There are numerous benefits to planning meals in advance. For one, it saves you money. With a dedicated shopping list in hand, you’re less likely to make random purchases, which can reduce your overall grocery spend—but that’s not the only advantage.
Planning meals in advance also ensures that you actually use the ingredients you buy, meaning less food is forgotten and thrown into the garbage at the end of the week. And of course, having a meal plan in place means you’ll be less tempted to eat takeout and frozen pizza.
That said, it’s important to remember that meal planning won’t look the same all year long. In the summer, you might opt for more salads or cold dishes that don’t demand time spent over a hot stove. But in winter, you’ll likely want to cook heartier, more comforting dinners.
So, how can you make the most of meal planning in these colder months? We have a few ideas.
1. Choose Recipes Wisely
Set aside a dedicated time once per week (Sundays work well!) to plan out all your dinners for the next seven days. If you have kids, get them involved in the decision-making process by asking them to choose one or two recipes that they would like to try. You can even make a menu and post it on the fridge so you’ll stick to it.
Pro Tip: Choose recipes that use the same ingredients, so that you can cut down on food waste. You can use a single squash to make Tilapia with Butternut Squash Mash on Tuesday and a Tilapia and Black Bean Rice Bowl with Butternut Squash on Wednesday.
2. Make a Shopping List
When it’s 6pm on a Friday night and you realize you forgot to buy a main ingredient for dinner, the temptation to order in can be a little too overwhelming. It’s why we recommend that you go through all of your recipes at the start of the week and make one shopping list that includes everything you’ll need. Even better? Do one big shop to cut down on trips to the grocery store.
Pro Tip: Organize your list so that it corresponds with the layout of your favorite supermarket. This will get you in and out faster, and also decrease your chances of making impulse purchases.
3. Prep as Much as Possible
One major deterrent to making dinner—especially on a weeknight—is the time it requires. So take a few hours on the weekend to make life easier for yourself. Chop veggies for a Tilapia vegetable stir fry and make sauces in advance so that you’ll have fewer tasks to do when you get home from work.
Pro Tip: Many wintertime dishes can be made almost entirely in advance. Consider cooking up a pot of Tilapia Posole or baking a tray of Tilapia Enchiladas and stashing them in the freezer for nights when all you have time for is a quick reheat.
4. Be Easy on Yourself
Meal planning is a bit of a learning curve, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Consider choosing only one or two new recipes to try each week, and rely on easy, tried-and-true family favorites on other nights.
Pro Tip: Choose one night a week where you can splurge on frozen pizza or your favorite Chinese takeout to make dinnertime feel a bit less like a chore.
As your meal planning skills improve, you’ll quickly find that you can achieve even more. Planning packed lunches and breakfasts will reduce your budget and food waste—and may even introduce you to some new favorite recipes.
Interested in meal planning all year round? Check out our tips for prepping cheap and easy weeknight meals.
Photo Credits: Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock Inc., KucherAV / Shutterstock Inc., Regal Springs