My kitchen is my happy place, and being a dietitian on top of it, you would think that would be a recipe for a stellar meal planner. But the truth is – I am a terrible meal planner! (I know, I just blew all of your minds!) All of us have a different approach to figuring out what to make for meals, so I thought I’d share what works for me.
I think meal planning typically goes along with Type A personalities. You find your recipes, make your grocery list, and stick to it. While I am a fairly disciplined person, there is a non-conformist in me that feels restricted when I make a meal plan. Even though I don’t plan meals in the typical way, I still have to have a plan. Meals don’t appear on the table out of nowhere!
I keep a very well stocked pantry and freezer with bulk grains, nuts, frozen and canned vegetables, and meats that our family uses routinely. I then grocery shop once a week with a standard list of fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and any other extra ingredients not on my normal list (fresh herbs, a special meat or random condiment, etc.) Remember: The healthier the items you keep on hand, the healthier the meals you will make!
Since I have the bulk of my ingredients on hand, I choose one of them – usually meat or legumes – to start my search for the recipe that features that ingredient on Pinterest or in my cookbooks. Most of the time, I will have all the ingredients ready to go because of my earlier shopping. If I don’t have all the ingredients, sometimes I will substitute something similar, or if that ingredient will make or break the recipe (for example: dry ginger will not make a good substitute for fresh ginger root!), I will add that to my list for my next shopping trip.
Every few days, take inventory of your fridge to see what items are close to expiring. Using those foods, find a recipe that will utilize the ingredient that is the largest quantity and/or the most expensive. This will save you money, and squeak out an extra meal with what you have on hand.
About twice a year, I inventory our freezer, fridge, and pantry and try to utilize the half-used/soon to expire foods in my cooking. This reduces waste (and money),gets you more bonus meals, and frees up more space in your kitchen! If there’s something that you really won’t use or don’t like – or know it’s not good for you, pitch it instead of pushing it to the back.
In order for this type of meal planning to work, your pantry, fridge, and freezer needs to be full of useful foods (not just snack foods!) that YOU love to cook with and eat. Here is an idea of the healthy items I like to keep on hand in my kitchen:
What You Will Find in my Pantry:
Grains: brown rice, basmati rice, quinoa, dry beans, lentils, barley, oatmeal, ww flour, white flour, ww pastry flour, cornmeal, wild rice, whole grain bread
Canned items: tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, evaporated milk, chicken stock, shelf stable almond milk, refried beans, black beans, chickpeas, white beans, coconut milk, canned pumpkin
Dried Fruit: craisins, raisins, Medjool dates,
Condiments: balsamic vinegar, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, and every spice imaginable, honey,
peanut butter, almond butter
What You Will Find in my Freezer:
Nuts (keep in freezer): walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, cashews, unsweetened coconut,
Frozen fruits: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, overripe bananas, and perfectly ripened bananas (for smoothies)
Frozen Veggies: edamame, peas, butternut squash
What You Will Find in my Fridge:
Dairy Products: shredded cheddar, block of
Parmesan, cream cheese, milk, plain Greek yogurt, feta cheese
Fresh Vegetables: celery, carrots, onions, fresh garlic, fresh ginger, avocados, tomatoes, lettuce / greens, guacamole spread, bell peppers,
Fresh Fruits: apples, oranges, clementines,
Other Items: whole grain tortillas, maple syrup, eggs