With busy schedules, getting a meal on the table can be hard -- and the most challenging part may be figuring out exactly what to make. A little organization and a few smart strategies, though, can simplify everyday meal planning.
Remember the basics
Check out what you have on hand – in the refrigerator, freezer and cupboards. Items that expire quickly should go right into your weekly menu plan.
To avoid waste, serve foods your family likes. Repeating favorite meals is better than preparing meals they reject.
Plan meals that fit the preparation time you have. A quick and easy meal is a better choice for a hectic week. When you have more time, you can make more complicated dishes or cook extra to freeze for another day.
Consider store ads when compiling your shopping list so you can take advantage of sales and stock up on items that you'll need for convenient meals.
By choosing a large roast or broiling a few extra chicken breasts, you'll have leftovers to turn into another meal. It won't cost you extra time to prepare larger portions, but will save you time later in the week.
Make a list
Knowing what you'll be serving each night will make organizing your shopping list easier and will eliminate the "what to fix" dilemma at the end of a busy day. Here's a simple plan for starters:
Two chicken meals per week
Two fish meals per week
One beef meal per week
One simple soup and salad combination meal per week
One pasta main course per week
Think of your side dishes the same way: Plan for rice, salad and veggies. Opt for carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, corn or corn on the cob and other family favorites.
mix it up
For your beef entree, you could do grilled cheeseburgers, Swedish meatballs, tamale pie, spaghetti with meatballs, rosemary roast beef... There are enough choices that you won't have to repeat the same meal for several weeks. For the fish main courses, consider grilled salmon steaks for one meal, and use the leftover salmon tossed with snap peas, carrot coins and broccoli in pasta for another meal – and that covers your pasta entrée for the week. Leftover vegetables can make a hearty soup when cooked in a slow cooker on a busy day and served with grilled tomato and cheddar sandwiches.
Planning ahead makes mealtime a snap, and you'll save time and money getting great dinners on your table every night.
More meal planning tips
Here's a step-by-step guide for taking stock of what you already have and using it to plan a week's (or even a month's) worth of meals.