Last week, I spent several hours and a couple of hundred dollars curating lots of fresh groceries to feed my family for the upcoming week.
With a car full of groceries, I then headed over to my favorite pizza place to pick up the carry-out meals I order because, apparently, shopping for food is exhausting. Sound familiar?
I am a planner by nature but when it comes to meal planning, some weeks I spend more time with takeout menus than my kitchen.
I’ve talked to friends, gotten advice from those who are far more organized than me, and done a bit of research, and thankfully, have found some fun ways to make meal planning and the meal preparation process, a bit more fun.
In the end, it makes life simpler and saves money at the same time.
• Find Your Style: Meal planning does not have a one-size-fits-all approach.
While many people like to meal prep on the weekends, others find that approach to be too overwhelming and time-consuming.
Remember that the whole idea is to plan your meals for the week; you can prep or not prep as much as you want in advance.
• Stock Up: Whether you prep all at once or as you go, the first and most important step is to properly stock your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator with commonly used menu items.
I find that even those last-minute recipes I dig up call from things like chicken broth, half and half, barbecue sauce, or some form of shredded cheese (not all at once of course) — so keeping those items in my kitchen all the time gives me a ton of flexibility with my planning.
Next, make sure your kitchen tools are up to date.
I received new pots and pans for Christmas and splurged on a new cutting block — and both have changed my attitude about working in my kitchen.
Is there a new gadget or appliance you need that might help you get excited to cook? Treat yourself and see what culinary magic happens!
• Build Your Own Recipes: I tend to fall into ruts with my cooking and find that those tried and true family favorites begin to be a lot less appetizing.
For example, we usually have Meatlovers Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Pasta Wednesdays and some of the easy-to-put-together means that coincide with my menu plans are starting to be kind of dull to prepare and even less exciting to eat. Sound familiar?
I have tried mixing things up by just tweaking a few flavors. For example, instead of traditional goulash — a favorite in my house — we have made sloppy joe pasta and a Mexi-melt goulash — same ingredients but a few new spices or tweaks of ingredients.
My challenge to you is to try menu planning for two weeks.
Write everything down.
For the third week, try the same menu but see how you can spice it up or tweak it.
Enlist your spouse, kids, or roommate to help!
• Boxed Dinners? I have, in the past, found that some of the prepackaged meal prep kits can be great time-savers and make me look forward to cooking.
Services such as Home Chef, Hello Fresh and Dinnerly all offer flexible deliveries, assorted plan sizes, and menu selection at various price points.
Even if you only subscribe for a short period, you may find a few new recipes to add to your meal planning arsenal.
• Point. Click. Cook: Since most of us are slightly addicted to the convenience of having a Smartphone, I am going to advocate putting it to use for your meal-planning prowess.
While there are a ton of recipes and meal-planning apps out there, not all of them are created equal.
I have a few favorites that have been a Godsend in the kitchen.
One of my favorites is called Pepperplate and it is available both online and for your Smartphone.
You can build recipes based on which ingredients you have on hand or want to cook with that you can then add to a meal-planning calendar.
It even scales the recipes to the number of people you plan to cook for (and don’t forget to add a serving or two for leftovers and lunches) and you can create a shopping list in the order you actually shop in your local store!
The “cook now” mode features a hands-free interface and a built-in timer so you can keep it with you from the grocery store to the stove.
If you are like me and need some creative inspiration for meals, i.e, you aren’t sure what you feel like cooking, there’s a great app called “Food on the Table.”
Last but certainly not least, I get inspiration from food bloggers who share recipes and often videos of their meal preparations online.
A few great places to start include Natasha’s Kitchen and Tasty.
Bon Appetit!
(Editor’s Note: Kristine George is a freelance journalist who resides in Easton.)