How to Get Organized with Meal Planning

It's back-to-school time, and with that comes feelings of getting back into a routine and leaving behind the relaxed vibe that summer brings. I don't know about you, but no matter how far removed I am from traditional schooling, I still feel a small sense of excitement when Labor Day rolls around. 

If you have kids (or even if you don't, really) getting organized with meal planning can save a lot of time and energy which is something that we don't always have come 6:00pm on a week night. Here are a few ways you can nail it in the kitchen and use that saved time for relaxing with a glass of wine or tea instead. 

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Keep a Notebook handy 

Keep a notebook in your purse/car so whenever a meal idea or craving strikes, you can write it down. Most weeks, I already have a general idea of what I want to make by the time I sit down to actually make a plan, which is really helpful. Sometimes I'll need to browse recipes or find the cookbook I need later, but at least it's a start. 

If you're a coupon-user, keep those tucked inside your notebook so you can factor those into your plan as well (and never forget them at home again - unless you forget your notebook too, then you're just out of luck). I get a great mini-magazine from the grocery store I visit regularly. They include coupons catered to my purchasing history so it's a win-win and also serves as some extra inspiration for meal ideas.

Make a List

It doesn't matter if you use a pretty template, scrap paper, or even a napkin for all I care, a list is just an all-around great idea. Making a list helps ensure that you don't forget any necessary ingredients or just wing it and grab whatever looks good in the moment.

Start by listing everything you need and then take inventory of your kitchen and cross off any items you already have. This will help you cut down on food waste since you are buying only what you need, and can help you maintain that weekly food budget. 

Related: Get my list of 10 healthy foods I always have on hand

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Leave Room for Flexibility

It can be easy to get stuck in a fruit and vegetable rut, or get caught up with which ones you should buy every week. I like to keep this part of my plan as general as possible as a way to save time, and also so that I can scope out what's on sale and what looks the freshest once I actually get to the store. Obviously you need specific items if you are following recipes, but leave some room for changing things around where you can. I try to shoot for at least one green and one orange vegetable, a berry of some sort (fresh or frozen) and whatever else is in season and looks good. Remember that almost any vegetable can be chopped up and thrown into either a salad or an egg scramble if you need to use it up fast so don't be afraid to think outside the box with your choices.

Get Prepped on Sunday

If you have time on Sunday and are willing to do a little bit of prep, it will save you time all week long and your future self will thank you. You might try batch cooking grains, chopping vegetables, hard-boiling eggs or baking some muffins or snack bars. I always feel super accomplished when I finish a food prep session and can enjoy Sunday night knowing my week is starting on a great note. 

What are your favorite ways to save time on cooking and meal planning?