I don’t recall exactly when in my adult life I started to enjoy cooking, but over the years it has grown into a passion. Despite the joy I take in preparing meals, I wouldn’t describe myself as a foodie, and I have no desire to make a career out of it, especially since I’m a terrible baker.
Nick and I have very different cooking styles: Nick tends to follow recipes to a T, and I have a tendency to improvise dishes and substitute ingredients, but despite our differences, cooking a meal is something that we really enjoy doing together, especially since we don’t have the pressures of trying to quickly get a meal on the table to feed hungry mouths. For us, preparing a meal together gives us an opportunity to wind down after work and talk with one another about our workday or weekend plans.
I thought I’d share a few tips and tricks we have picked up over the years that help make our meal planning and preparation a little bit easier. We definitely are always learning as we go, so I would love to hear how you make it work for your family!
Meal Planning Inspiration
I’ve mentioned before that I love meal planning for holidays, but I also plan our weekly meals. My first step is to look at the grocery store sales flyer and see what items are on sale the next week.
Once I have a list of sale ingredients in my head, I turn to Pinterest and my cookbooks for recipes using those items. I love Pinterest for finding and storing links to recipes since it’s so visual; I have separate boards for main courses, sides and appetizers, beverages, breakfast and dessert to help make my recipe search easier.
Typically if I pin a new recipe, I try to make it within a few weeks. If we like it, I keep it on my board, and if we don’t like it, I delete it. This helps keep the number of pins to a minimum, which makes sorting through them for meal planning much easier.
Recipes & Cookbooks
I use Allrecipes.com to create and store all of my family and all-time favorite recipes (I’ve used this site for years and have too many recipes to transfer over to Pinterest).
I also have a couple of go-to cookbooks for recipes, which I page through for inspiration, so we aren’t eating the same meals over and over again. Nick gifted me this Martha Stewart Living One Pot cookbook for my birthday, and it has a variety of simple but really tasty recipes for the stove top, oven, crock pot and pressure cooker. I also really like this Indian cookbook from Madhur Jaffrey (you can read more about our Indian cooking here).
Buy ingredients for multiple meals
Another tip for making meal planning easier is to select recipes with similar ingredients, so that you can buy and use the same ingredients for multiple recipes.For example, these baked salmon cakes call for only half of a red and yellow pepper. Since I know we’ll have leftover peppers, I’ll plan to make chicken fajitas or shrimp fried rice later in the week to use the rest. This cuts down on our shopping bill and any items going to waste (I just hate throwing away uneaten food items!)
Meal plan/grocery list
When it comes to planning our weekly meals and grocery list, I rely on a simple template like this one.
I print out a few dozen copies and keep them in a kitchen drawer. I start a new sheet every Sunday, and throughout the week, if we run out of an ingredient, we simply write it down on the grocery list. Later in the week (typically Saturday), I sit down to plan our meals for the following week and quickly add any remaining grocery items to the shopping list.
After grocery shopping, I stick the meal plan/grocery list back in our kitchen drawer, so that Nick (who usually gets home from work before me) can reference the meal plan and help get dinner started.
Love your leftovers
While we love to cook, it’s not practical for us to prepare intricate meals every night of the week, so we always prepare enough of a dish so that we can eat it again a second night. We especially like to do this on Sunday; it’s so nice to come home Monday evening and simply reheat our leftovers. This strategy isn’t for anyone not fond of leftovers, but it really saves time and makes our weeknights much easier.
Nick and I spend nearly every weekend on the boat, and while I wanted meal planning for those weekends to be as stress-free as possible, I wasn’t willing to sustain on sandwiches. So instead, we’ve opted for a subscription meal service; have you heard of Blue Apron? It’s a weekly meal delivery service that provides you with all the fresh ingredients that you need to make three (really delicious!) meals.
**Below are pictures of actual Blue Apron dishes we’ve prepared on the boat!
Every Thursday, a box of refrigerated ingredients arrives at our doorstep, and it’s so easy for us to plop the whole thing in a cooler and carry it to the boat for the weekend (you choose the delivery day, and they provide every ingredient you need for the three meals – except salt, pepper and olive oil).
Nick and I subscribe to the 2-person plan, which costs $59 per week. While I originally hesitated about the price, the cost for three meals is cheaper than going out to eat, and we often have leftovers (so we are getting even more meals for the money). And honestly, the convenience is worth every penny!
The company allows you to skip as many weeks as you want and you can cancel anytime, which I’m likely to do once boating season ends. We’ve enjoyed the service so much though, I can’t imagine we won’t resume deliveries next spring.
Even if you aren’t in the market for a meal subscription service, Blue Apron posts all of the recipes to their weekly meals, and it’s another helpful source of inspiration for meal planning,
I hope this was helpful. Have any tips or tricks of your own? I’d love to hear what works best for your family!