Meal Planning 101

meal planning 101 | Lighten UpFriends often ask me how I find the time to cook four nights per week with our busy schedules. My secret? Weekly meal planning! I have a love-hate relationship with meal planning, but trust me, a few minutes of prep time will save you time, money, AND calories in the long run! Every weekend, I curl up with my coffee and iPad and scroll through my recipe boards. I jot down the recipes that I want to make for the week, along with the necessary ingredients, which essentially forms my food shopping list.

My criteria for recipes:
1. Frozen, pre-packaged meals do not equal dinner (…I’ll make an exception if I’m really in a pinch)
2. Cooking time for weeknight recipes should not exceed 25 minutes
3. Meals should be as nutritionally-balanced as possible (although the occasional mac and cheese never killed anyone…)

How to create a weekly menu:
Step 1: Take inventory
Do a full kitchen assessment of your fridge, freezer and pantry to determine what you already have on hand to use in recipes during the week. Already have 2 boxes of pasta? Choose a pasta recipe to use it up. Save money AND clean out your pantry!

Step 2:  Determine how many recipes you’ll need for the week and what those recipes will be
I cook dinner 4-5 times per week since we usually go out to eat or order take-out on the weekends. I know that I’ll need to find 4-5 dinner recipes, preferably to use up what I already have on-hand. Breakfasts and lunches are typically the same each week. I know that I will need 5 days worth of Greek yogurts (breakfast) and 5 days worth of lunch items (salad ingredients since the hubby buys his lunch) to get us through the work week. Don’t forget categories like snacks, side dishes, fruits, veggies and desserts — these items are staples on my list each week.

Step 3: Record recipes and the ingredients you need to purchase
As they say, “variety is the spice of life.” When choosing recipes for the week, I try to balance out the proteins, veggies and starches. We usually have chicken, fish, pasta, and vegetarian night each week. Grab a piece of notebook paper or the ‘notes’ app on your phone and write down each recipe you plan on making, as well as the ingredients that you need to purchase for each. Your list will act as your grocery list AND a reminder of what you’re supposed to be cooking each day. I like the old-fashioned paper method so that I can hang it on the fridge for visibility. If you’re feeling super organized, you can assign recipes to each day of the week. If not, no worries — you’ll have an idea of what you will be cooking for the week (this is my typical method).
Need recipe inspiration? Check out Pinterest, the Food Network, and your favorite cookbooks. There are TONS of online recipe sites out there!

Step 4: Bring your list to the grocery store and only shop from your list!
Having a list will stop you from impulse-shopping and will ensure that you have everything you need to make each recipe for the week. There’s nothing I hate more than running to the grocery store multiple times for forgotten ingredients!
Happy meal planning!

meal planning 101 | Lighten Up

Content: Lighten Up Recipes
Photography: Lighten Up Recipes


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