Meal planning seems to be one of those things in life where you either love it or hate it.

I’ve got friends who plan out an entire month in advance…and then there’s people like me who feel like planning more than a week or even a few days at a time is constricting and overwhelming.

I’ve got three methods for you that will take the pressure off meal planning so you have more time in life to focus on other things. Because, believe it or not, there are more important things than food. 🙂

Method #1: Pantry Meals

Don’t you hate it when you actually put in the effort to plan your meals for the week, went to the grocery store, and then dinner plans come up and you end up not using all of the food you bought? This used to happen to me a lot.

My solution is to develop a list of “pantry meals” that are hits at your house and make sure you always have the ingredients for 1-2 of them. These are meals that are made from ingredients that last for weeks in the pantry or freezer.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I’m looking ahead to next week and there are 5 nights we will be at home. I will buy fresh ingredients for 4 dinners (or maybe just three and make one of them big enough for leftovers! #leftovergal #whyamidoinghashtagsthisisablogpost #ispendtoomuchtimeoninstagram #facepalm) and then make sure I have a pantry meal on hand. I make the 4 (or 3) dinners first and then if dinner plans come up the pantry meal can wait until next week no biggie.

Here are some of our favorite pantry meals, in case you need ideas:

-“Fancy” Ramen

I use Koyo brand ramen, which doesn’t contain MSG. I’ll often chop up a couple carrots or some broccoli and put it in the broth while it’s boiling. Then once it’s done we go crazy with toppings! I keep a jar of kimchi in the refrigerator, so that goes in there. I’ll also hard boil a couple eggs to cut in half and put on top…or you can even just stir an egg into the ramen while it’s boiling! If you have any of those yummy crispy seaweed snack sheets (what ARE those dang things called?) you can poke some of them in your bowl. Get creative!

To have on hand: Ramen noodle/spice packages, preferred toppings (eggs or chopped leftover meat, kimchi, veggies, seaweed, peanuts, cilantro, lime wedge, etc.

-Shakshuka

Mmmm this is so perfect on a cold night. I always keep a jar of marinara sauce on hand and a baguette in the freezer so we can make this. Just dump an entire jar of marinara sauce into a pan and heat until bubbling. You can doctor it up with herbs and spices if you’d like. Then crack however many eggs you’d like evenly around the pan. Use a spoon to drizzle the marinara up over the egg whites. You may want to use a splatter screen because this can get messy as it cooks! While this is cooking, warm up a baguette in the oven…or if you have a little more time you can whip up some Irish soda bread! It really is very easy and requires no rising time because it is made with baking soda. Just be sure to prep it first and then start the sauce and eggs after it’s already in the oven. Lastly, I saute whatever veggie we may have in our fridge or freezer or use up lettuce in a side salad.

To have on hand: Jar of marinara sauce, eggs, bread or ingredients to make bread, veggie in freezer or leftover lettuce

-Sweet Potato Tuna Melts

Slice the sweet potatoes length-wise and bake cut side down at 400F until tender, about 30 minutes. Then flip over and top with tuna and then cheese…cheddar does well. Turn the oven to broil and cook for about a minute or until the cheese has melted. While it’s cooking you can make a side salad. Or you can toss some broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts or other good roasting vegetable in olive oil and then cook them on the same baking sheet with the sweet potato halves for the 30 minutes.

To have on hand: Sweet potatoes, canned tuna, cheese, veggie in freezer or leftover lettuce

If you have any good “pantry meals,” I’d love to hear about them! Comment below!

Method #2: Flirt with Meal Subscription Services

Once you sign up for one, you’ll get coupons for another. Whether you try HelloFresh, Plated, Sun Basket, Blue Apron or whatever else is out there, they’ve ALL got coupon codes. The first time you sign up with any of them you’ll get a deal. Then just cancel after your promotion is over and wait for them to beg you to come back. In the meantime, if you have a busy couple weeks coming up, sign up with another company with their first-time code. By the time you’ve tried them all once, you’ll have received enough coupon codes in your email and mailbox to try them all again.

I personally like HelloFresh and Sun Basket best. HelloFresh has actual registered dietitians on staff and SunBasket is really good for those who have dietary restrictions, such as gluten-free, vegan, etc.

If I see a couple of extra busy weeks coming up, I’ll sign up for one of these services. It also works well to coordinate for a box to show up at your doorstep the day after getting back from a trip so you don’t have to worry about getting groceries for that empty fridge first thing.

Method #3: Sign up for a Meal Plan or Recipe Subscription

Some dietitians, such as my former grad school classmate Whitney Cessna, offer meal planning services. You can sign up at her website for her recipe subscription, which features recipes she has made and altered for both health and taste factors. She also offers individualized meal planning services, tailored specifically to your likes/dislikes and nutrition needs.

Sign up at www.dontskipameal.com.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Comment below if you have any meal planning tricks or favorite pantry meals! Happy Cooking!