10 key elements of meal planning

1. Don't start from scratch. You probably have a few meals that are regulars in your household. Repeat them every week or two. Then if you're up for it, try something new once in a while.

2. Check the refrigerator. Use this for planning the next week's meals. What needs using up? What else do you need to finish a dish?

3. Use portion planners. Use a portion calculator to figure out how much pasta or chicken or vegetables to make for your group, so you don't end up with too much. There are many on the Web to choose from.

4. Have kitchen essentials on hand. Having two to three grains, cooking fundamentals, some key spices and sauces that come to the rescue can bring new life to old meals.

5. Choose building blocks. Pick two types of protein, one or two grains and a vegetable medley that you can make at the beginning of the week and then incorporate into different meals.

6. Think double duty. The ingredients we need don't always come in the portions we need them in. Incorporating those ingredients into multiple meals can help avoid end-of-the-week overload.

7. Schedule in a lazy night. Or plan on two or three, whether it's ordering in or taking prepared food from the freezer. Be realistic.

8. Go fresh first. Use perishables earlier in the week and use staples (such as pasta) later in the week.

9. Lean on frozen ingredients. They fill in the gaps, especially when fresh vegetables run out.

10. Cook batches and freeze. Be ready for those lazy nights.

From Dana Gunders, "Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook"