This simple advice will save you time while keeping stress levels low.
Yup, the dreaded meal plan suggestion. The truth is, if you can get in the habit of meal planning, it will completely change your life. I’m not exaggerating, and I’ve seen it help people even more than I could have predicted. Here, practical meal-planning tips that can easily be incorporated into your routine without making a formal meal plan.
1. Set aside five to 10 minutes to think about dinner. If you allow meal planning to take 20, 30 or 40 minutes, it will become an unsustainable practice. Instead, force yourself to do it in 10 minutes once a week. Or take just five minutes at the beginning of your day—not right before work ends—to wrap your head around what you’ll make for supper. Make a quick decision and stick with it. You’ll be amazed at how much less stressful dinner duty is when you go into the evening rush with some semblance of a plan.
2. Keep track of meals that work. Keeping notes on recipes that are easy to cook and are a hit with the family help you from having to recreate the wheel every week. Put favorites on regular rotation so that you don’t have to plan all new meals each week.
3. Ask other members of your crew for help. Don’t insist on doing all of the heavy lifting! Ask your family what they want to eat. Maybe each kid gets a day of the week (or twice a month if they always pick hot dogs), or make every Friday your partner’s choice if you live together. Combined with one or two favorites that you’ve rotated into the week, you’re halfway there!
Stacie Billis is the mom of two boys, a cookbook author, food writer and editor. Her book Make It Easy: 120 Mix-and-Match Recipes to Cook from Scratch with Smart Store-Bought Shortcuts When You Need Them is a busy parent’s real-life manual for balanced family eating. Stacie is also Food Editor-in-Chief at Cool Mom Eats.
4. Give at least some days a theme. Though they can get tiresome on social media, #MeatlessMonday and #TacoTuesday have caught on for a good reason: They can help narrow down the options, which makes life easier. And don’t worry about alliteration; it’s all about pizza Fridays and breakfast-for-dinner Wednesdays in my house. They may not roll off the tongue, but they sure do make life easy.
5. Cook once, eat twice. This is a big one. Whenever you’re cooking a basic staple like rice, quinoa, beans or pasta, make double what you need for the meal. Then count on using the leftovers another night that week (or stashing the leftovers in the freezer for another week down the line). This bulk cooking as-you-go saves a huge amount of time and doesn’t require you to set a weekend afternoon aside for cooking.
6. Have back-pocket recipes that save the week. These are some of my favorites—all of which are in my cookbook, Make It Easy—that I pull in and out of rotation on weeks when I don’t have time to meal plan or whip up something new. Notice that I’ve given you six of them, because on your busiest weeks you should definitely order in once!