INSIDE: I’ve learned a lot over the years about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to getting dinner on the table. But I also know there are still lots of great tips out there. So, I went looking! I reached out to my fellow bloggers and here’s what they had to say.
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Meal planning secrets…
In my last post, I shared my best meal planning tips and tricks. The strategies I’ve learned over the years that have helped me to stay on the meal planning straight and narrow. And whilst they’re seriously useful tips guaranteed to help you get dinner on the table with minimal stress and fuss, I know I don’t have all the answers. There are still a ton of other great meal planning secrets out there just waiting to be shared.
And so, in a bid to find out what they are so that I could share them with you too, I reached out to some of my fellow blogging buddies and asked them! Want to know how they make mealtimes less stressful and more enjoyable? What the meal planning secrets that every busy mum should know are? Keep reading because here’s what they had to say…
On getting started…
“Know that meal planning comes in three steps…choosing your recipes, planning and shopping for your ingredients and prepping your meals.” Heather and Lisa, Made in a Pinch.
On clearing your pantry before you start, Katie from Organizing Moms says: “Create a kitchen declutter plan that helps you plan meals around stuff that you already have in your kitchen. Make the most of things that will soon go bad and use pantry staples before they expire.”
“The worst feeling is having everything ready to go for meal prepping – until you realize you’re out of something. During your weekly shopping trips, stock up on essential pantry items like broth, grains, spices, and baking items.” Carrie, Clean Eating Kitchen.
“When you plan your meals, think about what you will eat and what your family will eat. Don’t try and get crazy with your food. Also, have your personal calendar handy. That way you know what nights you need a quick meal or should put something in the slow cooker. You’ll eat healthier and hardier if you do this.” Chelsea, GyCT Designs.
Give yourself time: “On average, I schedule about 45 minutes per month to create a solid meal plan. Don’t expect to get your first few meal plans done in 30 minutes. Give yourself a solid hour and a half for the first couple of months.” Leslie, from Play Dates to Parties.
“Start off with one or two new recipes a week. Slowly build a library of recipes you can revert back to. I use Pinterest to do this. I have different boards that I save different healthy recipes to. Then I have a ‘For Dinner This Week’ board that I store any recipes I will need to revert back to when it’s time to cook. Then if I enjoyed the recipe and would repeat it, I move that recipe to ‘Healthy Meals to Repeat’. This way I can go back into the bank of recipes I really liked.” Tiffany, TiffanyMeiter.com.
Use up what’s in your fridge first: “Get a pen and paper and see what’s in the fridge that has to be used up. Anything from half a head of lettuce, to some leftover feta, to an already cooked chicken breast, to half a red onion or part package of bacon. Write it all down in a list. Don’t forget to include perishables in your pantry, like potatoes or sweet potatoes.” Myra, Delicious on a Dime.
On organising your kitchen, Brenda from Brenda Loves Sharing says: “I know where everything is in my kitchen, so when it’s time to cook dinner, I know exactly where to go, rather than search all around for what I need. My kids know where things are too, so they can help give me things. The pots and pans are in cupboards near the stove/oven. Utensils are in a nice utensil holder on the counter next to the stove. My ceramic casserole pans (I don’t use glass any more after having one explode all over the kitchen) are in the island cupboard, which is where I prep. I even have the food all in one cupboard in organized bins so it’s easy to pull out what I need from the ‘dinner’ bin.”
On having the right shelving and storage, Melissa from Everyday Savvy says: “If you want to have a great meal planning pantry, you need to be able to easily see what is on hand at all times. This means having the right kind of storage and shelves. Things like tiered shelves for those shorter items that don’t take up much space, or even using an over the door shoe holder for spices or seasoning mixes are great ideas that help you take advantage of limited space and keep everything easy to see.”
On making meal planning work for you….
Create themed nights: “Choose a theme to correspond with each week-day, think ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ on Wednesdays and ‘Wing Night’ on Fridays. If you have kids, ask them to help decide on themes based on foods they already love. Try it in month-long cycles and see how if it works for your family.” Leslie-Anne, From Pasta to Paleo.
