The term Meal-Planning sounds great, and even looks great depending on the IG accounts you may follow. But reality is these visuals rely on a lot of planning, execution and probably most importantly, time.
I don't make claims to be a MP expert and it's doubtful I ever will, but I want to share a few tips that will hopefully give you what everyone wants more of: time!
When to Plan?
If this is going to work, it's all going to start with the planning...REALISTIC PLANNING. If your family is up to your eyeballs in activities like we are, I feel like 3 "everyone is home to eat at the same time" meals is a good start. Spending a good hour on planning is a lot but if you can knock it out early on a weekend morning before anyone gets up, that might be your best bet.
Pen/Paper or Phone?
I often see people in the grocery aisles crossing off items one-by-one on the back of a crumpled up receipt. If that is your best solution then keep doing it. I prefer to use my phone, and more specifically an app called Paprika (https://www.paprikaapp.com/). I've mentioned it in earlier posts, but it truly is a huge time-saver. The best feature might be the Grocery List feature which automatically categorizes items by their location in the store (i.e. Canned and Jar Goods). You can also import any recipe you find on the internet and it will save it within the app so you don't have to remember which website you found it on when it is time to cook.
Types of Meals
Here is a tip that will allow you to prepare 3-4 things simultaneously without feeling like you are cramped, no matter how small your kitchen. It's all about using a variety of heat sources...
Stovetop Range (ex: Soup or Chili)
Oven (ex: Lasagna or Whole Roasted Chicken)
Slow Cooker or Pressure Cooker (Bolognese for Pasta or Pork Shoulder for Tacos)
Raw (Any Hearty Salad - Greens, Chickpeas, Peppers, Cucumbers, Avocados, etc)
Freezer Friendly Meals
It's inevitable that the week will become busier than anticipated and you might have time to cook 1-2 meals instead of 3-4. This is the reason we own freezers, right?! When planning meals for the week, think through the meals that will be OK to freeze (soups, chilis, meat sauce, lasagna are all great).
**Tip: Buy portioned salmon filets and freeze as-is or marinate and freeze.
Sides and Dressings
If you take the 4 cooking techniques approach like I mention above, you'll have time to make some sides during a bit of down time.
Cook big batch of grains (Rice, Quinoa, Oats)
Steam veggies (Potatoes, Broccoli, Green Beans)
Make 1-2 salad dressings (Creamy and Vinaigrette)
If you don't have glass storage containers, load up on some! Here is a really informational post from The Spruce Eats. I think it's a good idea to get a variety of sizes for things as small as salad dressings to large ones for soups and chilis. If freezer space is an issue, food can be stored in Ziplock bags so they can be laid flat and stacked.
This might not seem like a big deal, but trust me on this one. I can't tell you how many times I've had to ditch bad food, whether it be leftovers or a pasta sauce I bought from the store. Here are a few tips for labeling...
buy freezer-safe tape or stickers like these from the Container Store
use a fine-tip Sharpie
move items to front of fridge or freezer that are quickest to expire