Cooking School

How to build a meal plan

By: Irene Fong

Re Dan Dalton/Getty Images Author: Canadian Living Credits: Re Dan Dalton/Getty Images

Cooking School

How to build a meal plan

By: Irene Fong
Check grocery sales, take inventory and make a shopping list
Grocery sales, which usually drop on Thursday or Friday each week, are a great source of inspiration because they feature what’s in season while being friendly on your wallet. Look for sales on grocery retail websites, in flyers and on mobile apps.

Though there’s limited space in any pantry or refrigerator, many of us still end up having to throw out expired foods. Taking a regular in-home inventory will help to reduce overbuying and clearly identify what should be eaten immediately. To learn more about best before dates, read our article here.

Once you’ve checked the sales and determined what you need to buy, a shopping list will help you to stay on track. If you’re hyper-organized, create a grocery store template designed for the way you walk through the store (i.e. produce, bakery, meat, etc.). This will avoid having to run back to grab lemons when you’re already at the other end of the store.

Look for recipes that have potential for leftovers
It’s always a good idea to pick something your family loves and make a big batch meal—like lasagna or chili—so you have multiple meal opportunities. Servings can be frozen or simply stored in the refrigerator for a few days (see below for recipe ideas).

If you don’t want to eat the exact same meal over and over again, cook recipes that contain ingredients that can be easily used again. This way, the thought of cooking a full meal that still delivers on variety doesn’t seem as daunting when you’re up against the clock.

How to repurpose leftovers:
Organize your meals based on shelf life
When it comes to deciding the order of your meals, start with the ingredients that are most perishable. For example, if you have fish, chicken and beef, cook the fish first. If you’re buying chicken or beef for later in the week, look for vacuum-sealed meat, which usually has a longer shelf life.

Test Kitchen Tip: If you’re buying directly from the meat counter, ask your butcher to vacuum-seal the meat for you. Frozen shrimp is also a great option for an end-of-the-week meal. It can stay in your freezer until you’re ready to use it and you can thaw and cook shrimp quickly.

The same rule applies for vegetables—it’s best to eat anything that will spoil as soon as possible (like baby greens) and save heartier veggies (like cabbage and parsnips) for later.

If possible, prepare ingredients in advance

So you’re not rushed when it’s time to make dinner, think through all the steps of a recipe beforehand to figure out what you can prepare in advance. Vegetables are great ingredients to wash and cut in advance, as long as they don’t become discoloured after being cut. Family members can help with vegetable prep, too!

Test Kitchen Tip: Don’t forget to take the opportunity to freeze cooked ingredients, like rice and ground beef, in small, freezer-safe bags so you have individual portions on hand when needed. Precooked frozen beef is perfect for when a super-quick meat sauce is needed and rice makes an ideal side when you can’t be bothered to make a starch.

Use your slow cooker
There’s nothing better than knowing you’re only minutes away from dinner when you walk through the door. Prepare all your ingredients the night before and dump everything into your slow cooker before you leave for the day. It really is a lifesaver!

Inspired? Check out these recipe ideas to incorporate into your weekly meal plan:

The Ultimate Lasagna
You really can’t beat our Ultimate Lasagna. Prepare it in advance and feed a crowd with leftovers to spare. This recipe is perfect for weeknight entertaining.

Phorography by Jeff Coulson

Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
This delicious freeze-ahead dinner is ideal for any busy weeknight—just pop it into the oven when you get home and dinner is good to go.

Photography by Jodi Pudge

Make-Ahead Beef Enchiladas
Kids will love these enchiladas: they’re gooey, cheesy and so fun to eat!

Photography by Jeff Coulson

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Curry
This aromatic curry simmers all day and only needs a few minutes to finish cooking the bok choy before dinners on the table. For a super-quick noodle dish, serve with rice noodles .

Photography by Jeff Coulson

Looking for more meal plan ideas? Try our weeknight dinners under 30 minutes.
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Cooking School

How to build a meal plan