Before you dive into meal planning, review these easy-to-follow tips and strategies that will help you meal plan and prep like a pro.
Meal planning can mean different things to different people.
I think of it as a simple strategy that involves thinking ahead and planning what to eat that week. You could plan for a week, two weeks, and even a month, if you’re up to it.
Meal prepping is actually doing the work, which could involve chopping the ingredients, cooking a component of the meal, or preparing the entire meal ahead of time.
When you combine both these strategies, you have a system that not only solves the daily dilemma of what to cook for dinner but also saves you time and money.
For those who intend to do both, here are some genius tips to get you started with meal planning and prepping.
Tips & tricks for meal planning and prepping
These tips are divided into 3 sections:
Meal planning tips for beginners
- Start slow – Plan meals for a week when you’re just getting started. This makes the process less overwhelming and also allows for changes.
- Read up on how to put together a healthy meal to make sure you are getting the nutrition you need from your meals.
- Pick recipes that you can make quickly and easily, especially the ones on weeknights.
- Plan an easy meal for Monday – Mondays can be tough on both parents and kids. Make extra food on Sunday so you can have the leftovers on Mondays.
- Make a note of your availability – Things like late-night work calls, social life, and your kids’ after-school activities could impact the time you have to cook, so factor that in.
- Have designated days as takeout nights or leftover nights to give you a break from cooking.
- Leverage meal themes to simplify dinner choices.
- Involve your family – take their input when you create the meal plan. Dinners go much smoother when they’ve had a say in what’s being cooked at home. If they are old enough, involve them in prepping and cooking as well.
- Repurpose ingredients – If you are using ingredients that have a short shelf life, think of creative ways to use them up in other recipes.
- Factor in seasonality – When you are meal planning, make sure to consider the produce that is in season.
- Plan your meals depending on the shelf life of the produce. Fruits and vegetables that have a shorter shelf life should be on the menu earlier than the ones that last longer.
- Repurpose leftovers – Here’s how I use leftovers – leftover dal becomes sambar, chole becomes chaat, and rajma becomes burrito bowls.
- Be flexible – It is okay to not follow your meal plan to the T. If you find something on sale, etc when you are on a grocery run, it’s okay to switch up a recipe.
- Experiment with recipes but not on a busy night; reserve new recipes for days when you have more time.
- Use a meal planning tool like Prepear (affiliate link), the Notes app, or a word document to jot down your recipe ideas.
- Cook one meal for everyone – everyone has different tastes, but that doesn’t mean you should cook different meals. Getting your family’s buy-in during meal planning is important so they know what to expect.
- Keep notes of what worked and what didn’t in terms of how long a recipe took, whether there were leftovers, did your family like the recipe, etc. This will help you in your next meal planning session.
Grocery shopping tips
- Keep a running grocery list – As you use up your ingredients, use paper, your phone, the out of milk app, or even Alexa to track the items you are running low on.
- Check your pantry/refrigerator/ freezer before you head out grocery shopping to avoid buying items you already have.
- It is okay to cut corners – Get pre-cut fruits and veggies. While they are more expensive, they’ll save you time.
- Stick to your list so you are in and out of the grocery store quickly.
- Don’t go grocery shopping when you are hungry – you’ll end up shopping mindlessly and might end up buying food that’s not on your list.
- Use grocery delivery services like Instacart and Amazon Prime (which is what I use) to save you time.
Meal prepping tips
- Schedule time for meal prepping in your calendar – meal prep at the same time every week. It’s easier to make it a habit that way and stay consistent.
- Invest in quality storage containers. You don’t want your food to go to waste after all the time you have spent on prepping. Check out this list of plastic-free meal prep containers.
- Get the right tools for the job – Meal prep does not have to be labor-intensive. With the right tools and gadgets, you can get a lot done without spending long hours in the kitchen. Here’s a list of must-have kitchen tools I use to meal prep Indian food.
- Stock your pantry essentials – Always keep a well-stocked pantry before you begin meal prep. Refill all the empty or half-empty spice/pulses containers before you begin.
- Meal prep (twice a week) – You don’t have to do it all at once. I meal prep twice a week. On Sundays, I meal prep for Monday through Wednesday, and on Wednesday evenings, I prep for meals for Thursdays to Saturdays. We usually eat out on Sundays.
- Prep right after grocery shopping (or within a day) – This ensures that you are working with ingredients while they are still fresh.
- Cook some elements of the dish and prep the rest. I make all the base sauces: curry sauce and tikka masala sauce, as well as ginger-garlic paste and nut butter once a month. I freeze them and use them for meals throughout the month.
- Double up a recipe and freeze it for later.
- Follow food safety – Read through these FDA guidelines for storing foods.
- Have a fallback plan for days when you have no time. I always keep pasta and marinara sauce in the pantry. If my planning fails, I can always make this easy pasta recipe using my Instant Pot. It is a dump-and-go recipe that requires less than 5 minutes of prep time.
- How to stock your kitchen – Learn how to create a master grocery list, track your pantry items, and have a well-stocked kitchen so that you can cook delicious meals anytime you want!
- How to meal plan – A detailed guide on how to start meal planning.
- Meal themes – how to use them – Check out these 20+meal themes that’ll help you create delicious meals that your whole family will love.
- Pantry staples – Considering meal prepping? Make sure you have a few pantry staples always available in the kitchen so that you can meal prep whenever you have time.
- How to meal prep Indian food – Meal prep is the secret behind stress-free weekday meals. Learn how to meal prep like a pro even if you are a beginner.
- Out of milk app – Learn how to use your phone to track your pantry items and create shopping lists by store.