“If you want to begin meal planning for real and really make it a habit that sticks, start with recipes that you know and love. They’ll take you less time to fix and ensure that you’ll eat the leftovers.” Elaina, The Rising Spoon.
“Only prep for your work days, then you can have some variety on the days you don’t work. If the same meal every day for a week sounds too boring, then make two meals that you can alternate, or just create the meat/staple and have fresh veg one day and fresh salad the next!” Kelly, 20 Dishes.
On being successful at meal planning, Tiffany suggests: “Start simple and small. Start with trying one or two new recipes a week. Try one pan or slow cooker recipes to make cooking simple. Repeat meals during the week to simplify the different meals you prepare. Try leftovers from dinner to reduce your prep time. Have some go-to meals, so when you do not have the time you at least have something you can do. And, plan easy to grab healthy snacks.”
On keeping things flexible…
“Don’t feel obliged to cook every night. That’s not realistic. We still allow one or two nights of flexibility in case we have dinner plans with friends or just want some in-n-out after a busy week. The goal isn’t exclusive home cooking, just more of it.” Tasheena, The Cinnamon Mom.
“In the spirit of reducing waste and stress overeating, make your meals flexible. For example, embrace leftovers when you make a large dish, fix breakfast for dinner on a night that you’re tired (like an egg breakfast casserole, waffles, or pancakes), or allow what’s in season and on sale that week to dictate your meals (like green beans, sweet potatoes, or asparagus).” Elaina, The Rising Spoon.
“You’ve planned your meals for the next week, purchased ingredients and suddenly you get an invite out to dinner on Taco Tuesday. No problem. A quick reshuffle and you can do both. Move your menu back a day or do some switching so you can go out for dinner and still make use of your fresh ingredients before they spoil. If we set unrealistic tight schedules for ourselves, we could miss out on some pretty amazing opportunities and spontaneous plan changes.” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
On making life easier…
“On the nights that you are running between activities and don’t have time to stand at the stove, a 10-hour slow cooker recipe is a good idea.” Heather and Lisa, Made in a Pinch.
Tasia from The Frugal Farm Girl suggests getting the kids to help: “When your kid’s meal plan they are excited about what to eat. You can even take it a step further and have them prepare a few of the meals too. Every night they make dinner you know at least one of the kiddos is going to eat the meal they planned.”
“I’m a big fan of keeping a recipe bank. But not just a simple list of recipes we like. I keep track of when we made it too. It may seem silly, but have you ever noticed that you wanted hearty warm meals in the winter, and lighter meals in the summer? Keeping our recipe bank sorted by month means that I can easily scan for favourite recipes that match our seasonal tastes.” Leslie, From Play Dates to Parties.
Quick and easy is OK: “Sometimes we get caught up in that Martha Stewart perfect housewife fantasy and want to give our family a fancy, from scratch meal every night. It sounds fab but it’s a lot of pressure. Don’t feel guilty about using a recipe base or packet mix to save some time. Not everything needs to be from scratch. We ain’t perfect!” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
On prepping meals…
“Make a plan with other friends or family to each do a big cook up of different meals and then exchange half of each meal so you have more variety and no extra time in the kitchen. This is such a brilliant way to increase your meal repertoire and help each other out.” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
“Organize your prep by cook time! For example, baked sweet potatoes may take an hour at 400 degrees. While those are cooking, you can also roast other veggies on a sheet pan and get twice the cooking out of turning your oven on just once. While that’s all on auto-pilot in the oven, use your stovetop to pan-fry protein and let grains simmer. By the time your most time-intensive item is done, you have everything else done as well.” Carrie, Clean Eating Kitchen.
