By Marie-Ève Caplette, RD, a2 Milk™ Council Member
Meal planning is THE solution to eating nutritious meals while saving time, money and stress. But don't worry: meal planning doesn't mean you have to plan everything or spend your entire Sunday in the kitchen. Here are a few tips to simplify your task in 6 steps.
1.Check your supplies
Start by checking what's left in the fridge, freezer and pantry. Use these ingredients as inspiration for the menu to avoid food waste. Celery starting to wilt? You can buy potatoes and spinach to make a soup. Carrots that have been lying around for several weeks? You can make a carrot salad, a side dish of grilled carrots or carrot muffins.
This step also allows us to check if the foods we use regularly in the kitchen deserve to be on our grocery list. For example, milk is a very versatile ingredient that can be used to make smoothies, soups, homemade muffins and breads, omelets, oatmeal, sauces, bowls of cereal... If your supply is low, it's a good idea to buy more before you run out!
2. Look at your schedule
When will you have time to cook? This may seem like a trivial question, but there's no point in having a meal plan if you don't have the time to put it into action. Determine when is the best time for you, and how much time you are willing to spend in the kitchen. Keep it realistic!
3. Choose the recipes
Depending on how much time you have, choose a few recipes and list the ingredients required. You can use flyer specials, a cookbook, websites or Pinterest as a guide for choosing recipes.
To save time, it is effective to choose recipes that allow you to reuse certain ingredients. For example, if you're making roasted broccoli to go with chicken, why not plan a broccoli salad the next day, or that chicken and broccoli pasta? Getting a head start on cutting the vegetables or cooking the meat means you can put a meal together in no time the next day.
In order not to break the bank, you can opt to eat the leftovers from dinner for lunch. You can also choose cold recipes (salads, sandwiches) that are quick to prepare. Soups, like this carrot bisque made with a2 Milk™, are also a good choice. They freeze well, so you can make large quantities and take a single serving out of the freezer when you want a quick dinner. Finally, if time is short, you can opt for a meal in pieces. For example, assembling a can of tuna, raw vegetables, hummus and crackers allows us to eat a complete lunch without having to cook.
Breakfast and snacks
Do you take the time to plan your lunches and snacks, or do you prefer to improvise? There's no right or wrong way to do it, but taking a few minutes to think about it certainly adds variety to the menu. It also allows you to have all the food you need on hand when it comes time to choose what to eat. Smoothies are a nutritious and generally easy-to-digest option. Here are some ideas, to be made with a2 milk:
4. Go grocery shopping
Once the game plan is set, it's time to head to the grocery store with the list of missing ingredients.
5. Prepare ahead of time
The purpose of preparing certain ingredients ahead of time is to simplify your task for the rest of the week. You can do this by turning basic ingredients into ready-to-eat foods. This could include:
Cooking a protein source
- For example: chicken, pork, hard boiled eggs, tofu
- You can also marinate meat or tofu and cook it the next day
Cook a whole grain or starch product
- For example: quinoa, rice, sweet potatoes
Preparing fruits and vegetables
More specifically, this step may include:
- Washing and cutting raw vegetables
- Preparing a salad and its dressing
- Washing fruits, and cutting if necessary (pineapple, honeydew melon, cantaloupe...)
- Prepare a dip to accompany the raw vegetables
- Prepare a soup
- Sauté vegetables, such as onions and peppers
6. Cooking or assembling
Once some ingredients are prepared, it's easy to quickly turn them into a salad or bowl meal. For example, if you cook some chicken and eggs ahead of time and make the dressing, that cobb salad will be ready in 5 minutes flat.
Or you could choose to prepare a recipe ahead of time, such as a casserole or lasagna.
In order to make meal planning a sustainable part of our routine, the most important thing is to have fun! Put on some music, don't take yourself too seriously and do your best. Hopefully, these steps and tips will inspire you to create delicious meals. Just a few hours in the kitchen is all it takes to start the week off right!