Karla Gilbert’s top tips for easy meal planning 

By Karla Gilbert 

Preparing quick and delicious meals might seem impossible with everything else you have going on in your life! But by using some simple tips, you’ll be blown away by how easy, cooking delicious food can be. 

The simplest, most effective system for meal planning is to break it down into three key steps: selecting recipes, shopping for ingredients, and prepping your meals. 

Meal planning means asking the ‘what’s for dinner question’ just once for the whole week, instead of every night, and then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking.  

Selecting recipes 

Have a look at your calendar for the coming week and decide the number of nights you want to make dinner at home. Five nights is the most common denominator, but for some people, three nights is the sweet spot.  

On the nights that you’re cooking, what do those meals need to do? For example, on the nights that your kid has swimming lessons, a 10-hour slow cooker recipe is a good idea. Or if it needs to be something you can whip up in 10 minutes, a baked dish won’t cut it.  

Ask the family and get some input on what they may like to eat – this way, it becomes a team decision. Flick through recipe books together or your favourite blog and find recipes everyone gets excited about! 

Shopping for ingredients  

Once you’ve selected your recipes, go through each ingredient list to make up the master list of things you’ll need for the week. Then, with keen eyes, go through your kitchen and cross off anything you already have. Now you’ve got a very accurate grocery list to take shopping.  

Why not take the kids and involve them in the process? It is usually harder to do anything with the kids, especially if you are used to doing it yourself. But teaching kids great habits by letting them plan and shop with you when they are young goes a long way towards raising budget-conscious and healthy young adults. 

The prep  

Now you’ve come to the point where the plan truly becomes dinner. But there’s one more step — and this one will help you beat cooking fatigue during the week. You’ve got to do some prep! 

This is where it’s a good time to hook into making some healthy freezable snacks (which the kids love doing as a weekend activity!) or chopping up vegetables that may be used over the next couple of days.  

Bonus tips for easy planning 

  1. Scan the weekly specials – Learn to love your junk mail, not junk food. Save money by buying meats on special, fresh foods in season and gather inspiration for meal ideas. 
  2. Alternate proteins – Try to include at least 2 red meats, and a variety of white meats, such as chicken, turkey, pork and fish or even a plant-based protein meal.
  3. Go for alternate grains – Each grain offers a different nutritional profile. Instead of white pasta or potatoes each night, offer things such as whole meal couscous, brown rice, buckwheat pasta or vermicelli noodles.
  4. Variety is key – Keep challenging your children by offering new vegetable choices. Edamame beans instead of peas, sweet potato instead of carrot and fresh corn on the cobis a novelty, as is carrots made into noodles! 
  5. Each morning when you’re eating breakfast, make a mental note of what you’ll make for dinner so you can defrost, set up the slow cooker, or prep some veggies before you leave the house. Eat your perishables up early in the week, and then make a quick trip to the markets to gather fruits and veggies or use frozen veggies in the latter half of the week.

 

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