Planning and preparing meals on a daily basis can be challenging. And let’s face it, if you have to figure out what to cook at the end of a busy day, it’s tempting just to order in. But, if you’re on a budget or dedicated to eating a healthier diet, home cooking is a must. Planning ahead is key, but it’s easier said than done. It’s all about making the effort to be organized and follow a system that works for you.
Here are my 6 tips for creating quick, healthy homemade meals for your family without busting the budget:
1. Designate a day for planning.
Use Sunday (or Saturday) as your planning day for the week. Look at your calendar and plan out a tentative meal schedule. Is Tuesday a really busy day? Think about something extra simple for that night, like these Thai Lettuce Boats. Deciding what to make in advance creates less stress during the week (and less of a chance you’ll turn to the takeout menu). Get your family involved too; ask them what they’re in the mood for and what their schedule is for the week. If your family is part of the planning process, hopefully they won’t complain about what’s on the table!
2. Shop in your fridge and pantry.
Try to use what you already have to create new meals. I like to do a weekly sweep of what’s in my fridge and pantry and plan accordingly. It’s a good way to prevent waste. You might find that head of broccoli you bought last week shoved behind the orange juice or realize you have a good amount of brown rice. Being resourceful may even help you come up with new meal ideas that you hadn’t considered before (see #4).
3. Prep for multiple meals at a time.
Now that you have a weekly plan, try to prep for multiple meals in advance. While you’re in the kitchen making breakfast, pack and prepare lunch, or do some dinner prep. Maybe as you’re chopping veggies to put in your lunch salad, you can cut up the amount you need for the stir fry you’ve planned for dinner. Not only will you be doing all the work in one sitting (who wants to spend time chopping lots of ingredients after a long day at work?), you’ll also be able to wash all your knives and cutting boards once. Of course, everything can’t be done ahead, but even something as small as grating cheese helps save time later.
4. Try new food combinations.
My fridge and pantry raids sometimes leave me with random ingredients. Don’t be afraid to try new combinations of foods. Try doing an online search of the main ingredients you want to use. If, say, you stumbled upon some quinoa in your pantry that you usually make as a side dish, maybe you try it in a recipe where it serves as the main dish, like in these Quinoa Tacos. I’ve had some hits and misses with new combos, but at least I didn’t waste any food!
5. Keep your freezer stocked.
Sometimes even if you’ve planned ahead, you end up coming home later than planned, or you are just too tired to cook. This is when you should be able to turn to your stash of frozen meals. When you cook, make extra portions to freeze. Or if you have leftovers, put those in a container and freeze for another time. Make sure you label the food and date. Now you’ll have pre-made meals that will be ready after a few minutes of defrosting. But remember to go through your freezer on a regular basis to remind yourself of what’s in there.
6. Start a recipe collection.
Keep a list of quick and healthy recipes that you’ve made before or found on websites like Further Food. That way when you are out of ideas or too tired to be creative, you can just pick something from your collection.
I hope these tips inspire you to plan ahead. Once you get into a routine of weekly planning and prepping, you’ll find that it’s not too difficult to eat healthy and delicious homemade food all week long.
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Note: PLEASE consult with your doctor before making any changes to your diet or medications. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.