Yup, you can save time with a weekly menu and increase your chances of cooking healthy meals. Here's how:
Before you begin, it’s important to choose a time to plan your menu. Ideally, this should be at the beginning of the week so you have plenty of time to prepare meals. You also want to choose a day that you are not too tired or busy and plan on being in the kitchen for at least an hour. If you don’t have the time or energy to cook at the moment, go ahead and postpone making your weekly menu until another day when you do.
Because planning a menu takes about an hour, if not longer, make sure that you have access to a computer or your phone if planning is something that will take place outside of the kitchen. If possible, try not to plan while watching TV or listening to music so that your full attention can be given to meal preparation.
Consider your family's food preferences. Make a list of foods that you know your family likes and doesn't like, as well as foods that are on their “eat sometimes” list. You should also consider any special food needs or allergies in your family when coming up with your weekly menu. Making a note of which nights will be particularly busy for you and the rest of your family will help you determine whether to choose quick dinners or more elaborate meals during those times.
It's not just about planning for dinner.
One of the best ways to cut down on expenses is to plan for leftovers and use them for lunch.
Recipes that make enough to take care of lunch and dinner are perfect for weekly menu planning, as are recipes that call for ingredients you can double up on over multiple days, like making a big batch of beans or rice to use over several meals.
This keeps your meal prep time down while ensuring you have healthy lunches ready to go during the week.
Break down recipes by ingredient and determine if you can substitute one ingredient in place of another in different dishes. Most recipes can be modified or substituted. Instead of buying new ingredients, use what you have on hand (in the fridge, freezer, or pantry).
For example, if you need to make a large batch of spaghetti sauce for your weekly meal plan but are low on tomatoes, you can use tomato paste instead. If you have carrots but not celery and a little bit of leftover pork chop that needs to be used up, then use those items in your soup recipe instead of the recommended celery and chicken.
Whole proteins are cheaper than processed ones like Boca burgers and Nutella. They also take longer to cook, so a good rule of thumb is to start with a whole protein and plan the rest of your meals around it. For example, I put a chicken in the oven on Sunday afternoon while I attend to other weekend chores. It takes several hours, so I try to do something else productive while it's cooking (or just play games on my phone). Meanwhile, the smell of roasted chicken fills the house. Then by dinner time, we'll have roast chicken breast with roasted potatoes, squash, and carrots for dinner. The leftover chicken will be used for Monday's lunch: shredded chicken sandwiches with mustard greens and avocado slices. Tuesday's supper will be easy fried rice with leftover brown rice from Saturday's meal (you can find my basic fried rice recipe here).
And that's how you build an entire week of meals around one whole protein!
To start, I would advise building as many meals as possible around produce or starches rather than meat. For example, lentils and dried beans are high in protein and inexpensive. They can be used in a variety of recipes like soups, salads, casseroles, and chili. If you're using canned beans, make sure to rinse them off to remove the excess sodium.
It's also important to include a variety of colorful vegetables that are high in nutrients. Try experimenting with new veggies that you've never tried before! After you have prepared them, my suggestion is to roast the vegetables for a delicious side dish that everyone will love—simple yet flavorful!
We'll get into some more tips next week when we talk about how to shop for your weekly menu.
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