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If you’re anything like me you hate grocery shopping but love to cook and enjoy food.  So I’ve worked hard to try and spend the least amount of time doing grocery shopping and more time cooking. I used to wander the grocery store thinking what do I want for supper tonight and now I rarely go to the grocery store without a list and meal plan for the week unless I’m really in a pinch.

I’ve found that being organized in this department has become really handy especially since I have evening meetings for work on a regular basis and several workouts to fit in each week on top of everything else. I typically plan my meals on Sunday or Monday since grocery shopping happens on Monday or Tuesday.

I’ve outlined below the process I go through when meal planning. It may seem like a lot of work but I feel it ends up saving me time and the more routine this becomes the easier it is and less time it will involve. I will admit this process is easier given that Brad and I are both vegan and eat the same thing generally. I know from my experience with my siblings that cooking meals for several different picky eaters is a challenge, so your meal planning process may involve some additional steps.

Take stock of what is currently in your cupboard and fridge. I find that I sometimes buy things but don’t use them up until several weeks later, produce is an exception of course. I’ve been trying to get better at using the items I buy within a reasonable amount of time, rather than just letting the items sit in the cupboard. This can help save you some money as well as you might be surprised how much food is actually sitting in your cupboards!

The inventory also helps me think of meal ideas. For example I had some split peas, canned tomatoes and pre-made polenta so I recently made stew with the peas and tomatoes decided to serve over the cooked polenta.

It’s also important to figure out your schedule for the week and see if there will be days where you won’t have time to cook supper or you’ll be eating out or traveling. This will help you determine what types of meals to prepare and what meals you may need to prepare ahead of time for those busy days.

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut of making the same dishes week after week. Of course we all have those go to favourites that you never will get sick of. There are lots of places to go for inspiration on new recipes or versions of old favourites, such as blogs, cookbooks, cooking shows or even think about your favourite dishes from restaurants you frequent.

As much as possible I try and plan meals where I will be using the same ingredient several times. This can help cut down on costs as well. For example last weekend I made the coconut milk cauliflower soup and used some of the cooked cauliflower leftover from the soup on pizza. The sauce from the pizza was leftover from pasta I had made earlier in the week.

Now that you’ve completed your inventory, checked your schedule and found your inspiration you can decide on your meals for the week. I typically plan for 4-6 different dishes, depending on my schedule that week along with a staple salad that will last me the whole week. You may find you need to plan for more or less depending on your schedule, how many people you are feeding and how much you enjoy leftovers.

After deciding on my meals I write out my grocery list and always include the list of meals I’ll be making that week. This serves as a reminder while I’m at the store in case I’ve missed an ingredient on my list.

In summary here are 7 quick tips on how to plan meals efficiently:

1. Take inventory of what food you currently have.
2. Review your schedule and determine how much time you have to cook meals and what days you will need something already prepared.
3. Get inspiration from your favourite blog, cookbook, restaurant dish or make something up with your imagination.
4. Buy ingredients that are multi-purpose and can be used in multiple meals.
5. Include your meals on your grocery list in case you forget an ingredient.
6. Share the responsibility – if you live with others try taking turns meal planning and cooking or work together on this. This is also an opportunity to involve any picky eaters and ask them what they’d like to be eating.

Do you plan out your meals before grocery shopping or do you plan meals on the go?