Meal preparation, meal planning, and menu planning are buzzwords at the moment. They are all similar, but for slight variations, and I’m glad they’ve become so popular. The more often you plan and cook meals in advance, the healthier and happier you’ll be.
It’s a simple fact – when your life is organized and have meals ready for the week, you don’t have to worry about what to cook. That’s one less stress, one less thought/worry to keep in your head.
The following are my 7 Top Meal Planning Tips
Use these tips as a springboard to understanding how cooking your meals for the week in one session can optimize your free time (i.e. less overall time preparing meals and cooking during the week), reduce the stress of wondering what to eat, and improve your health and fitness.
Tip #7 – Keep your kitchen clean while you cook
When one meal is prepared and goes into the oven, wash your cutting board and knife, especially if you’ve been preparing raw meat. Clean any bowls and preparation dishes, then start preparing the next item. When a meal is finished cooking, put it in food storage containers in the fridge or freezer and clean the cooking dishes.
When your bulk cooking is complete you’ll only have a few dishes remaining to clean. This kind of efficiency feels great, because there’s nothing worse than being faced with a mountain full of dirty dishes in the sink.
Tip #6 Invest in Quality Kitchen Cookware
Most manual labour requires tools and cooking is no different. Quality kitchenware endures and helps make meal preparation and cooking easier.
Little things make all the different, like a frying pan that doesn’t stick, a set of mixing bowls that fit inside each other, an organized spice rack, and an efficient blender or combination blender/food chopper.
You’ll also need food storage containers to store your make-ahead meals and to take your meals with you. Choose plastic or glass, stackable or mason jars – whatever suits your needs.
Tip #5 Plan ahead to be prepared
Meal preparation involves having food supplies readily available. Keep an ongoing grocery list as you run out food (or use an App: I use notepad on my iPhone) and use it when you buy your groceries for the week. Stock up on food supplies mid-week if needed, e.g. you might run out of salads or vegetables before meat dishes. For more detail see my post, How to Cook in Bulk: Grocery Shopping.
Pack up to-go meals for work or school the night before – you won’t need to rush in the morning and you won’t compromise on skipping out on a healthy meals.
Tip #4 Stock your fridge and cupboard with healthy food staples
This includes foods like mustard, pesto, hot sauces, butter, extra virgin olive oil, organic coconut oil, nuts, salads, spinach, tomatoes, lemons & limes, onions, canned beans, canned fish, nut butters, herbs & spices, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, eggs, etc. Make a list of what you like to have on hand.
Use these staples in your meal preparation to complete a recipe, to flavour, to create a side dish, or in the case of eggs and spinach, to make a healthy breakfast.
Read my post, Food Staples: Add Zest to Your Meals for a more detailed list.
Tip #3 Make all your meals taste delicious
Experiment with a variety fresh herbs or dried spices to flavour meats, eggs, quinoa, rice, and vegetables. Browse recipes online for cooking instruction inspiration and to get new ideas.
Using simple condiments like a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, aged Balsamic vinegar of Modena, sesame oil, or a fresh bunch of cilantro will enhance taste and offer variety to your bulk cooking.
Use plenty of fresh limes, lemons and sometimes fruit in the preparation of your meals. There is no need for store-bought sauces when you can add a fruit to a salad or to a meat dish (like my Mango Chicken Recipe) to enhance taste and even appearance.
A taste-enhancement tip for vegetables: squash, sweet potatoes, and roasted vegetables can be left in the oven once fully cooked for an extra 20 to 30 minutes with the oven turned off. This will release more of the natural sugars and the taste can’t be beat!
Tip #2 Invest in quality knives
If there’s one thing you’ll being doing a lot of during meal preparation, it will be cutting. Having a high-quality chef’s knife and boning up on your knife handling skills will help you to enjoy cooking even more. I can’t imagine preparing meals in bulk with cheap, dull, improperly weighted knives. I could make do with less than adequate kitchenware, but not knives!
My basic knife recommendation is to own a quality Chef’s knife (or a Japanese Santoku knife) and a paring knife.
The Chef’s knife is for the power work: cutting large, denser foods like meat, squashes, and potatoes, or for chopping, dicing and mincing things like onions, garlic, and herbs.
The paring knife is for smaller items like cutting 1-2 radishes, or slicing an apple.
If you do a lot of de-boning of meat or fish the I’d also recommend a quality filleting/boning blade.
My #1 Meal Planning Tip: Cook your meals in bulk for the week
For the investment of a few hours once per week to cook multiple meals, you’ll save 2-3 times that amount of time over the course of your week. Not having to prepare and cook more meals every night saves so much time. I teach this easy-to-follow method in my eBook, Cook a Week of Meals in 4 Hours.
You’ll experience less stress and make healthier eating choices because you’ll have meals ready to eat when you come home from work.
No more being over-hungry, going out to a restaurant and over-eating, eating what you don’t need, or buying less-than healthy fast food.
When you’re running low on meals or just cooking something different one evening, maximize your time and cook some vegetables in bulk and/or another meat dish. It doesn’t take that much more time to prepare, let alone cooking time.
If you own a slow cooker (here’s the slow cooker I have at home), prepare the recipe the night before. Put everything in the crock pot and keep it in the fridge until morning. Before you go to work in the morning, turn it on. When you come home you’ll have dinner and left-overs to boot!
When you invest 3-4 hours to cook your meals for the week your ROI is more available free time to do with as you please!
What’s your #1 Meal Planning tip?
Leave me a comment at the end of this post and tell me about your favourite meal planning or cooking instruction tips. I’d be happy to share your tips with my readers.
Eat well to be well!