Success in the kitchen often hinges not only on your skill while cooking, but also on the effort you put in beforehand. Here, cookbook author and QVC chef Meredith Laurence, aka the Blue Jean Chef, offers wisdom about planning ahead and making sure you have the right tools. Follow this advice and you’ll be on your way to achieving Laurence’s goal for everyone she coaches: that they’re as comfortable in their kitchen as they are in their blue jeans. Here are four tips to becoming a successful meal planner.

Surround yourself with great resources.

Have cookbooks and websites on hand that not only have recipes but also include technique and cooking tips to help the home cook succeed. For example, the Cook’s Illustrated series provides a solid foundation for any cook.

Gather the right equipment.

Start with a good knife. Laurence recommends German or Japanese stainless steel, and a full-tang blade, which means it’s one piece of metal that enters and extends to the end of the knife handle. Also, have small bowls ready to hold your ingredients, and get out the right pots and pans for your recipe.

Create a meal plan.

Every week, plan out your meals and put together a shopping list. As you’re planning, carefully read through recipes to check whether: 1) you’ll have enough time to make the recipe; 2) you have all the ingredients or you need to add some to the shopping list; and 3) you have all the necessary equipment. Another successful meal planner trick is to use similar ingredients throughout the week. If you’re going to have chicken, roast a whole chicken and then use the leftovers in a salad the next day.

Practice mise en place.

Before you start cooking, assemble all your measured ingredients, plus your necessary tools and equipment. It makes the cooking process more relaxing and fun, with less room for error.