Tag: meal planning 101

Meal Planning Made Easy: Step 3…Get To It!

This is the third and final post in a series of three posts about how to make meal planning easy and doable. In case you missed the previous posts, here they are!

Step 1…Get Inspired

Step 2…Get Organized {Plus My #1 Meal Planning Tool!}

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pinteresBy this point, we’re inspired and organized, so all that’s left for us to do is to “get to it” and get it done! 🙂

Check out my top tips below for how to make meal planning a reality!

1) Prep!

For starters, you can chop your fruits and vegetables when you get home BEFORE you put them away. Just think of it as an extension of your shopping trip. Since you already have your meal plan prepped, you know exactly what you need to do to each ingredient throughout the week. However, I realize chopping can be tedious and boring, especially if there’s a lot of fruit and veg to get through. Why not enlist the help of a vegetable chopper? It’ll save you plenty of prep time and saves you from boredom. If you’re unsure of what you’re looking for, check out what people are saying online about individual choppers, like this chopper review!

Making soup? Chop onions, celery and carrots.

Serving up a stir fry? Cook a pot of brown rice (set it and forget it!).

Having tacos on Tuesday? Brown your meat or cook your lentils if you’re going meatless.

Do you like smoothies? Measure out your dry ingredients (seeds, nuts, powders, dried fruit) at the beginning of the week, so you just have to dump them in the blender when you’re ready to whip up a nutrient-packed breakfast. Store them in the fridge.

Ingredients for everything from smoothies to snacks  prepped and ready for the week!

Ingredients for everything from smoothies to snacks prepped and ready for the week!

2) Pack & Store

This is where your mason jars come in handy. Once you’ve prepped and chopped all of your ingredients, grab a roll of masking tape and write what recipe that ingredient is for and stick it on the mason jar. Then, when it’s time to cook, the chopping is already done and you just have to dump it in!

We’re also fans of Pyrex bowls with lids and glass baking dishes. One of the prep and stores steps we take at the beginning of the week is chopping up a head of celery into stalks and a few carrots into sticks. Then, we put them in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish and fill the dish with water until the veggies are just about covered. We store it in the fridge for a week, so we have easy grab and go snacks.

Once the week wraps up, if we still have veggies left, we dump out the water, refill it and then enjoy the veggies for ANOTHER week. It’s a great way to extend the life of your produce 🙂

To pack and store food, we’re also fans of thermos’, since they can be used to keep food cold (like smoothies for breakfast) or hot (like soups for lunch). They’re not expensive.

If you don’t have one already, invest in an insulated lunch box to make it easier for you to transport healthy food with you no matter where you are.

3) Freeze It!

When it comes to meal planning and saving time and money, the freezer is your friend. Whether you’re prepping ingredients for crock pot meals ahead of time, storing leftover broth or soup, or using frozen fruit or vegetables, the freezer can come in handy. (BJs Wholesale Club has organic frozen fruits and veggies that we LOVE to use in our smoothies!)

If you’re storing liquids in the freezer in mason jars, just make sure you leave 2 inches of open space between the bottom of the lid and the top of your liquid, as the liquid will expand as it freezes. We don’t want broken glass jars or shards of glass in our freezer (although it has happened to me!).

Hearty Black Bean and Rice Stew that we froze and enjoyed over multiple weeks!

Hearty Black Bean and Rice Stew that we froze and enjoyed over multiple weeks!

Make a double batch of soup or stew or a casserole and throw it in the freezer. If you’re in a pinch one night or have a busy week it’s easy to just reheat it in the oven or on the stove.

4) Love Those Leftovers

This goes along with #3 above but uses up your fridge space, too! When you make a big batch of a casserole, soup, stew or other dish, store some in the fridge (what you know you’ll eat up in a few days) and freeze the rest.

Check out this page for a list of my soup and casserole recipes as well as a recipe for mini make-ahead frittatas – perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

We love making batches of soup to have throughout the week, along with chopped veggies, energy bites, and paleo parmesan cheeze.

5) Make It Social

You can get really creative with this, but here are some ideas that have inspired me:

*Have a meal swap potluck party with neighbors or friends. Invite a small group of friends over (you could even do this with 1-2 other couples) and have each person prepare a dish or two. Then, bring your glass jars and containers, so you can take home a little bit of everything. It’s a great way to try new recipes and enjoy other people’s cooking.

*Use a meal planning tool like the one I shared in the second post in this series and plan meals together with coworkers, friends or family. I read on another blog that two moms did this while their daughters were at ballet lessons. They brought cookbooks and planned out the week’s meals together. It was a great way to bond and get stuff done!

My favorite meal planning tool!

My favorite meal planning tool!

*Have a crock pot party with a group of friends (everyone bring your crock pots together with the ingredients you need and then set it and forget it!). You could even make a day of it – prep in the morning, head out to do something fun and then come back to the mouthwatering smells emanating from your crock pots!

*Create a dinner party group and rotate who hosts the group. The host is responsible for the main dish and everyone else brings a simple side. Bring containers for leftovers!

