Save Time, Save Money—Meal Plan!

What are a few things that we likely all want more of? How about time and money? A simple way to bank more of both is by doing one thing you may not expect…meal plan! As a dietitian I’m a fan of meal planning for the obvious—it helps me feed my family and myself more healthfully than if I had no plan at all.  The additional benefits of this weekly practice is that it allows me to keep more money in my wallet, food out of the trash and spares my time and energy after a hectic day at work.

Here, I’ll share the real life tricks I use each week to get dinner on the table.

Scout out the week ahead.

What I mean by this is before you do any menu planning or shopping—consider how much time you can devote to cooking (or reheating!) each night. When your week includes a mix of late meetings, yoga class and book club with little time to cook, it’s probably a bad idea to get creative with new recipes or unfamiliar cooking techniques. Do yourself a favor and pull out your slow cooker for a fix it and forget it dish or opt for quick, throw together meals that require little or no cooking at all.

Create the plan.

Once you know how many nights you plan to cook, reheat or order out, select the recipes. Remember to take inventory of the fresh ingredients you have already and choose recipes with these ingredients to combat waste.  While it’s great to include family favorite go-to recipes in the rotation, broaden your flavor horizons with less familiar seasonal produce, specialty ingredients or ethnic seasonings too. Check out a tool like My Happy Plates where you can explore hundreds of recipes that are customized to your family’s eating preferences, right down to the detail of ingredients you never want to see in a recipe (in my case, it’s cilantro—the worst!).

Follow the plan.

Even the greatest meal plan will let you down IF you don’t have the ingredients on hand.  Take the extra time to write down or build a digital grocery list of what you need to prepare the recipes you have selected before you ever set foot in a grocery store or place your order online.

Love your leftovers.

I will never understand people that say they ‘don’t like leftovers.’ What?!? To me, when I prepare a meal and have enough left over for my husband or I to eat for lunch or dinner another day, it’s like I’ve won the meal planning lottery. Seriously! Batch cooking and getting to enjoy the meal once, twice or even three times (especially when the recipe rocks!) is a super simple way to get the biggest bang out of your cooking buck.  If you prefer not to eat a meal on repeat all week long, you can also use the batch cooking strategy and simply freeze the extras (best with soups, stews and most casseroles) for up to four-five months.

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