Meal planning for the week ahead

Learn how meal planning may save time and energy


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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.

3 steps to menu planning

1. Ready, set, scan

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.

2. Ready, set, plan

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.

3. Ready, set, cook

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:

  • Set the oven to 350°F to toast nuts, roast vegetables, and bake oatmeal, potatoes, or chicken. Potatoes can be reheated and topped with broccoli and cheese or chili. Add chicken to salads, casseroles, or a sandwich
  • While the oven is heating, chop vegetables for side dishes, snacks, salads, and lunches. Keep some raw and store them at eye level in a clear container in the fridge. When they’re the first things you see when you open the door, you’re more likely to eat them! Toss some with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake until just tender (time depends on the size of the vegetable). Serve some for dinner tonight and store the rest in the fridge to serve later in the week. Serve roasted cauliflower or brussels sprouts as a vegetable side dish, then add to a green salad later in the week. Mushrooms can top a pizza, be added to spaghetti, or stirred into a frittata
  • Simmer a pot of soup. Split pea, beef and barley, or white bean chicken chili can give you a night or two of meals
  • Hard boil eggs. Perfect for breakfast, lunches, and snacks. Or you can chop them in salads, along with canned beets, toasted walnuts, and feta cheese crumbles
  • Cook a whole grain. After the eggs are boiled, rinse the pan to make quinoa, spelt, bulgur, brown rice, or wheat berries. This is an easy way to boost fiber and protein in salads. Or you can top the whole grain with yogurt and fruit for a quick breakfast
  • To reduce stress in busy mornings, try making overnight oats. They’re easy to make and usually keep for about 3-4 days in the refrigerator. They’re the perfect breakfast to grab on the go.
  • Blend hummus or bean dip for a high-fiber snack that’s ready when hunger strikes. Pack it with veggies and whole grain crackers for lunch

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!”



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