10 Steps to Ease into Menu Planning
Take it one step at a time. Here's 10.
Even if it seems tedious, it pays to sit down once a week to make a menu for the coming days. Menu planning not only helps prevent stress but also provides the satisfaction of knowing your meals are fresh, unprocessed, and healthy. Best of all, menu planning does not have to be complicated.
Unfortunately, for too many of us, making a menu plan is one of those tasks we intend to do ... someday. Instead of seeing menu planning as an activity that inevitably adds to our quality of life, we dread the process of sitting down to decide Wednesday's dinner. There’s no question, however, that having even a basic menu plan is one of the best strategies to help you eat better.
Break into menu planning by starting small and simple—think only about the upcoming week to start with. Sure, it may be tempting to think about indexing your recipe collection and crunching menus till the year 2015, but resist the urge. Slow and steady builds menu-planning skills and helps you see the benefits of this exercise.
Menu Planning Basics
Follow these 10 steps to put the power of menu and meal planning to work for you:
1.) Think about how many new meal ideas you are realistically willing to try for the coming week.
2.) Create a list of some of your often-prepared meals. Making a few favorite dishes that you are comfortable with (the “stand-bys”) and a few that are new will help keep you from getting overwhelmed.
3.) Take inventory of your kitchen—identify perishable food items that should be used first.
4.) Look for healthy recipes and/or meal ideas in magazines, online, in cookbooks, or search your own recipe collection.
5.) Keeping in mind how many new meal ideas you are willing to prepare this week, which stand-by meals you intend to have, and what food items you already have on hand—select between one and five healthy meal ideas that sound good to you.
6.) If you want leftovers for lunches or multiple dinners, plan that into your menu. Grilling some chicken breasts? Throw on a few more for sandwiches and salads. Making a casserole or soup? Double the recipe and freeze half for next week.
7.) Plug your new meal ideas and stand-by ideas into a calendar. Try to match meals up with your weekly schedule—for example, you could make a big batch of soup on a lazy Sunday afternoon and save the quick-fix salad and sandwich for the night you know you have to work late.
8.) Make a detailed shopping list of needed items grouped by the layout of your grocery store. It makes your trip much less stressful if you don’t have to backtrack through the store because you forgot something.
9.) As you put away the groceries, prep fruits, vegetables, and other snacks for the coming week. For example, pack individual bags of whole-wheat crackers to take with you to work, or, wash and cut up broccoli to have ready for a quick snack when you get home.
10.) Post your menu-planning calendar on the refrigerator door. Refer to it during the coming week as you prepare meals.
Now that you've made a plan, shopped from a list, and held yourself accountable, check back next week for some additional points to ponder as you make menu planning a routine activity.