Does it ever seem like the tasks of menu planning, grocery shopping, and meal preparation take far too much time? Do you feel like you live at the grocery store, always running to get that one thing you lack in a recipe, or the main ingredient in what you spontaneously decided to have for dinner? You’re not alone – many of us feel overwhelmed by the tasks involved in meal preparation. And in the middle of all that, it’s supposed to be healthy, right?
To help you with this frustrating problem, here are some tips on menus and meal planning, and how to organize family meals so that everyone is eating healthily and you’re not exhausted all the time.
You probably already have a grocery list – but is it organized? It can really help if the list is laid out in the order that the store is organized. If the produce section is the first thing you see when you walk in, for instance, then “produce” should be the first category on your list. If you have to, make your first such list when you’re in the store itself if you have trouble remembering the layout.
Include coupon notices on your list, too. If you have a coupon for an item, mark it in some way (maybe put a “c” in a circle next to the item) so that you don’t forget. This can be especially handy if you go to a store where you use electronic coupons that are loaded onto your shopping card where you can’t see them.
It’s a good idea to get your kitchen organized. Few things waste time like hunting for items that you can’t find, and few things waste grocery money like buying something you forgot you already had. Keep things like salt, pepper, sugar, and condiments you use a lot within reach of the stove. Canned goods can be kept in the same general area and organized according to type. Pots, pans, and appliances that you use often can be stored on the countertop, while less-used ones can go in cabinets.
Preparing the Meal
When you prepare the meal, try measuring out ingredients first, then mixing them. Multi-tasking can come in really handy – boil pasta while preparing the salad, or microwave the potatoes while you’re grilling the chicken breasts.
Another idea for quick meal preparation is to use the oven for more than one thing. Many dishes can be tweaked to accommodate a hotter or colder oven setting.
Make ahead whatever you can – chop vegetables and refrigerate them for use during the week, and make foods that can be used for other dishes during the week. Bake a chicken on Monday night, for instance, and plan for chicken salad on Tuesday. Yesterday’s meal can be your made-ahead ingredient.
When you’re planning your weekly or monthly menus, try to break down some of the meal preparation steps and see who else in the family can take over those tasks. For instance, if you’re having tacos one night, then assign the grating of the cheese and shredding of the lettuce to one of your kids or your spouse; another family member can get the taco shells out and placed on plates; you can be responsible for browning the beef. Breaking down meals into simple steps that can be shared helps a lot.