“It helps if you can have more than one thing on the go at once, so have the slow cooker on, do one or two quick meals in the wok, have something else cooking in the oven. This cuts down time rather than waiting for one appliance to make all your meals.” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
“Cut up enough vegetables on the weekend to have available for the week for snacks and for dinner. You can make enough brown rice for the week to use as a side dish one night, with a stir-fry meal another night, or even freeze individual portions in plastic freezer bags. If you’re preparing a salad, you can rinse and store extra salad greens in a plastic container with a lid, like a produce keeper. They’ll stay fresh and crisp for a week.” Brenda, Brenda Loves Sharing.
On buying pre-chopped and pre-washed produce, Carrie from Clean Eating Kitchen says: “Just because you want roasted squash for the week doesn’t mean you have to block out an extra ten minutes of time to go through the hassle of chopping! Take advantage of pre-packaged, pre-chopped, and pre-washed produce.”
“Some meals can be prepared a day or two in advance, or even frozen, so cook an extra meal or two earlier in the week to give yourself some time off at least once a week by having pre-prepared meals prepped and ready to go. All you will need to do is heat, or defrost if freezer cooking. Plus, one less night in the question means more quality time together with your family enjoy each other’s company!” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
Related: Meal Planning for Busy Families.
On making food go further…
“To make life easier, I highly recommend doing at least a recipe or two a week that will give you leftovers to use for lunches or other dinners in the same week.” Heather and Lisa, Made in a Pinch.
“Once you’ve got the hang of cooking up simple meat and veg, you can get more adventurous, find a recipe online that you like and quadruple it (or more) and make enough for your week. Some great ideas for intermediate meal prep would be something that is easy to divide like lasagnes, chilli or even a curry!” Kelly, 20 Dishes.
On making larger servings, Holly from Simplify Create Inspire says: “The larger the quantities, the more servings you will get. You can save a lot of time by simply making larger bulk lots of each meal. Consider doubling your recipe to make twice as much as usual. By doing this, you may not even need to do monthly cook-ups. You can just keep adding to your freezer meal stocks by cooking a large meal once or twice a week. This makes it super easy!”
“Cook once, eat twice: Don’t let that slow cooker collect any more dust this week. Pull it out. Cook a chicken in it. Get two more meals out of that bad girl. Shredded chicken can be used for a bunch of things.” Tasia, The Frugal Farm Girl.
“Every meal has the potential to create leftovers so start doubling your serves through the week or on the weekends when you cook too so you can continually be topping up your freezer meals. This means you may space out the time between when you need to do your next big cook up.” Holly, Simplify Create Inspire.
“Make sure you purchase enough food to make your family favourite meals twice. It’s always great to have extra of staples that don’t involve a lot of fresh produce, things like Tacos, Chili, or Spaghetti. These can all be made on the fly using items you have in your pantry.” Chellbee, Chellbee.com.
Make foods do double duty: “If I cook a chicken on Sunday, I might plan to make enchiladas on Tuesday. If I make a shepherd’s pie on Monday, I’ll cook extra potatoes to have with fish on Wednesday, that sort of thing. Planning ahead makes life so much easier, especially when you’re busy.” Myra, Delicious on a Dime.
Related: Meal Planning Tips and Tricks for Busy Families.
Meal planning secrets every busy mum needs to know…
Wow! Some pretty great tips, right?! I can’t wait to start implementing some of these! My favourite has to be making food do double duty. Cooking extra and turning the leftovers into another dish is a great way to make food go further. I love the idea of having a ‘Meals to Repeat’ board on Pinterest too. I already have a ‘This Week’ board so that I know what I’m cooking each week…but I think a ‘tried and tested’ board is a brilliant idea. Thank you Tiffany!
Holly’s tip about not feeling guilty about using a recipe base or packet mix to save time is a great reminder too. We might want to give our families fancy, from scratch meals every night, but in reality, with busy schedules, fussy eaters and different dietary requirements, that’s not always possible – and we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it!
I hope these tips have inspired you as much as they have me. Now we just need to decide which to try first!
That’s it for this post! Has it inspired you to give meal planning a try? Let me know in the comments!
Until next time…
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