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Meal Planning Basics Part 3: Dinner

So now you’re an expert at the meal planning basics of breakfast and lunch and are back for more. Once you start the process of meal planning it’s impossible to stay away.

One of the best things you can do for your sanity and your budget is to embrace the leftover. The leftover curry, the leftover rice, the leftover fuzzy thing in the back of the fridge. Wait, wait. Not that last one, toss that out right now.

Weekdays are busy for virtually everyone. I don’t care if you’re a stay-at-home parent, working professional (or unprofessional), single parent, or one half of a dual-income household. Getting dinner ready is hard guys, it just is. So do not think that meal planning is going to help you get a 5-course meal on the table every night because it’s just not. The only thing that will help you do that is a nanny and an in-house chef, so let go of that dream right now and embrace reality.

What meal planning will do is help you set reasonable expectations for weeknight dinners. Here are a few things you need to remember.

Staples make it easy

Kitchen staples, like dry rice, pasta, canned beans, frozen veggies, and more are essential. Grab onto things that are quick, cheap, easy to cook and don’t you dare let go. Even if you don’t plan on using one of these ingredients for the week you should still keep some on hand. Why? Because plans don’t always work out.

One night you will run late at work. Or the produce you bought spoiled faster than expected. Or maybe you’re just tired and what you had planned doesn’t feel possible anymore. Part of meal planning is also understanding when you should (and should not) deviate from the plan. Craving something expensive and junky? Stick to the plan. Overwhelmed and exhausted? Deviate to your heart’s content.

Leftovers are your new best friend

I am not cooking every night of the week. You hear me? I 100% flat-out refuse to cook every single night of the week. That is madness. Every other day? Mostly every other day? Sure thing.

This means that you’ll need to cook more than what you would normally prepare for a single evening. Want your leftovers to stretch to the next day? Double the ingredients. A few days out? Shoot for about 2.5 times your normal ingredients. My favorite game is “Eat All the Leftovers” at the end of the week.

Think about your time

Do you love to cook as much as I do? I know I just railed against cooking every day of the week but hey, I also love to run and I still take rest days.

My time is valuable and my mental energy is finite, just like yours. If you really, really love to cook fun, big meals, my best advice is to keep it to the weekends. Or if you don’t work a Monday through Friday job, do it on whichever day works best for you. Meal planning shouldn’t take away from what you love about cooking, but it should make it easier for you to get things on the table during your busy times.

Write it down

Keeping all of this in mind, guess what it’s time for? Writing it all down.

Write down each day you’re planning for.
List out what you have going on that day. Work, after-school activities, the gym, a plan to scroll through Facebook for hours on end.
Plan meals on days when you have the most time to cook, or when you will be most likely to get in the kitchen.
Label leftover days.

Don’t forget to make out your grocery list for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal plans. After that, check your list against your budget. If you’re over your budget, refine your plan.

And that’s it! That’s really all there is to meal planning. Now get out there and get cooking.

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