Cooking is one of the most delightful and essential human activities out there, so when did we stop enjoying it? For centuries humans have gathered together to share meals and enjoy each other’s company. But somewhere along the way our lifestyles became more complex, and the act of preparing these meals became more of a burden than a way to celebrate being alive.

Thankfully, there are lots of small ways you can make mealtime easier so you can spend more time doing the things you love with the people you care about. By changing the way we think about preparing food, we have an opportunity to save time, money, and reduce the impact we are having on our stress levels and the environment. With a pinch of preparation and a crumb of creativity, you’ll be on your way to eating and living well.

Read on for some helpful meal planning hacks that will change the way you think about food, and the way you feel about making it.

Image: A woman chopping vegetables and smiling at the camera

Source: Unsplash

Gaaahhhhh where do I even start?

The first place to start is with a plan. There are lots of wonderful free online printable templates out there for meal planning. Choose which day of the week works best for your schedule to buy groceries, and use that as your starting point each week (remember, it doesn’t have to be Sunday or Monday) This will save you an astounding amount of time and gas money.

The following short video by How to Adult is packed with amazing tips for beginners who are starting out on their meal planning adventure. Check it out to learn some solid foundational skills that will set you up for success, and then we’ll get into some next level stuff.

Via: How to Adult 1

‌Ready to start cooking? How to Adult offers tons of helpful how-tos on just about any subject, for just about any age. Learn more on their YouTube Channel here.

How do I waste less food and less money?

As in any journey, it’s best to begin where you are, with what you’ve already got. Take inventory of those non-perishable goods that have been sitting in your pantry and use those as a base to work around first! If you have the space, try to purchase items that you use frequently in bulk so that they are ready to grab whenever you need them. Freezable proteins, grains, and canned goods are always handy to have around. Save your weekly grocery trips for fresh stuff like produce, eggs, and other things that will expire more quickly.

Fresh is always first, dear friends.

Any experienced chef will always tell you to get inspired by what’s growing locally, and what’s in season. When your produce doesn’t have to travel far to get to you it uses less resources. Plus it is fresher, therefore it tastes better and is richer in nutrients.

And, since we’re on the topic of freshness, try to plan to use your fresh ingredients like tomatoes, herbs, and meats in the beginning of the week while it’s in its prime. Save the pasta, frozen fish filets, canned goods, and root vegetables that have a longer shelf life for the end of the week.

Making the most of it!

You can really get the most bang for your buck by purchasing ingredients that can be used in more than one style of cuisine and multiple meals. This will keep your taste buds satisfied and your wallet happy. Plus, it’s kind of a fun puzzle to see how many ways you can use one ingredient! For example, I love Latin and Asian foods, so I keep things like cilantro, rice, bell peppers, garlic, and hot sauce on hand at all times.

Here are some additional tips for pinching pennies in the meal planning process:

  • Pinterest is an incredible free resource for searching meal ideas and saving your favorite recipes.
  • Stick to your shopping list. Don’t get groceries when you’re hungry! You are way more likely to veer off your list and buy junk food when your stomach is rumbling.
  • Eat those leftovers! Pack ‘em up real nice and you’ll be more interested in eating them for a quick grab-and-go lunch the next day.
  • You don’t have to follow social norms for each meal. Eat olives for breakfast and eggs for dinner…who cares?!
  • Meal PREP. Choose an hour at the beginning of your week to do the chopping, peeling, or other time-consuming stuff that slows you down on weeknights. Chopping veggies ahead of time for salads or breakfast scrambles will save you time and frustration later on.

You don’t have to do it alone.

Who said you have to take on all this prep yourself? Crank up the good tunes and get the family to help you chop and prep.

Soup swaps are also a great way to share the workload with other busy home cooks. Get a group of friends to each make a different soup or casserole in large batches and share with one another! You’ll be helping each other out, trying something new, and gaining meal inspiration at the same time.

Here are some helpful articles we’ve written that will inspire your palette and help you to make great decisions at home and at the supermarket.

7 minutes

Make the World Better with Your Next Run to the Grocery Store!

How can you help save the world without actually having to change your life much? It's easy! We'll show you how.

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8 minutes

Savoring the Flavor of the Moment with Lemon Caviar!

Can the juicy insides of citrus fruit change the way we experience life? We're pausing to savor the moments that delight, starting with a tiny fruit that has a tasty, sunshiney surprise inside! Take your taste buds on an adventure by discovering the wonder in the caviar of the Finger Lime!

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6 minutes

Get The Most Out of Your Groceries: Easy Ways to Use Food Scraps

Wait! Before you throw away that banana peel or compost your coffee grounds, you can give them another life. Here are some simple ways to start reducing waste and maximizing your grocery budget.

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The ultimate goal here is to make life easier, more delectable, and give you the freedom of mind to actually enjoy your food and your leisure time. Nobody expects you to be on point 100% of the time. So remember to leave wiggle room for spontaneity and ordering out, because we can’t possibly plan every single day. It’s all about building healthy habits for a happier future.

Plan ahead, take baby steps, and remember to grab those reusable shopping bags, folks.

Bon Appetit!

Keep dreaming and notice the beauty around you!

~Renee

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Notes:

  1. How to Adult. “How to Meal Plan.” YouTube, 7 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooFUuUWH28Q. Accessed 5 Oct. 2021.

Renee Laroche-Rheaume

Outreach Coordinator

Renee is a graduate of FIDM, and has held jobs in several industries such as apparel manufacturing, retail, professional office work, and even hospitality! Her creative outlook, wide variety of experiences, and desire to notice the beauty around us make her a great addition to the EWC team!