6) Pump Up the Volume

I’ve always loved music, and rocking out in the kitchen to my favorite Pandora or other radio station is a great way to add some fun into a seemingly boring task…like chopping vegetables.

Working out is more fun with music (which is probably why I love Zumba so much), so why not apply the same way of thinking to cooking?! Time will fly, and you’ll have fun 🙂

7) Make Cooking Time Quality Time

Instead of cooking being something that “takes up time” or pulls you away from other ways you want to spend your time, make cooking time quality time – time to spend with your family and friends – with everyone having a task to do to help pull together a meal.

One of the easiest ways to make cooking time quality time is to pick a theme that makes it fun to be together. From Take Out Fake Out Thursday to Eat Like a Viking night, check out all of the ideas about how to “Get Inspired” from the first post of this series.

You can even host a cooking class at your house to bring friends and/or family together to learn new recipes and get inspired. Contact me here if you want to learn more about classes I can teach!

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8) Use a Meal Kit Service

If you like to cook but hate the idea of doing all of this prep, check out one of the meal planning kit services below! You pay for the convenience of having everything done for you, but it may be worth it, even if just once a week.

  1. BlueApron
  2. HelloFresh
  3. Plated

And, there you have it! Those are my 3 steps to make meal planning fun and time and money-saving. From getting inspired to getting organized and then finally “getting to it,” I hope you learned at least one new thing that will help you make meal planning easier!

Ok, now it’s your turn! Do you have any meal planning tips you’d like to share?What did you find MOST helpful from this series? Feel free to share below! I really do love hearing from you 🙂

Meal Planning Made Easy: Step 2…Get Organized

As I shared in my first post in this series, Meal Planning Made Easy: Step 1…Get Inspired!, meal planning doesn’t have to be a drag or feel like a chore…it can even be FUN once you start to get some creative ideas flowing 🙂

In today’s post, I’m going to tell you about my absolute FAVORITE meal planning tool. It makes meal planning and easy and even gives you the option to print a shopping list directly from the site!

Let’s take a look at my top 3 tips to Get Organized!

1) Tackle your toolbox.

I’m not talking hammers and nails here, but the truth is, if we want to plan and start cooking our meals, we have to have the right tools in our kitchen to make prepping and cooking easier and more efficient.

Here are my top 6 tools: (1) glass mason jars for food prep, storage and freezing; (2) a chef’s knife; (3) crock pot; (4) high-speed blender; (5) food processor; and (6) thermos (to transport hot & cold food!).

kitchen tools

The key to using these tools is to make them accessible. If they’re stowed away in a closet in your basement, you won’t use them. Trust me. Put them on the countertop or on a table in your kitchen or dining room. If they are easy to access, you will be much more likely to use them!

2) Clean out & restock your pantry. 

I like to think of my approach to eating as “common sense nutrition,” so here’s a simple rule of thumb – If you keep healthy food in your house, you will eat healthy food. If you keep junk food in your house, you will eat junk food.

Start with a pantry clean out and toss anything that is expired or that you don’t use. (That would include your jar of sage from 2003 🙂) Ask yourself,

“Does this support my healthy goals? The person I want to be? How I want to feel?”

If the answer is “no,” toss it. Make it easier for yourself to make healthy choices!

I’ve shared my top 10 everyday pantry essentials and my top 11 sweet treat staples in previous posts, so check them out if you want to know some staples I always have on hand in addition to the basics like beans, lentils, peas, brown rice, and quinoa.

pantry staples text

3) Use a Meal Planning Tool!

My favorite is Plan to Eat. I introduced it to my coworkers a few weeks ago, and they LOVED it. Here’s why!

  1. Add Recipes: You can add your own recipes manually, use the Plan to Eat bookmark bar just like the Pinterest pin icon to automatically upload whatever recipe you’re viewing into your recipe book, or paste a URL from a recipe website into the box on the Recipes page using the Add Recipe button.
  2. Plan Using the Calendar: Drag and drop your recipes into the calendar and plan meals for a day, week or for several months!PTE
  3. Printable Shopping List: As you add recipes to your planner, the shopping list will update and add in all ingredients you need for each meal. You end up with an organized, easy to follow shopping list that you can print out and take with you to the store. You can check off items you already have and even add certain items to your grocery staples list.
  4. Add Stores: Do you shop at multiple stores? No problem! Add each store to your list and you can move items on your shopping list to the store where you buy them.
  5. Get Social: You can Add Friends, which lets you access each other’s recipes.

They don’t have an app, but the website is 100% mobile-enabled, so you can easily use it from any device.

You can sign up for a free 30-day trial to try it out yourself before you commit. They don’t take your credit card info ahead of time like other websites do, so it really is free. The cost for an annual membership is $39. Renew on Black Friday to get a year for $19!

Check out the quick video below to learn more about how Plan To Eat works and see it in action!

If you’re interested in checking out meal planning apps, take a look at MealBoard or Paprika. I can’t speak from experience on those, but they do have good reviews online.

In my final post of this series, I’ll be sharing some practical tips for how to actually “Get To It” and start putting the ideas in steps 1 and 2 into practice!

What’s your favorite meal planning tool? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?

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