It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, so it’s time to kick back and relax, right?
Not at my house after work when the kids want attention and the dog demands playtime—all while I’m trying to get dinner on the table!
Meal planning can help you control some of the chaos. These simple strategies reduce the number of trips to the store and the time spent there. And most important, you cut down on wasted food. Cha-ching! More money saved.
Before you grocery shop, scan your cupboards, fridge, and freezer to see what’s available. Are there foods on hand you can use to start a recipe? Fresh tomatoes can be simmered with olive oil and garlic to make a pasta sauce. If you have a can of olives, tuna, or clams, add those. Do you have fresh fruit or vegetables you can make into a salsa? This is a great way to use what you already have. Have fun and see how creative you can get.
Plan at least three meals you can make this week. Jot them down on your phone or just a piece of paper. Check the grocery papers to see what’s on sale and what’s in season. Fresh produce tastes the best and costs less when it’s in season. When you are shopping, ask the produce manager to see what’s in season. Try to buy all natural and fresh ingredients if you can, although frozen and canned can be good substitutes. Keep high-fiber foods in mind.
Think about how you can use what you’re cooking in another meal. When you cook once and eat twice or more, it saves you time and energy. For example, if you’re cooking ground beef or turkey, cook extra and freeze it for next week. Baking salmon? Save half to make a salad with lettuce, avocado, cucumber, and orange slices. Cooking quinoa? It only takes 15 minutes to cook and can be added to soups, chili, and green salads, or tossed with black beans, corn, green chilis, and a vinaigrette.
Chili, soups, and spaghetti sauce are other recipes to think about doubling. Freeze half of what you make in an airtight container and label what’s inside. This extra time is more than made up for when you can defrost a meal during a busy week or when you may be fatigued or experiencing symptoms.
Set aside time for a “power hour” of meal prepping. This hour is focused on kitchen time. Sunday works for me, but find the time best suited for your schedule. Sometimes I turn on some music. Sometimes I enjoy the quiet. It all depends on how you feel in that moment.
Here is an example of how I prep for meals on Sundays:
As you finish cooking, pack foods in airtight containers, label, and place them in the fridge or freezer. The more you plan, the easier the routine becomes. You’ll also appreciate when the 5 o’clock frenzy is more like, “I’ve got this!”