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Just the phrase “meal planning” makes most people glaze over. Cooking -- now practically a competitive sport -- is supposed to be completely spontaneous, right? Go to the refrigerator, pull out a few things, and throw it all together! That’s what we see on reality TV! But what if there’s nothing in our refrigerator? Or what if everything in there is spoiled because we forgot to make it last week (or the week before that)?

All those old-fashioned Home Ec classes included sewing and crepe-making, but they really should have taught us all a few easy basics in answering life’s most difficult question: What should we have for dinner? If you follow these 5 easy steps, you’ll start to understand how much easier your life gets with a few big blanks filled in.

  1. Stock your pantry. It’s like building a home; you’re going to want to start with a solid foundation for the finished product to be awesome. Not sure where to start? Learn more about creating a well-stocked kitchen.

  2. Skip the fancy stuff. Does the recipe have a list of ingredients a mile long or stuff you’ve never heard of? Don’t be a culinary hero. Skip it! You’ll probably never use those black truffles again and you might as well save the money and the pantry space.

  3. Simple math. Have a recipe that calls for half a head of cauliflower? Don’t let the other half go to waste -- select another recipe that uses cauliflower to make later in the week. Or roast it and use it as a side veggie with your next meal.

  4. Make a shopping list and stick with it. Writing or typing out a list ahead of time will save you time and money. You’ll avoid wasting food by planning it all out ahead of time, and you won’t get checkout line sticker shock thanks to unnecessary extras.

  5. Schedule it. Low on time and creativity? Not a problem -- stick to a meal planning schedule and it frees up time and brain space to, you know, cook. Here’s an example:

Monday: Pasta

Tuesday: Stir Fry

Wednesday: Slow Cooker

Thursday: Casserole

Friday: Pizza

Saturday: Soup

Sunday: Leftovers