Cooking during the week when you’re working full time can be stressful. If you don’t prepare, you can spend all day wondering what you’re going to make. It’s this kind of situation that can make you hate cooking and dread the kitchen.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Preparing your meals a week at a time is much easier than starting from scratch each day. It also means that you can plan out how in depth you want to go. You can go out and buy bread, or you can plan to bake it yourself.
Make a Favorites List
If you’re planning on (or already have) taking over the majority of your household’s cooking, the best place to start is by making a list of your favorite meals. These can be as simple as frozen pizza, or as complicated as chicken cordon bleu. Just make a list of everything that you know how to make that your family enjoys.
You probably have at least 15 different meals, right? That’s two weeks right there. I would suggest trying to get to around 30 basic meal ideas that you can easily pull from when making a meal plan. If you use each recipe during the course of a month, you’ll only be eating the same thing 12 times a year, so you won’t get tired of it!
Once you have your list, pick out the ones that may take longer to make than others. I love making chicken alfredo, but only if I make the noodles from scratch. Making noodles takes several days to do right, so if I decide to make that, I’ll make sure that the rest of my week is full of easy, “throw it in the pot” recipes.
Unless I got a huge burst of energy, there’s no way I’d make noodles, pizza crust, and pastries in one week. Don’t overload yourself with work. The best part of making a meal plan is that you get to decide what you’ll do.
Check your Pantry
Before writing down your meal plan, check the ingredients that you already have. Chances are, unless you keep a very low stock of ingredients in your house, you’ve probably got enough to make at least one meal, if not more. By being aware of what we have, we can normally keep our weekly grocery budget under $30, unless we have to make a big meat purchase. For two people, that’s not too bad.
Skim the Store Sales
This step can be skipped, and sometimes I do if I don’t have the time or interest to check them out. Once you’ve determined what you can make from your pantry, check the flier for your store and see if there are any ingredients that you can work into a meal.
Write Out Your Meal Plan
Now that you’ve made a few decisions, make sure you write down your meal plan. Most days my husband picks me up from work and asks “what’s for dinner?” About half the time, I have no answer for him. I don’t remember what I wrote down, but that’s okay. The fact that I wrote it means that I have all of the ingredients and can make it quickly.
As you’re writing your meal plan, write your shopping list, too. I write them right beside each other, so if I’m at the store and I wonder why I put something on the list, the answer is right there.
Write Out Your Prep
I also like to write out what prep work I’ll need to do for the next day. Normally this consists of transferring meat from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. If I’ve decided to make something more in depth like meatballs, then I’ll transfer the meat to the fridge two days ahead of time and form the meatballs the day before so they’re ready to be cooked the day of.
Listing prep work separately is something fairly recent for me, and it’s helped so much! I used to make a plan, but then I’d forget to thaw the meat the night before, so I’d get home to completely frozen chicken. I do occasionally still forget that, but it’s much less frequent.
Do you have any special tips for meal planning? Let me know!