Living Well: Meal planning made easy
Organize your pantry, organize your life!
By Hope Williams, RD, CD, CDE, CLS
Health & Wellness Specialist, Ministry Medical Group Rhinelander
“What’s for dinner?” The question we dread. After finishing work and running errands, you walk in the door and your family wants to know what’s for dinner. There is a solution….meal planning. Although it may sound intimidating, follow the four steps listed below and you will be on your way.
Step 1: Keep a running list on the fridge.
As you use the last of an item write it on the fridge so that you don’t forget it the next time that you go to the store. I keep duplicates of bulk items like flour and oil in my pantry. When I empty the one in the kitchen I write it on the list and bring up the one from the pantry and then when I go grocery shopping I put the new one in the pantry so I am never completely out. Everyone in your house can do this.
TIP: If a package runs empty, don’t throw it into the recycling bin or garbage until you’ve written the item on your running list. When you’re frazzled or busy in the kitchen, it can be too easy to forget about the item you meant to add to the list once it’s out of sight and out of mind. This can work for other household staples besides groceries, too, such as toilet paper or pet food.
Step 2: Plan your meals.
This might be different for everyone. I have about 30 recipes that we routinely eat. I will look at my ingredients on hand (already in the fridge, freezer or cupboard), look at my families schedule to see how many nights I will need to make dinner, and how quick the dinner needs to be made, depending on what we have going on. Then I will look at the local sales flyers to see what is on sale that week and build my weekly menu around what is on sale at the grocery store that week. Even in the summer, using the crock pot or slow cooker is a great way to have supper done quickly. If we are going to have supper at home all 5 weekdays I will plan 3 meals with one night being for leftovers and one night for pizza.
The season: What you cook and eat should change according to what’s in season and what you like, but keep in mind that fruits and vegetables that are in season are going to be cheaper and more readily available. Save money by planning your meals around produce at its peak taste and bottom price!
Step 3: Gather your recipes.
Now that you’ve planned your meals based on time, taste, season and coupons, it’s time to gather your recipes. This will be much easier if you keep your recipes organized. Try using a basic template for all recipes.
Step 4: Create your master grocery list.
Next, sit down with your running list of staples (from Step 1), your weekly meal plan and your recipes to create one organized list that will help you navigate the store. You can avoid walking back and forth across the store by separating your list into grocery store departments: produce items, bulk foods, bakery, deli/meat/poultry, frozen foods, dry goods, dairy, beverages, home goods, and miscellaneous. Set up your list based on your preferences and the layout of your supermarket. Don’t forget to attach your coupons to the list before you head to the store!
Once you’re home from the store, put your groceries away systematically to streamline cooking in the days ahead. Keep your pantry and refrigerator organized, storing similar items together. When every item has its place, cooking will become more efficient.
Another way to organize foods is to group ingredients for each recipe together. I like to keep a couple of baskets in my pantry, in which I can place items for recipes. For example, if a white bean chili is on the menu for the next week, all dry storage items (cans of beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, etc.) fall into the basket. When I’m ready to cook, I can pull out the entire basket.
No more excuses about not being able to create healthy meals! Staying organized, saving money, and finding the time to cook healthful meals each night boils down to meal planning and a good shopping list. The time you spend in this planning phase will more than pay off when it’s time to cook, so make it a habit to start each week with a plan.
For more information on how you can begin living a healthy lifestyle, please visit ministryhelath.org.