Looking to save time and money? Seeking easy answers to the daily 4 p.m. what’s-for-dinner question? Then consider getting serious about meal planning!
Before you think about starting a new shopping list and meal plan, take stock of what you have already that needs using up. This prevents food waste and helps ensure you’re eating foods at their freshest.
First Stop: Fridge Check
There’s no better place to start than in front of your fridge, where you have the most perishable ingredients. See if you have any produce that quickly needs to be assigned to a recipe, or anything from your cheese drawer that’s ripe for rounding out a meal idea. Do you have leftovers — cooked beans or grains or greens — that could be a starting point for something new, such as a frittata or a quiche or a soup stir-in?
Next Step: Consult Your Inventories
Consider this something like a reverse shopping list: A list of what you have on hand vs. a list of what you need to buy. Whether you use pencil and paper or more sophisticated technology for list keeping, tracking what you already have can help you quickly start a meal plan. Make your lists, glance at them, and start with what you have on hand as building blocks for a few meals. These are the lists I find helpful to keep and refer to when I’m sitting down to plan meals:
Things that need using up: If you buy buttermilk and then use only a cup in a recipe, add “buttermilk” to this list. Same goes for anything that is perishable and you might not use if it gets bumped to the back of the fridge and you don’t remember it’s there. For instance: Cilantro, ricotta, cream cheese, etc.
Freezer inventory: Keep a list of what you’re putting in and what you’re taking out. This can save time (less digging around the freezer) and help you rotate through your freezer supplies, for optimal freshness, and avoid having six bags of frozen spinach taking up space (just in case!).
Pantry inventory: Again, keep a list of the staples you have and cross things off as you use them. This can save time and help you work through the supplies you have on hand, if at a glance you can look at your lists and see that you have red lentils and brown rice ready for recipes and meals.
One More List
If you’re looking to involve your whole household in meal planning, ask everyone to come up with a list of five or 10 recipes they’d love to eat (even better — ones they’d love to make!). Compile these ideas and then when you sit down to make a meal plan, use that as a starting point for incorporating new recipes into your plan.
It’s always easier to get started when you’re not working from a completely blank slate. So go ahead, open that fridge, root around the pantry, and get inspired by items you already have on hand. ’Tis the season to be resourceful!
How do you plan your meals?