Monday, February 6, 2012

Meal Planning

Whether you’re short on money or on time, meal planning can be an essential part of life. I’ve been doing it off and on over the past few months and while not perfect at it yet, here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

1) Pick One Main Ingredient - If you pick one ingredient (based on sale price, personal inclination, and/or practical reasons), then you can buy it in bulk and use it in every recipe. The ingredient can be anything: meat, vegetable, seasoning, bread, etc. Just make sure it’s versatile enough to make interesting and at least somewhat healthy meals for yourself.

2) Find Recipes with Similar Ingredients - Remember, just because a recipe has similar ingredients, doesn’t mean they taste the same. On that note, if the recipes have similar ingredients, not only if money saved, but prep time is cut down as well since most items get prepped the same way. It’s only in the cooking itself it changes, but green peppers still need to be seeded, potatoes need to be cleaned and peeled, etc.

3) Variety is the Spice of Life - That old saying is true, so use your spice rack to the best of your abilities. Feel free to experiment with your spices and if you don’t have a full spice rack, starting building one up. Not only will it be good for your meal planning, but in the long run, it’ll help keep your kitchen well stocked.

4) Pre-Made Items = Friends - Bags of salad, cans of soup, etc. are great for lunches or additives to bigger meals and can be easily modified. These are cheap, generally healthy, and quite easy/quick to make and eat. I wouldn’t recommend eating them for all meals, since they aren’t as hearty and tend to be full of preservatives, but everything in moderation, as they say.

5.) Stocked Cupboards - Another thing to keep in mind is to keep well stocked cupboards of nonperishables, like box mixes, canned foods, noodles and rice, which can make meal planning even easier. It’s easy to change up mac and cheese by adding even just chicken and chances are, spaghetti or rice will be used often. So when cost effective, buy these items when on sale and keep them in the cupboard. Worse comes to worse, you can use one of these items as a main ingredient or it’ll just keep you from spending too much for an item later on.

6.) Budgeting - Also, making a specific food budget for the month would help keep costs at bay. Meal planning shouldn’t be more costly than willy-nilly buying meals, in fact, it should be much less costly. At the moment, I try to keep between $20-$30 a week and honestly, that can be pretty easy with the amount of brand competition there is any more.

Feel free to share your tips as well.

Good meal planning, every one!