Refresh: Meal Planning Tips

Have Just a Few Good Cookbooks

As my mother told me, “When I was starting out with family cooking/meal planning, I had just a few cookbooks:  Mom’s loose-leaf of recipes from my past, the MN Meals cookbook, and BH&G. When I was looking for ideas, I mostly was in MN Meals as it was simple and broad.  Surfing the web to find recipes can be daunting; there are so many. [Just] a few good cookbooks gives you a more manageable body of info to peruse.”

I agree, and I tend to rely on my family cookbook (collected recipes we know and love) and two others that cover a lot of ground.

Plan by Time Required

You can keep a cheat sheet of often-used recipes or meals that are listed by how long it takes to prepare them (10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Then when you need a plan for the day and know how much time you have, you’ve already narrowed down your options without having to think it through each time.

Plan in Advance

For pro calendar users, or just those who appreciate charts, one option is to plan meals out a month at a time. You can have a 30-day calendar of meals (1 or 2 or 3 a day) mapped out as a resource. Each month you can reuse the calendar by changing the order of meals.

This allows you to have plenty of options available, know in advance what you are doing, and shop in bulk (if you have the storage space). You will save gas on multiple trips to the grocery store if you have what you need already in the pantry. You still have the flexibility to move things around if you want to or to take advantage of sales or schedule changes.

Keep a Treasure Chest

As you collect tried-and-true recipes, you can collect them on note cards and keep a box in the kitchen. You will know when you pull anything out of the box that it will work.

A variation of this would be to keep meal plans on note cards (recipe included). When you do your meal planning, or before you go to the store, you can pull out what you would like to make and have it ready to go. Once you have made the meal, it goes back in the box until next time.

Know Some Versatile Basics

It is a good idea to include simple recipes in your collection that make filling and tasty meals or that serve as the basis to multiple meals. For instance, a good scratch biscuit can serve for biscuits and gravy or chicken and biscuits.

Kitchen Ideas

So many possibilities! Which is nice, since kitchens can be the heart of the home and we expect a lot from them. If you spend any time at all in a kitchen, you probably have found things you love as well as some irritations.

Here are a few things I have found helpful in setting up my own kitchen:

No open shelving. Really. Although open shelving is trending and can be quite beautiful, hiding stuff may be the best solution in the long run.

If you are looking for options or updates in your home, consider cabinets or boxes rather than open shelves.

  • Keeping open shelves neat and uncluttered takes regular effort that may be better spent elsewhere. How much time do you have to sort and stack? How much do you want to spend time doing that?
  • Visual space does have an impact on everyone in the room. You can’t pile a lot of stuff on an open shelf and not feel the visual crush when you walk in the room. If you are short on space, it may be better to cram and cover.
  • Personally, I just love the clean look of doors and the fact that supplies are ready and waiting when I need them, without bothering me until then. Knowing your preference helps as you make storage decisions.

Install drawers instead of lower cabinets. This has been a game-changer in my kitchen, and I have no interest in going back.

  • Drawers under the counter are so much easier to access. No more sitting on the floor to try and see where that thing went in the back corner of the cupboard.
  • You can see everything in the drawer from the top. It’s easy to check supplies and choose what you need.
  • Drawers allow you to access multiple stacks easily from the top (rather than pulling out the front stacks to get to the back stacks…and then putting them back to use the bowl…and then pulling them out to replace the clean bowl…and then putting them back).

Kidney cabinet inserts for the win. This might be my favorite cabinet now. Before the pole and platforms, it was mostly inaccessible. Because of that, I would grab from the front stack on the the top shelf and the bottom shelf, while ignoring everything else in the cabinet — all the way to the back.

If you need cabinet space and have a corner cupboard, you can look for an insert to install in your existing cabinet. The one pictured here is from IKEA.

Think about how you use your sink. I had a standard double sink in every home until this year. When we replaced ours, we went with a double, but it has a big, wide, deep side and a small, thin side. That was simply interesting — until I started using it! Now I enjoy how even the biggest pans fit in the big sink, but I still have the small one to rinse in. No more wrestling to wash extra large pans (and getting water all over the counter). They can soak out of sight and then wash comfortably inside the sink.