A Beginner’s Guide to Meal Planning: Tips and Tricks for Delicious and Affordable Meals

 Are you tired of spending hours in the grocery store, only to come home and stare at your pantry without a clue of what to make for dinner? Meal planning is the solution to your mealtime woes! Not only does it save you time and money, but it also helps you to eat healthier and more delicious meals. If you’re new to meal planning, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll share some of our top tips and tricks for meal planning, including how to choose recipes, make a shopping list, and prep ingredients. With these simple strategies, you’ll be on your way to creating delicious and affordable meals in no time!

Choose your recipes wisely:

When selecting recipes, look for meals that use similar ingredients, so you can buy in bulk and save money. Choose meals that are easy to prepare and can be made in large batches, so you can have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day.

One-Pot Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

Instructions:

  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the ground beef, onion, and garlic over medium heat until the beef is browned and the onion is tender.
  2. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Break the spaghetti in half and add it to the pot. Cover and simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the spaghetti is tender and the sauce has thickened.
  4. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook until browned and cooked through. Remove from skillet and set aside.
  2. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until tender. Add the bell peppers and broccoli and cook until the vegetables are tender-crisp.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Add the sauce to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Add the cooked chicken back to the skillet and stir to combine. Serve over rice.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Instructions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender.
  2. Add the sweet potatoes, black beans, diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper to the pot. Stir to combine.
  3. Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are tender.
  4. Serve with sour cream and shredded cheese.

Use your freezer:

Your freezer can be a valuable tool when it comes to meal planning, helping you to reduce food waste and save time on busy weeknights. 

Freezing leftovers

To use your freezer in the best way, start by freezing any leftover portions of meals you’ve made, either in single-serve containers or in larger batches for future meals. You can also batch-cook ingredients like rice, beans, and soup bases to use later in recipes.

Freeze and make smoothies or stir-fries

Consider freezing fruits and vegetables that are about to go bad to use in smoothies or stir-fries. Label and date your frozen items to keep track of what you have on hand

Create an inventory list for frozen item

It’s also helpful to create an inventory list of the items in your freezer to avoid over-buying and ensure that you use up everything in a timely manner. By utilizing your freezer effectively, you can have delicious and affordable meals ready to go when you need them.

Make a shopping list:

Making a shopping list is a crucial step in meal planning that can save you time, money, and reduce food waste. Before making your list, take inventory of what you already have in your pantry and fridge, and plan your meals around those ingredients. Write down the items you need for each meal, including snacks and beverages, and make sure to include any staple ingredients that you use regularly. Organize your list by category, such as produce, dairy, meats, and pantry items, to make shopping more efficient. Don’t forget to check for sales and coupons to help stretch your budget even further.

Prep your ingredients:

Prepping your ingredients in advance can save you time and make cooking less stressful. Chop vegetables, marinate meat, or prepare a sauce in advance, so you can quickly assemble your meals during the week. Properly preparing your ingredients is an essential part of meal planning that can make cooking easier and more enjoyable.

To start, wash all your fruits and vegetables thoroughly and chop them up into the desired sizes for your recipes. You can also pre-cook or pre-portion meats and grains for quicker meal prep during the week. Store prepared ingredients in airtight containers or bags in the fridge to keep them fresh and organized. It’s also helpful to label your containers with the date and contents to avoid confusion.

Additionally, consider investing in some kitchen tools like a food processor, mandolin, or sharp knives to make chopping and slicing easier and more efficient. By preparing your ingredients ahead of time, you can save time and minimize stress when it’s time to cook your meals.

Shop in-season:

Shopping for in-season produce is an excellent way to save money on your grocery bill while still enjoying fresh, delicious meals. When fruits and vegetables are in season, they’re generally more abundant and cheaper due to local availability.

By planning your meals around seasonal produce, you can take advantage of the lower prices and fresher taste. In-season produce also tends to be more nutrient-dense, providing you with a variety of vitamins and minerals that can benefit your overall health.

Additionally, choosing local, in-season produce can also reduce your carbon footprint by cutting down on transportation and packaging costs. By incorporating in-season produce into your meal planning, you can create delicious and affordable meals that are both healthy and sustainable.

Be flexible:

Meal planning is not an exact science, and things may not always go according to plan. Be flexible and adaptable and make adjustments as needed.

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