plan meals like a boss

"What's for dinner?" How can 3 little words cause so much stress? Meal planning can be a real chore. Coming up with new and interesting meals your kids will actually eat within a set budget EVERY DARN WEEK is hard. 

I know. I've been there. We've all been there.

Over the years I've learned a thing or two about meal planning. Here are my top 5 tips to help you plan meals like a boss, meaning that you'll be organized, stay within your budget and avoid burnout.

1) Make meal planning an enjoyable habit.

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I'm an early riser, so every Saturday morning, I like to pour a cup of coffee, grab my calendar and favorite journal and plan meals for the week. I take note of busy nights (little league) and appointment-free evenings and plan meals accordingly. 

This ritual helps me stay organized and keep my meal plan realistic.

2) Plan meals that share ingredients. 

 I'm using fresh lettuce and tomatoes in Thursday's BLTs and in Friday's Mexi Salad. Any remaining produce will be rolled with deli turkey in leftover tortillas for lunch on Saturday.

I'm using fresh lettuce and tomatoes in Thursday's BLTs and in Friday's Mexi Salad. Any remaining produce will be rolled with deli turkey in leftover tortillas for lunch on Saturday.

My mother taught me this great cost-saving measure. For example, plan two meals that use ground beef, then buy a bulk package of meat. Use fresh produce that serves double duty, then use it up and avoid spoilage.

Get as much mileage as you can out of that grocery cart.

3) Plan an "Eat Out @ Home Night."

Resist the urge to eat out by making for favorite restaurant meals at home. Imagine if you were to go out to eat, what would you order? Then, make it. The internet is full of great copy cat recipes. 

Here are a few sites to get you started:

Learning to make your favorite restaurant recipes adds variety to your repertoire and helps you save money. 

4) Use those leftovers. 

It can be easy to turn up your nose at leftovers, but think of the time and money invested in that little Tupperware container!

Make leftover night fun by serving dinner buffet-style. Reheat various leftovers, set out a stack of plates and let everyone serve themselves. Supplement your buffet with freezer scraps, such as that half-bag of frozen fries, chicken nuggets and pizza rolls. Call them appetizers.

Don't forget to add a bag of baby carrots or fresh salad mix so everyone still gets their veggies. 

5) Delegate a meal or two.

 Meal making at Cream City Casseroles. Pictured: Getting oven-ready Bacon Cheeseburger Shepherd's Pie ready for delivery.

Meal making at Cream City Casseroles. Pictured: Getting oven-ready Bacon Cheeseburger Shepherd's Pie ready for delivery.

Work smarter, not harder. Let someone else share KP duty.

Consider this:

  • Let your spouse cook. Share dinner duty with your sweetie, letting him/her plan and make a meal. (Resist the urge to hover or micromanage so they'll cook more often!)
  • Go out to eat. Eating out isn't necessarily a bad thing. Just plan ahead to stay within your budget and to avoid a mad dash to the nearest drive-thru.
  • Enjoy a meal kit/prepared meal at home. Many grocery stores and online companies offer meal kits, reducing much of the prep work. Other companies, such as Cream City Casseroles, offer prepared meals (no assembly required) delivered right to your door.

Giving yourself a break from planning, prep and clean-up helps avoid burnout. It also leaves you free to do what you love outside of the kitchen.

It's challenging, but with a little organization, you'll be able to plan meals like a boss.