Meal Planning Tips (with Giveaway!)

This giveaway is now closed to new entries. Winners have been selected and announced here. Congratulations!

Meal planning is like flossing your teeth. We all know the benefits of doing it, but that doesn't mean we're looking forward to it. Although meal planning can be a pain in the rear, it can help you save a ton of time and headaches in the long run. Like any new habit, it might take a while to get the hang of it. Once you're reaping the benefits (like lower grocery bills, less stress, and less food waste), you'll wonder why it took you so long to get with the program.

I have a few pieces of advice that will make things a little easier for first-time meal planners.

Here are my top 5 tips for successful meal planning:

  1. Pay attention to what you already have on hand. Whether it's a head of broccoli crammed in the back of the fridge or a bag of barley in your pantry, knowing what you have on hand will help you create meals that lower your grocery bill. 
  2. Plan several meals that use the same ingredients in different ways. This is especially useful in smaller households, where a head of cauliflower can seem to last forever. This tip will help you use up all of your, say, fresh spinach, before it rots in the refrigerator. 
  3. Use "theme" nights. If you're overwhelmed by the idea of meal-planning, adopt a few "theme" dinners throughout the week to help make ideas flow easier. Try Taco Tuesday, Wrap Wednesday, and Pizza Fridays, or come up with new themes based on your own tastes. 
  4. Know what's in season. Using seasonal veggies and fruits will ensure a few things: a) those items are more likely to be in stock and on sale at your local grocery store, and b) your meals will taste better. 
  5. Don't fear leftovers. In fact, create them intentionally. Whether it's as simple as cooking and freezing a whole pound of beans (or quinoa or brown rice), or simply doubling your dinner recipe so that tomorrow's lunch is taken care of, creating leftovers will make meal planning easier and keep your grocery bill under control. 

The only downside I've found to meal planning is that it does require a bit of a time commitment. This can be overwhelming if you're new to meal planning or you're just not the most organized person on the planet. There are a lot of meal-planning resources on the web, but most of them aren't very veg-friendly. I found one that is.

Veggie Meal Maker is a dynamic web-based application for vegetarian and vegan meal planning. It has so many features that I'm pretty sure even I haven't explored them all yet. Among the most notable are:

  • Easy drag-and-drop recipes to meal calendar 
  • Import your own recipes 
  • Create a shopping list from planned meals 
  • Mobile access from your smart phone (no need to print the shopping list!) 

The folks at Veggie Meal Maker are passionate about helping people find easier ways to maintain a vegetarian or vegan diet, so they are adding new features to the site all the time. Soon, they'll be adding tutorial videos that walk users through each feature and show you how to make the most of their services. They have tons of recipes in their database so far and are adding more each day. You'll even see some of my recipes showing up on the site soon!

If you want to test drive the meal planning services, Veggie Meal Maker offers a 30-day free trial for new members. Just cruise over to their site, sign up, and start building your meal plans. You'll have full access to the site features, so you'll get a real taste of what they offer.

The kind folks at Veggie Meal Maker want even more people to try their meal planning services, though, so they've offered up 3 (three) 1-year subscriptions to Veggie Meal Maker (a $72 value) for me to share with my readers. I'll accept entries until Wednesday, April 25 12pm (noon) EST 5pm EST, so get your name in the hat! 

To enter the giveaway: 
"Like" Veggie Meal Maker on Facebook and/or follow them on Twitter.
"Like" The Verdant Life on Facebook
Leave a comment below (be sure to include an e-mail address) to let me know you've done both.

Winners will be notified via e-mail on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 25! 

FTC: I was not compensated for my review. 

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