It can be all too easy to resort to takeout when your schedule gets bananas. (Been there, ate that!) But a little planning can go a long way to make it much easier to prep delicious meals from scratch — yes, even on a busy weeknight. Here are 10 savvy shopping and menu strategies to try:
1. Start with a menu.
If you have a family, involve them at the table and encourage them to brainstorm daily themes. Not only will everyone feel invested and excited to chow down, but this will also give structure to your weekly recipe strategy so it’s easier to narrow down your options. Otherwise, dream up and create your ideal lineup of meal must-haves.
2. Round up your recipes.
Once you have your theme for each day of the week, you can assign a recipe to each to keep things fresh or easily repeat your most favourites. Bonus points if you can select more than one dish that calls for the same ingredient, such as celery, to limit the possibility of unused products.
3. Make your list; check it twice.
Now that you have your meal decisions sorted, write a list for all of the ingredients that you will need. This way, one trip will score you all the necessities so you don’t have to make a last-minute “Oh no, I forgot the raspberries!” trip to the shops. For the most efficient mapping, organise your list in the order of how you would tour the aisles of the supermarket. Organising your trip, ending at frozen foods so your icy items don’t melt.
4. Schedule your shop, smartly.
If you can, plan to shop on a weekday or during off-peak hours for the most efficient use of time. Also, try to shop for your food on a full stomach or away from mealtimes – this way we’re less likely to make emotional (hangry) decisions in the heat of the moment.
5. Always keep the essentials in stock.
A well-stocked kitchen is a clutch, especially if you skip steps 1 and 2 and decide to do a little improvising. These pantry and refrigerator staples make it much easier to toss together a meal when you’re working off-script:
- Oils (olive, avocado)
- Salt and pepper
- Dried spices (smoked paprika, chilli powder, turmeric, cumin)
- Herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, coriander)
- Canned beans
- Dried pasta
- Flavour-boosting condiments, such as mustard, sriracha sauce and balsamic vinegar.
6. Prep produce in advance.
Once you get home, to allow for easy grab-and-go snacking and quicker meal prep, wash and chop fruits and vegetables that will hold up well for a few days in the fridge. Rinse your seedless grapes and pop in a bowl, peel and chop carrots, and slice up bell pepper into strips.
7. Batch cook the essentials.
If your weekly menu includes meats/meat substitutes or whole grains (like quinoa or brown rice), cook them all on a Saturday or Sunday so you’re all set for the week. Love Food Hate Waste have more information on freezing leftovers, including recipe ideas to help you determine if you should refrigerate or freeze based on when you’re planning to use the ingredient.
8. Employ your freezer
Speaking of the freezer, it’s one of the simplest ways to trim down on food waste and make quick-fix meals easier. Can’t make it through a loaf of bread before it gets stale? Freeze. Accidentally cooked too much of that stew? Freeze. Landed on a bounty of berries that you wish you could enjoy next week? Freeze them.
9. Keep in mind root to stem
Stop tossing those carrot tops or cauliflower stems! The former makes a brilliant pesto, while the latter can be steamed and smashed into a mashed potato-like side. Broccoli stalks are spectacular spiralized, too.
10. Give leftovers new life.
Don’t feel like you’re limited to leftovers of the exact same dinner for lunch tomorrow. If you crave variety, use your imagination to transform the extras into something that tastes totally new. A few ideas:
- Incorporate vegetable odds and ends and bacon into an on-the-go omelette bites
- Turn straggler slices of bread into a quick ceasar salad
- When in doubt, put an egg on it and call it breakfast.