by Chrissy Roshak
June 12, 2020
Meal planning has suddenly become a necessity for many families trying to cut back on spending as the coronavirus pandemic continues. While some people have been meal planning for ages, others are struggling to figure out how to make it work. We’ve got you covered with tips to get you cooking and eating well through the pandemic:
Raid Your Pantry
Kickstart your meal plan by taking inventory of the ingredients you already have on hand. Take note of any fresh produce and meat in your fridge that need to use and try to build those into your plan. Also take note of any condiments, dried herbs, and shelf stable ingredients you have on hand. Next you’re ready to build a plan. Try to incorporate the items you already have into your recipes. (You can even do a Google search for recipes that include an item you’re trying to use).
Choose Recipes for your meal plan Wisely
Let’s build your meal plan! Most people create a meal plan for the upcoming week, but consider your schedule and build a plan for the time frame that works best for you. Determine how many meals during that time you want to cook. Don’t forget to build days into your plan to use leftovers or order take out. This will help you get an accurate count of the number of recipes you need to schedule and shop for.
Try to choose recipes your family will enjoy. If your family is adventurous, you can get creative and try recipes from different countries or brainstorm fun themes for your meal plan. But if you live with picky eaters, try to stick to recipes you know everyone will like.
Most families are trying to trim their budget right now, and there are a couple of ways your meal plan can make that happen. First look for recipes that use the ingredients you already have on hand. You probably won’t have all of the ingredients you need for every recipe, but take note of the ingredients you will need to purchase. Try to select budget friendly recipes that use less expensive ingredients.
Get the most out of your ingredients
You can really put your meal plan to work reducing your budget by making sure you get the most out of your ingredients. Try to select recipes for the week that make the best use of the ingredients you need to buy. For example, if you need to buy a bell pepper because your recipe calls for half a red bell pepper, try to match it up with another recipe that week that will use the other half of the pepper.
Get savvy with ingredient substitutions to cut your costs. If you have olive oil in your pantry, but your recipe calls for coconut oil, go ahead and use the olive oil. Depending on how you’re using it, oils are often interchangeable as long as you don’t heat it beyond it’s smoke point. If your recipe calls for fresh herbs, you can substitute the dried version from your spice rack (just use 1/3 the amount the recipe calls for). Depending on the recipe, it will also often work to substitute a cheaper cut of meat or even swap in beans or tofu. When in doubt, a quick online search will usually help you figure out a good substitute.
Get your meal plan Organized
Once you’ve chosen your recipes, it’s time to get organized! Make sure you’ve listed out your plan so you can reference it throughout the week. There are some great meal planning apps that can help you with this, and many offer a free version. The best ones will help you make the best use of your ingredients, put together a grocery list for you, and can even help you place an online grocery order. But if you prefer to do it on your own, a simple checklist will work.
Next put together your grocery list. List out every ingredient from every recipe you’re making that week. Then check off the ingredients you already have, as well as anything you’re going to use a substitute for. Add in any other items you need for the week, and you’re ready to go shopping!
If you want to take your meal planning to the next level, try prepping and chopping all your produce when you get it home from the store. You can even use Ziploc bags or mason jars to store ingredients and put together your own DIY meal kits to make cooking a breeze during the week.
When it’s time to cook, prep your cooking space before you get started to maximize your time in the kitchen. Save time searching for ingredients by gathering everything you’ll need first. Put a strainer in the sink, and rinse your produce and let it dry while you gather the rest of your ingredients. Grab a clean cutting board, utensils and pans, and you’re ready to cook!
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