The Very First Step of Meal Planning Isn’t What You Think

published Jan 10, 2018
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(Image credit: Esteban Cortez)

We often talk about meal planning as the three-step process that asks and answers the age-old question of what’s for dinner once for the whole week. But the most important part of meal planning actually happens before deciding on your meals for the week ahead. In fact, this step is what helps guide us in making that important decision.

Step One: Take Stock of Your Pantry

Before browsing through recipes and choosing dinners for the upcoming week, start the meal planning process by taking stock of what you already have on hand. Take an inventory of what you already have in the pantry and freezer and the ingredients in the fridge — especially the ones that need to be used up ASAP.

Is your crisper full of bits and bobs of random veggies? Adding a soup, veggie pasta, or frittata to the meal plan is an easy way to use them up. If you’ve got a big stash of freezer meals, adding some of those to the meal plan can mean a night or two off from cooking. Do you have a super-stocked pantry at the moment? Use that as an opportunity for a week of pantry meals to lean on all the ingredients you already have.

The point is, once you have a clear idea of what you already have, it has the potential to be extremely helpful in guiding your meal plan for the week. I use this approach every week when meal planning. It can make for some creative dinners, but it’s totally worth it because building my meal plan around what’s already in my pantry means that some weeks I’m buying fewer groceries, which in turn means I’m spending less and not wasting food.

More Helpful Meal Planning Tips

Meal Plan Club with Kitchn

Meal Plan Club is our self-paced 4-week program full of educational posts, downloadable tools, and real-life sample meal plans where we’ll walk you through each step of meal planning — from choosing recipes to meal prep and actually executing each meal — to make you a more confident meal planner in just one month. You can follow along here!