Welcome to Part 1. Meal planning can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t have to be super complicated or super time consuming. And you may find that it can help save you a ton of time and stress through the week. Not to mention what it can do for your health and budget.
Let me tell you how we do our meal plan. It is not perfect by any means, but after years of living on a strict budget, we found some things that work well for us.
First of all, we share the cooking. There are two of us, and while Evan is more talented at cooking, I can hold my own in the kitchen. We break down the week into how many dinners that we need (yes, just dinners) until the next time that we can go grocery shopping. Most weeks there are 6 dinners that we plan for – I sometimes travel for work, and have evenings out for work, so sometimes its less than 6 – but my point is you need to figure out how many meals you need for the upcoming week. We divide the dinners equally (or equally as we can) between the two of us, and we each decide what we want to cook and add them to the grocery list. That 7th meal of the week we either eat food that we have previously frozen, eat leftovers if we have them, sometimes we’re out for dinner, or we’ll specifically pick up something that we can make together (fun date idea!). We also have an unwritten rule that the other person cannot complain about the other persons meal. (I understand that this non-complain rule doesn’t necessarily work for picky eaters, those with allergies or kids, so its always good to be conscious of the other parties that will be eating this food)
If you live with a partner, The other option to share the meals is to cook all of them together. If you’re both home at dinner time, you can share the work by prepping/cooking; or one person always cooks and the other person always cleans up. Find a groove that works for your situation. But the more that you can divide the work, the more ‘fair’ it will feel, and the more it will save you time.
If you live alone, prepping some of the food ahead of time will help save you some time. I will go into this a little more in the next part, but the great thing about living alone is that you can eat your favourite things!
Secondly, We need to choose the meals that we make, and it will depend on what the week looks like. If we know that we have some long days coming up that week, we choose meals that will be quick to make, or something that we can put in the crockpot. If we have some extra time, maybe we make a larger batch of something so that we can freeze extras, or do something a little more complicated. We have numerous cookbooks that we refer to, and places like Pinterest is a great resource to find some ideas. Also, after a while you also find some go-to meals that you find in your fridge regularly.
Thirdly, we buy and plan to cook enough for left overs. We both need lunches for the next day, so we always cook dinner to have enough food for at least 4 meals. This way, we can each take our lunch for the next day, without needing to think about it. This reduces the chances that we will buy our lunches, or choose unhealthier options.
If you or someone in your household doesn’t have access to a microwave for lunch, while you are cooking dinner and have dishes dirty and knives to chop things, use this opportunity to make your non-heated lunch for the next day. Sandwiches, salads, meat and cheese plate, using the ingredients that you are using for dinner into a non-reheating option.
Fourth, we make a grocery list. I’m sure I’ll do another post on making a grocery list, and shopping for food down the road, but grocery lists are important for so many reasons. First of all, it helps you stick to your plan. It means that you get all of the ingredients that you need for the recipes that you have planned for. It will also help you stay on track by reducing the amount of impulse buys (and if your impulse buys are anything like mine, they are often ones that aren’t particularly healthy choices… chips and candy anyone??).
The other bonus is that it reduces the chances of food waste. You have a plan of what you are going to be using that food for. The less likely you are going to end up throwing out that food and not using it. Important for the pocket book!
Now, these are not fool proof. We still end up finding ourselves going out for lunch occasionally, or buying food that we end up throwing out, and we definitely still come home from the grocery store with a few impulse purchases. However, it has helped us stay on track, there is no conversation of ‘so… what do we have in the fridge to make for dinner?’ or ‘I forgot to go to the store to get something to eat, lets order something’, which we used to do on a regular basis. We wasted so much food, and I spent a lot more money on going out for (usually unhealthy) lunches.
So, my challenge for you over the next two weeks is to give it a try. If this is something that is very new to you, try it for 2 nights out of the week, and see how it goes. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Was there more stress, or less? Did you enjoy the process of cooking? What did you learn?
Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll talk about ways to make your cook time quicker on the night of your dinner.