an ingredient than you needed for your recipe. It seems that every week I use up these random ingredients by making soup, stew, chili, smoothies, or salads. All of these are handy for using up leftover fruits, vegetables, meat, broths, and other ingredients.

10. Involve your family. When I bust out 10 new recipes a week, I ask Hubs to choose a couple he would like me to try. This works out well because I have already picked the ones I want, but he also gets a voice in choosing the final menu for the week. It is a better shared experience for both of us.

meal list
A list of what we have had in the last month.

I have found that by planning out evening menus we are saving money when we go grocery shopping, we very rarely throw away any food, and we are having fun cooking and tasting new recipes.

Do you plan your meals? What other tips do you have?

———————-

Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

โ€“ Website (http://food.unl.edu/ag-and-food)
โ€“ Twitter/Instagram (agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/agwithdrlindsay)
โ€“ Pinterest (Lindsay Chichester-Medahunsi)

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