The Do’s and Don’ts of Meal Planning

By Lauren Scott, Arizona Farm Bureau Intern

You come home from work, tired, hungry, and ready to hop into bed. Your family members start coming from all corners of the house and they all have one question ‘What’s for dinner?’ Well, no one planned dinner so it looks like its leftovers or cereal…

This is no way to live! I mean, leftovers can be great, especially if they are from the day before and still fairly fresh. But reheating food every night of the week can get a little old. This is where meal planning comes in and saves the day!

Meal planning takes almost no time to do, and saves you time later on. There’s more good news: You can meal plan around everyone’s schedules so you’re not the only one doing the cooking! Here are some of my do’s and don’ts when it comes to planning out your meals in advance:

Do: Pick a day of the week to brainstorm meals for the coming seven days. When you’ve chosen your meals, write them out on a calendar and list the ingredients that you’ll need.

Don’t: Lose or forget the recipes. Get a small folder or binder and keep all your recipes there. You can even get crazy and have different binders for different kinds of dishes. (Example: Meat dishes, pasta dishes, desserts…)

Do: Buy your ingredients fresh the week of. Go shopping at the beginning of the week after you’ve planned out all your meals so you’ve got the freshest produce possible.

Don’t: Be afraid to leave a night for leftovers. Don’t feel like you have to have a meal planned for every single night of the week. Leave a night or two open for leftovers.

Do: Keep basic kitchen necessities on hand. Make sure you always have olive oil, salt and pepper, lemons and limes, herbs, butter, and other extras in stock. It is very inconvenient to plan a meal, shop for the ingredients, and then realize you’re out of butter once you’ve gotten home.

Don’t: Think you can’t plan for all three meals. If you’re already planning and already shopping, why not plan breakfast and lunch too?

Do: Plan meals around everyone’s schedule. Plan so that the kids get home from school, start dinner, and then you get home in enough time to help finish, or vice versa!

Don’t: Underestimate the power of coupons. Create a few meals around what you have coupons for and what the store has on sale.

Do: Food prep. If you plan to make salads on Wednesday, prepare the fruits and veggies beforehand. Shred carrots, cut up cucumber, dice onions, and put it all in easy-to-store containers. If you’re making spaghetti on Friday night, make homemade sauce and store it in a jar in the refrigerator until you’re going to use it.

Don’t: Get too overwhelmed. If you need to start out meal planning for only three or four days a week and work your way up to six or seven days, don’t sweat it! Don’t think you have to jump right into this creating huge meals with a million fancy ingredients. Start with what you know. Start with your favorite recipes and slowly incorporate new recipes as you get more comfortable in the kitchen.

Meal planning can really help to keep your family organized and save time. Whether you’re meal planning all three meals or just dinner, know that in the long run you are creating a healthier food environment in your home! Good luck on your meal planning journey!


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