Welcome to Meal Planning Week! This week I’ll be breaking down strategies, tips, and tricks to build a plan to feed you weekly. Happy planning!
I’m not a laid back person. Adaptable, yes, but if something is within my realm of general control you can bet dollars to donuts I’ve got some ideas about how to execute it. About three years ago I was standing in the Safeway produce section at 5:45pm frantically texting my boyfriend, “What do you want for dinner?” “I dunno. What do you want?” Um, to stab you in the eye because you’re sitting on the couch and I’m under florescent lights surrounded by dozens of other hangry people. I have no idea what I ate for dinner that night (probably take out) but I swore that I would never put myself in that situation again. And so, the meal plan was born!
There are tons of reasons to meal plan: save money, reduce stress, eat healthier, decrease food waste. My goals have changed but having a basic structure to what I’m eating throughout the week gives me one less thing to think about each evening. And some nights that makes all the difference between clean-out-the-fridge stir fry and $30 take out.
Two Plan Approaches
Each week I build my meal plan around my actual schedule, what I have in my fridge/pantry, and what I’m in the mood to cook. I’ve found that matching meals to your plans for the evenings just sets you up for success. No one is going to throw you a parade for cooking out of Bon Appetit every night. Most of us are just trying to feed ourselves reasonably well without spending our retirement plan at Trader Joe’s every week. No shame in that game. Long day at work? Use your slow cooker. Trying to work out in the evening? A stir fry will come together in less than 20 minutes. Want something to look forward to on Friday? Pizza at home! Sunday is generally the day I reserve for more ambitious cooking. It gives me a time to do something a little more creative without letting my blood sugar to dip to dangerous levels.
My friends, Sam and Rachel, have a slightly different approach. Instead of assigning meals to particular days they brainstorm 4-5 menu ideas, grocery shop based on those ideas, and then decide each night based on their mood. This allows them some flexibility but avoids the dreaded evening grocery stare down. This plan works best when you have a mix of fast and easy with 1-2 more involved dinners.
What to Cook
I hear what you’re thinking, “Ok, great Liz. Any idiot can make a list. It’s content generation that makes this process hard!” I hear you. I happen to like cooking so it follows that I read a fair amount food media. But week after week, there are a few basic meals I rely on: bean or turkey tacos, vegetable stir fries, meatballs (frozen or homemade) over polenta, soup in fall and winter, big salads in spring and summer, risotto, sauteed vegetables topped with a fried egg. Dinner: A Love Story calls these “back pocket dinners”, dinners you can cook on autopilot. Identifying a few of these and rotating through a few of them will give you the space and flexibility to try new-to-you recipes. Which meals do you find yourself cooking time and again?