One of the best ways to save money and stay on top of healthy eating goals is to make a meal plan.
Whether you jot notes on the family calendar, create detailed lists or use an online planning tool, taking time to plan what you want to make and eat can help you save money, eat healthier, reduce food waste and lower the daily stress of figuring out “What’s for Dinner?”
Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple list of meal ideas or it can include plans and dates for grocery shopping and meal prep. It can be for a couple of days, a week or a month at a time. Use an approach that best suits your style and helps you alleviate the stress of feeding your family healthy meals. Consider some of the following meal planning tips.
Start with what’s in your fridge, freezer, pantry or garden. After you’ve slotted a few ideas based on what you already have, consider checking local flyers for what’s on sale that can complement or add to what you already have.
Check everyone’s calendar
Identify hectic nights when everyone has to be somewhere else and sit-down meals are impossible. These days require foods that you or your family members can quickly reheat and eat on the road or at the kitchen counter. Consider freezer meals, soups, stews, prepared salads and wraps for these days. At our house soup, scrambled eggs or grilled cheese sandwiches with a handful of raw veggies are our go-to meals on days like these.
Choose seasonal foods
Fresh, seasonal foods are tastier and more affordable. And, by eating what’s in season you’ll get plenty of variety in your meal plans. For example, did you know that January to March is citrus season? A good time to add oranges and grapefruits to your meal plans.
Plan for at least two vegetables or fruits every meal and aim for a variety of whole grains and protein sources (eggs, meat, fish, beans, chicken, tofu, etc.).
Focus on ‘TNT’ recipes
Tried-and-true recipes that you can whip up easily will save you a lot of time and aggravation during the busy work week. It’s fun to look for and try new dishes, but don’t cram your week with new recipes that require extra time and ingredients you’re not familiar with.
Involve your family
Get the whole family to suggest meal ideas and to help with meal prep. If a particular meal is too tricky for young helpers, get them peeling carrots or grating cheese for a meal coming up later in the week. If nothing else, they can help set the table.
Consider theme nights
If coming up with meal ideas for a week or more is overwhelming, try theme nights. For example, Meatless Mondays, Soupy Tuesday, Worldly Wednesday (foods from around the world), Fish Thursday, Homemade Pizza Friday, Free-For-All Saturday (make your own dinner based on leftovers) or Big Dinner Sunday. You certainly don’t have to make every night a theme night, nor do you need to stick with it every week, but theme days can be great idea generators. I’ve used this technique on and off for years and Friday nights are still reserved for homemade pizza.
Cook once and eat twice
Think about which meals can be easily doubled to freeze for another week or which ones will make great leftovers for lunches or a second dinner. Since you’ve got all the ingredients and cooking utensils out already, this approach will save time and the number of dishes to be cleaned. For example, most soups, stews and casseroles can be easily doubled and frozen and extra mashed potatoes one day can be turned into shepherd’s pie or fried patties the following day.
Keep your meal plans
Hold on to your meal plans so you can reuse them or at least reference them for inspiration in future weeks. If possible, jot a few notes on what worked, what didn’t work, which recipe from what source you used and anything else noteworthy.
Here are two recipes that often show up on our weekly meal plan.
Ham and Peas Mac and Cheese
A family-friendly whole grain casserole that can be doubled up and frozen for another day. It’s also great for using leftovers. Try chicken, turkey or tuna instead of ham and broccoli, cauliflower or sweet peppers instead of peas. Serves six.
- 2 c. raw whole wheat macaroni (375-g box)
- 2 tbsp. canola oil
- 1/2 c. onion, chopped(1/2 onion)
- 1/2 c. celery, finely diced (2 stalks)
- 3 tbsp. flour1-1/2 c. milk
- 2 c. sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 medium carrot, grated
- 1 c. peas
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, dill or tarragon
- 1-1/2 c. diced cooked ham
In large pot, bring water to boil and cook macaroni al dente (slightly firm). Drain and set aside. In large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and celery and cook until tender, about three minutes. Add flour and mix well. Cook for one minute. Gradually whisk in milk until sauce thickens. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted and mixed in. Add carrots, peas, black pepper, parsley, ham and cooked macaroni. Transfer to a lightly greased three-quart (three-litre) casserole dish or a 9×13-inch baking pan. Bake in preheated oven at 350 F (180 C) for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through.
Freeze before baking.
Cool mix completely before freezing to avoid condensation and ice crystals. Freeze in a well-sealed casserole dish. Label with date, recipe name and cooking instructions. Use within 3 months. To use, thaw in fridge overnight. Bake in preheated oven at 350 F (180 C) for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through. If still slightly frozen, increase cooking time as needed.
Three orange salad
Enjoy citrus season with this three orange salad. Perfect for lunch or a side salad to go with Friday night pizza night. Serves four.
- 6 to 8 c. salad greens
- 1 blood orange
- 1 tangerine or Cara Cara orange
- 1 navel orange
- 1/2 c. toasted pecans
- 1/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
- 1/3 c. canola oil
- 1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp. orange juice concentrate
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tbsp. honey
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Wash and dry salad greens. Dark leafy greens are particularly good for this salad. Peel oranges with a knife to remove all the pith. To do so, cut a slice off the top and bottom of the whole orange. Place on cutting board and run a sharp knife between the peel and the flesh of the orange from the top to the bottom all around the orange. Make vinaigrette by pouring all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shaking vigorously. Toss salad greens with vinaigrette and arrange on large platter. Arrange oranges, pecans and goat cheese on top of greens.
Find more recipes at: www.gettystewart.com