Tips and Tools for Meal Planning

Tips and Tools for Meal Planning

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow, Recipe Redux’s April theme is all about cutting back on food waste. According to the USDA website, Americans waste 30-40% of the food supply, which adds up to over $161 billion per year! That’s a lot of food. So how do we make steps to reduce this waste? Check out the many great ideas from my fellow Recipe Reduxers by clicking on the link at the bottom of the post. Bust first, my main way to cut back on food waste: meal planning.

If you’ve been following the blog, you may have noticed a new addition: Healthy Toast Meal Planning Guides. Besides the fact that I adore being organized, making lists, and not having to come home and cook every night, meal planning has also been great on our budget as it keeps us from wasting money on food that goes bad. I always hate when a recipe calls for an ingredient that you have to buy a lot of (herbs and vegetables especially), but then you only use a small amount of it for the recipe and the remainder just slowly goes bad in the fridge. But with meal planning, you can get around this a few ways. Below are some tips for making your own meal plans as well as tricks for making the process easier.

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Tips for Meal Planning:

  1. Take inventory of your fridge and freezer. I’ve gotten into the habit of doing this on Thursday or Friday night. I’ll open up the fridge and freezer to see if there are any food items that will be going bad if I don’t eat them the following week. I also note what ingredients I have that may not be going bad, but that I can use up rather than spending money buying more ingredients at the store. The freezer is usually my best friend in this category as I try to always have at least one vegetable and one protein source on hand.
  2. Sift through your Pinterest (or favorite blogs). If you have a specific ingredient you need to use up, say cauliflower, then you can start browsing around for recipes that use cauliflower. Once you have a base recipe, write down all the ingredients you already have at home and another list of things you’ll need to buy. After looking through this second list, see if there are any ingredients that you either will have leftovers of, or that are easy, and cheaper, to buy in bulk. Use these ingredients to then search for other recipes to make up your weekly meal plan.
  3. Cook in large batches, store in single servings. While it’s great to be able to spend a whole Sunday cooking a bunch of meals for the week, life happens and all of a sudden it’s Sunday night and you realize you don’t have anything prepared to bring to work tomorrow or you incorrectly estimated just how much your family can eat and there isn’t a bunch of leftovers that you were counting on having for lunches or even dinner the next night. The solution: cook more than you need and store a few servings in individual, freezer-friendly containers. This way, you always have a backup plan that you can pop in the oven or stove to heat up. Storing in single servings is also great for keeping portions in check and making packing your lunches for the next day a breeze.
  4. The freezer is your friend. This may sound repetitive from my last tip, but rather than just storing meals, also use the feezer to store any leftover ingredients. Two tips that have saved me a lot of money (and make last-minute cooking easier) are: 1. store leftover fresh ginger in the freezer, then use a cheese grater to add freshly grated ginger to your meals. 2. Dice up leftover fresh herbs and place in an ice cube tray. Cover with water then place tray in freezer. I recommend placing the ice cube trays in a freezer Ziploc bag to avoid any contamination of the spices. Store for up to 2-3 weeks.
  5. Keep a record. One of the best things I’ve done is to start writing down meal plans. Not only does it keep me adherent to meal planning, but it also grows into a library of menu options so you don’t always have to come up with new meal plans all the time. If there’s a week I especially liked, I’ll make a note on it so I can easily identify a plan that I want to make again.

Some tools to  make meal  planning a bit easier:

  • Notebook: as mentioned above, one of the most helpful tools for meal planning is writing down your meal plans in one place. Not only will this keep you organized (I hate having a bunch of random papers all over the place), but it also becomes a library of menus and grocery lists to use later down the road. 
  • Glass Food Storage Containers: I LOVE my glass storage containers. I recommend buying multiple sizes. Having a 9×13 and an 8×8 or 9×9 is allows you to use the same container to bake and store large portions (perfect for lasagna, one-pan chicken and veggies, casseroles, and more). Then having smaller individual portion-sized containers make reheating a breeze as you don’t need to transfer the food to a microwave-safe plate or bowl. And with all of them cleaning is super easy as you can just rinse and place in the dishwasher.
  • Large Sheet Pan: one of the keys to meal planning is cooking in large batches, so having a large baking sheet to roast large amounts of veggies or sheet-pan dinners is essential. 
  • Digital Kitchen Scale: while I use my scale the most when baking, it is also handy for properly portioning out grains and meats. No need for anything fancy, just make sure is can measure in ounces and grams. 
  • Crock Pot: when you’re trying to cook a bunch of meals at once it’s nice to have an option that doesn’t require more oven or stove real-estate. Plus, being able to literally do meal prep in your sleep is a real plus. I recommend getting one with a “keep warm” setting. 

So here’s a toast to cutting back on food (and money) waste this Earth Day! 



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About Kelli McGrane Headshot

I’m Kelli MS, RD, and my mission is to prove that eating healthier doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. Follow along to learn more about food and cooking, with an emphasis on breakfast and sweet treats!

About Kelli McGrane Headshot

Welcome to The Healthy Toast!

Here you’ll find realistic healthy recipes designed by a registered dietitian with your busy lifestyle in mind.

Whether you’re a busy professional or new mom, the goal of The Healthy Toast is to provide you with the recipes and nutrition info you need to live your healthiest life, even when life gets crazy. As I’m a firm believer in a whole-foods, non-diet approach, I hope my website shows that good nutrition doesn’t have to be complicated or restrictive. 

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