Each new year starts with the best intentions, especially where it comes to our health and our wallets. One of the smartest ways to get a handle on both of those is to plan meals in advance. When you’ve got a menu in mind, you can shop more efficiently. Better yet, you will always know what’s for dinner.
Below, you’ll find meal planning tips, techniques, and tools. We hope one or more of these strategies will help you enjoy cooking — and eating! - even more in the new year.
DIY Meal Planning
The cheapest way to get your act together at the supermarket and in the kitchen is to do it yourself. The key is to get organized and make it a weekly habit. Here’s how we do it:
1. Gather Your Recipes
Whether you store recipes in an app, or in a folder of bookmarks in your web browser, or in a good old-fashioned recipe box, gather them into a single location.
2. Check Grocery Sales and Specials
One way to plan efficiently and save money is to coordinate your weekly meals with what’s on sale. Most chain supermarkets publish their circulars online. You can browse the deals as you make your list, and even take advantage of digital coupons.
3. Check Your Schedule
If your Tuesday afternoon and evening will be devoted to driving carpool, don’t plan a dinner that requires an hour of prep time. Meal planning is supposed to alleviate stress, not create more of it. Save that recipe for a day when you’ll have the time to make it and enjoy it.
4. Make Plans
Once you know what’s on sale and what your week looks like, you can match recipes with days. Write the weekly meal plan on a chalkboard or white board in your kitchen, print out a list and put it on the refrigerator, add meals to a family online calendar — the choice is yours.
5. Go Shopping
Now that you know what you’re making for dinner each night, you can make your grocery list. Don’t forget to check your cupboards, pantry, and refrigerator for ingredients you might already have on hand.
Meal Planning Apps
Say you don’t feel prepared to take on all that organization yourself, or you don’t have an arsenal of recipes at the ready. Meal planning apps can be a great tool for guiding you through the process, along with being a source of new and inspiring recipes. Below, you’ll find a few of our favorites:
We’ve been seeing Mealime mentioned frequently, and that’s no surprise — this app is both fabulous and free. Set up your cooking profile by specifying how many people you’re cooking for, whether you have any allergies or dietary restrictions, and even filter out ingredients you don’t like. Plan your meals for the week, generate your shopping list, and head to the supermarket. Even if you do your own manual meal planning, bookmark Mealime as another smart recipe source.
Another app that’s making the rounds is Yummly. No longer a mere recipe clearinghouse, Yummly has grown to include tons of helpful meal planning functionality. Not only can you create meal plans and shopping lists, Yummly also incorporates prep time into your schedule. So if you want to eat at six o’clock on Wednesday, Yummly will prompt you to start cooking at the right time. Yummly also features those helpful overhead videos to show you what your recipe ought to look like, every step of the way.
We previously featured three top cooking apps and we thought BigOven was worth highlighting again. Organize your recipes, plan your meals, make your grocery lists, and start saving time and money. What are you waiting for?
Meal Delivery Services
Say you’re still not convinced you can do this on your own, even with the help of an app. There’s no shame in using a meal delivery service. This brilliant innovation brings recipes and ingredients right to your doorstep, and it’s a better option than takeout or the fast food drive-thru. We’re sure you’ve heard of Blue Apron and Hello Fresh, but we bet these three services are new to you:
Keep it simple and economical with this basic meal kit service. Starting at $4.99 per serving, Dinnerly was the cheapest option we found, but that’s because they focus on convenience. Meals have six ingredients or fewer, and they take 30 minutes maximum to prepare. Recipe cards are digital instead of paper. Dinnerly offers seven recipes each week, and you can pick and choose between them for as many meals and portions as you like.
2. Home Chef
This service is a step up in terms of choices (and cost, too). Home Chef offers fifteen meal choices each week starting at $7.99 per serving. We like how each meal tile notes potential allergens like eggs, milk, and soy. Plus, you can easily see which options are vegetarian (and there are a few). Check out each recipe before adding it to your order so you can see what cookware and seasonings are required. Some recipes are more advanced than others, so keep that factor in mind too.
If you’re in a real time crunch, or you know someone who simply can’t be bothered to cook, Freshly will come to the rescue. We’re truly impressed by the variety of meals they offer, and every single one of them is fully prepared when it arrives at your door. All you have to do is pop it in the microwave for a few minutes. Unlike the plastic trays in the freezer section of the supermarket, these meals are prepared by chefs and don’t contain all those preservatives like added sugar and sodium. This service is even surprisingly affordable, starting at $8.99 per serving.
Regardless of which route you choose, we hope you’ll make (and keep!) a resolution to plan, shop, and cook more wisely in the new year. Cheers to a delicious 2019!