5 Ways to Simplify Meal Planning

108392Some days, I don’t mind cooking assuming I have the time to do it.  Most days it’s not on my top-10 list though, and meal planning is simply dreadful for me.  Or at least it was until I started incorporating some of my top-5 tips to make Meal Planning easier.

1. Use Ziplist (or a similar tool):  Ziplist is awesome!  You can easily add recipes to your recipe box from nearly any internet source.  Then, you plan meals and add the ingredients to your shopping list.  The shopping list is smart too — it adds together most similar ingredients and groups them according to category (vegetables, meats, etc.).  Print out the list and return to the website when it’s time to cook.  They do have a meal planning calendar, but I’m not a fan of it — I use Cozi as our online family calendar and hate having multiple calendars.  Would love for it to integrate with Cozi, but still think this is a top-notch tool even without the integration.

2. Create a Recipe Binder: Instead of keeping all of your favorite recipes in multiple cookbooks, trying to recall which book has which recipe, store them all in a 3-ring binder.  This allows you to take printed recipes from any source and throw them in a plastic sheet protector inside your binder.  You can grab recipes from magazines, other cookbooks, handwritten notes or computer printouts.  If you don’t have a tablet or other device easily accessible in the kitchen, this is a must.

3. Create a Rotating Menu:  If you have a decent number of recipes that you and your family enjoy, spend some time to create 4-6 weeks worth of menus.  Consider leaving room for eating out and 1-2 new recipes per week to keep away some boredom.  When you make the menus, be sure to write up the shopping lists too.  You may want to get the shopping lists laminated so that you can easily reuse them.  Hint:  Use Ziplist for this.

4. Use Freezer Cooking:  You could do the majority of your meal planning for the month at one time and cook it in one day.  Then come meal time, you just cook the meal you took out of the freezer the night before to thaw.  I am not good at planning this, but others are.  I like OnceAMonthMom — there are up to 4-years worth of monthly menus with everything you need (directions, shopping lists, labels) for free, or you can pay a small fee for access to new menus each month.  Even without the subscription, you can still access all the current menus and recipes.  You just don’t get access to the consolidated shopping lists, instructions and labels.  These things are important if you are looking to save some time.  Another great thing about this site is the variety of menus available.  They have 8 menu options available (Traditional, Whole Foods, Gluten and Dairy Free, Paleo, Diet, Vegetarian, Baby Food, and Mini).  I’ve loved the recipes chosen in the Traditional menus I’ve used, but haven’t tried enough of the others to give an opinion.

5. Borrow from Foodie Bloggers:  There are a plethora of Foodie Bloggers out there.  They happily share their meal plans and recipes with anyone who cares.  Find a few of these and copy what they do — take their post from the previous week so you can plan your shopping trip on your time rather than waiting patiently for their posts.

6. Bonus option — Hire a personal chef:  This is actually my number 1 suggestion…if only I could afford it.  A girl can dream!

What tips do you have to simplify meal planning?