It can be all too easy to resort to takeout when your schedule gets bananas. (Been there, ate that!) But a little planning can go a long way to make it much easier to prep delicious meals from scratch — yes, even on a busy weeknight. Here are 10 savvy shopping and menu strategies to try:
1. Build a menu.
If you have a family, invite them to the table to brainstorm daily themes. Not only will everyone feel invested and inspired to chow down, but this will also give structure to your weekly recipe strategy so it’s easier to narrow down your options. Otherwise, dream up your ideal lineup of meal must-haves.
2. Round up your recipes.
Once you have the general theme for each day of the week, you can assign a recipe to each to keep things interesting or repeat your favorites. Bonus points if you can select more than one dish that calls for the same ingredient, such as celery, to limit the possibility of unused products.
3. Make a list; check it twice.
Now that you have your meal decisions sorted out, write a list for all of the ingredients you need. This way, one trip will score you all the necessities so you don’t have to make a last-minute “Oh no, I forgot the organic raspberries!” trip through the express lane. For the most efficient mapping, organize your list in the order of how you tour the store. Organize your trip, ending at frozen foods so your icy menu items don’t melt.
4. Schedule your shopping trip smartly.
Plan to shop on a weekday or during off-peak hours for the most efficient use of time.
5. Stock the essentials.
A well-stocked kitchen is clutch, especially if you skip steps 1 and 2 and decide to do a little improvising. These pantry and refrigerator staples make it much easier to toss together a meal when you’re working off script:
Oils (olive, avocado, grapeseed)
Salt and pepper
Dried spices (smoked paprika, chili powder, turmeric, cumin)
6. Prep sturdy produce ahead.
Once you get home, to allow for easy grab-and-go snacking and quicker meal prep, wash and chop fruits and vegetables that will hold up well for a few days in the fridge. Rinse our Organic Seedless Grapes and pop in a bowl, peel and chop carrots, and slice up bell pepper strips.
7. Batch cook the essentials.
If your weekly menu includes meats/meat substitutes (such as Animal Welfare Certified Organic Air-Chilled Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast or Animal Welfare Certified 90% Lean Ground Beef) or whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice), cook them all on a Saturday or Sunday so you’re all set for the week. The USDA offers a handy chart to help you determine if you should refrigerate or freeze based on when you’re planning to use the ingredient.
8. Employ your freezer.
Speaking of the freezer, it’s one of the simplest ways to trim down on food waste and make fast-fix meals easier. Can’t make it through a loaf of bread before it gets stale? Freeze. Accidentally cooked too much of that stew? Freeze. Landed on a bounty of berries that you wish you could enjoy next week? Freeze.
9. Think root to stem.
Stop tossing those carrot tops or cauliflower stems! The former make a brilliant pesto, while the latter can be steamed and smashed into a mashed potato–like side. Broccoli stalks are spectacular spiralized, too. Looking for more ways to get scrappy? Check out our guide to using food scraps for plenty of ideas and recipes.
10. Give leftovers new life.
Don’t feel like you’re limited to leftovers of the exact same dinner for lunch tomorrow. If you crave variety, use your imagination to transform the extras into something that tastes totally new. A few ideas: