How to Plan Your Meals Like a Superstar

It's a question everyone dreads hearing at one point or another: "So what's for dinner?" While it doesn't seem like the topic should be such a complicated one, many people -- whether meal planning for one or for a...

It's a question everyone dreads hearing at one point or another: "So what's for dinner?" While it doesn't seem like the topic should be such a complicated one, many people -- whether meal planning for one or for a large family -- struggle with getting a handle on this task. The good news is that meal planning may actually be easier than you think. Read on for some tried and tested meal planning tips guaranteed to help you get organized and response-ready the next time the question arises.

Plan your meals
Are the words "meal plan" missing from your vocabulary? If so, it's time to discover your inner meal planner.

1. Get Browsing

How many times have you pondered the question of what to make for dinner and come up blank-brained? This step eliminates the problem by ensuring that you have a go-to stash of delicious-looking recipes at the ready.

The internet is an amazing repository of recipes -- many with step by step instructions and handy visuals to go along with them. Between websites and blogs and good, old-fashioned cookbooks, you'll never have to go hungry again.

2. File Smart

For many people, finding recipes is the easy part. The greater challenge? Finding them again when you need them.

Make sure you create a reliable method for storing recipes. Whether you print recipes and keep a physical folder in your kitchen or use a digital storage system like Pinterest or Springboard, implementing and using a system minimizes frustrations while keeping recipes within easy reach.

3. Keep Track

Another underutilized source for recipes? Your own meals. After all, some days it can be hard enough to remember what you cooked last night let alone last month or last year.

Keeping a meal journal allows you to look back on your cooking history and revisit popular past meals.

4. Create a Calendar

You put all of your appointments and engagements into your calendar, but why not your recipes? Entering the week's recipes -- or month's, if you're feeling ambitious -- can help you see what's coming up, so you can inventory ingredients and make any scheduling adjustments, if necessary.

When events arise -- and they inevitably will -- which interfere with your meal plan, you'll be able to immediately identify the issue and make other plans without being forced at the last minute into a full-on derailment.

4. Streamline Your Shopping

There's nothing worse than setting out to make a meal only to realize that you're missing a key ingredient you thought you had. While it may be fun to amble through the grocery aisles inspecting whatever catches your attention, effective meal planning is purposeful.

Pick a single day of the week, select your recipes, make a shopping list, and get shopping.

Some final advice to keep your list short and free of purchases you don't want or need? Make sure your pantry is stocked with staples, and conduct routine fridge clean-outs.

Plan your meals
See something you'll love? Pin it!

5. Leverage Leftovers

Leftovers get a bad rap. Not only are they useful when the time is tight, but they can also be delicious. After all, if it was tasty the first time around, why shouldn't it be tasty again?

Many busy home cooks double recipes to ensure that they have extra for family dinner on busy nights; others use leftovers for weekday lunches. Whichever route you choose, building leftovers into your meal planning and investing in smart storage is a savvy strategy.

And don't forget: the freezer is the meal planner's best friend. Can't or don't want to eat all of it now? Freezing it for later lets you get twice the result from a single effort.

Plan your meals
A clean, organized fridge is a meal planner's secret weapon.

So are you ready to take the local Chinese restaurant off of speed dial and start taking control of the kitchen? These tips can help, as can Cilantro The Cooks Shop: your one-stop shop for all things kitchen, cookware and so much more. For more useful tips for the gourmet home cook, make sure to bookmark the Cilantro Cooks blog.