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Meal planning can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task, but it doesn’t have to be. With good planning and the right tools, you can enjoy an ongoing diverse and nutritious menu.

Create a kitchen planning center. Find a spot in your kitchen where you can house all of your planning tools and resources. This is where you can keep all your favorite recipes, coupons, and previous menus. Take a couple of minutes every week to find new recipes, collect coupons and make copies of an empty menu template for efficient planning. Another thing that is worth investing time in is creating a list of all the spices you have at home. This will save you time later when you are searching through your pantry trying to find a specific spice, or when you start cooking and discover you are missing a spice and need to run to the grocery story last minute.

Prepare a shopping list. Keep a running list of items you need to purchase on your fridge. As soon as you run out of an item, or decide what you want to eat next week, write it down on the shopping list. This includes everything from produce to kitchen supplies like paper towels and storage bags. Write the items down in categories: diary, vegetables etc. This will make shopping a breeze since you don’t have to run back and forth in the grocery store between the different sections. When you arrive at the grocery store, stick to the list and resist the temptation to buy sales or products you don’t need. This is not an easy thing since grocery stores try their best to get you to buy everything in sight. Make it your mission to stick with the list, and you will save a ton of money.

>> Read more: The Dos and Don’ts of Healthy Grocery Shopping

Organize your fridge and pantry. As soon as you get home, unpack the groceries and organize them in the refrigerator and pantry. Assign each shelf in the fridge to a different category: dairy, condiments, etc. It also helps to assign a shelf to leftovers and takeout. This way you won’t forget about them and waste meals. Clean and chop vegetables ahead of time, prep and marinate chicken and meat, and then keep the prepared foods on one shelf. These are all great ways to speed up cooking and not to waste foods.

Plan your menu. When you start planning your upcoming menu, go back and look at previous weeks to ensure you don’t end up eating the same meals over and over again. Also, when planning your menu it is good to look ahead a week or two. Ask everyone in the family to contribute ideas of their favorite meals to ensure everyone is happy with the menu. A fun activity can also be to take turn to choose a new recipe you haven’t tried in the past.

Things to consider when picking your recipes for the menu:

  • Protein: Look at your calendar and make sure you get a mix of poultry, seafood, beef, pork etc.
  • Vegetables: Incorporate as many colors as you can into your menu, and plan for vegetables that are in season. Using vegetables that are in season will save you money and ensure the vegetables are always available.
  • Carbohydrates: Choose a variety of brown rice, whole wheat pastas etc.
  • Plan for a quick meal on days you know you are extra busy, or use a slow cooker.
  • Choose one meal a week that will last for two dinners (stews, lasagna etc).
  • Weekends are great for trying new recipes.
  • Use coupons for good deals and plan meals that incorporate those products.
  • Check your calendar to take future plans into consideration. Do you have friends coming to visit? Are you going away? If so, you don’t need to plan meals for those days.

This way of planning might take a week or two to get used to, but it’s going to save you hours and money so it’s worth giving it a try. It’s also going to ensure you and your family enjoys varied nutritious meals ongoing. No more excuses for not eating healthy and spending extra money on last-minute grocery store runs!