Meal Planning Made Simple
When I hear “meal planning” I envision intense recipe selection, where ingredients from one dinner can be used in the next day’s lunch. Where portions are calculated precisely enough so each family member gets X amount of meals and every mealtime is accounted for. Grocery lists are exact in the number of potatoes and ounces of cheese to be purchased and at least a few hours every Sunday are blocked off to measure, chop and bag all ingredients for the week ahead.
True, I like knowing what I’m making for dinner, and feel better when I’m not scrambling for ingredients last minute, but the aforementioned notion of meal planning overwhelms me. Not too long ago, the way I planned for dinner left much to be desired, but I wasn’t ready for that type of commitment; something needed to change. So I scaled it back, and settled on a system that works for me.
This change kicked off with a short conversation between my husband and I about being in a “food rut”. I was recycling the same recipes and often throwing together a few ingredients to make some version of spaghetti, quesadillas or burgers. These meals are perfectly fine, but I wasn’t excited about them and often used the same ingredients that I bought at the grocery on autopilot.
So I bought a chalkboard.
I like to see my plans. I print out training plans, I write to-do lists, and now, each week I write our night’s dinners on my chalkboard. I should clarify this isn’t a sidewalk chalkboard – although that would be an interesting addition to our narrow hallway. I went with a vinyl decal, much like this, and stuck it to the front of my fridge.
That first week I sat down with a few of my cookbooks and thought about my week. Tuesday evenings I had run group at 6:30 and was routinely home a little after 8. This was not a night to cook, so I planned on a slow-cooker meal I could prep the night before and plug in before work. Voila! My husband and I could eat a home cooked meal together when I got home, and since I’d have leftovers I was set for another night that week. (This is when I coined the term, “Eatpeat”, as in, “Thursday night is a Monday Eatpeat”, which sounds much more fun and appealing than, “Thursday we’re having leftovers”.) I knew Brett had a work event on Wednesday night where food would be provided so I was left to my own devices. This is when, “D.O.Y.O” came to be. Dinner On Your Own. I had a plan for each night, writing down the items I needed to get at the store as I chose recipes.
It didn’t take hours and I allotted for meal prep time each night so no need to prep on Sundays. I was excited to try new recipes and felt a sense of calm that not only did I know what I was making each night, but that I had what I needed. This was 2 years ago and I’m still doing it this way!
Obviously, everyone is different. Some people simply do not have time during the week to cook, and if it’s going to get done it needs to be done on the weekend. Some people have such a set schedule – think of those with a baby – and each day they eat at the same time. Personally, I need some flexibility, but also crave a plan. This approach works for me because things change; Brett suddenly needs to stay late, or I have a client switch from Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening and instead of my plan being completely thrown out, I simply plug that night’s meal into a different slot. Some days there is enough for Brett to take to work, but sometimes I freeze the rest in anticipation of a week I don’t go to the grocery because we’re going out of town.
I like cooking and I find the only reason I’m not looking forward to making dinner, is when I don’t know what I’m making and roughly how long it will take. Figuring out which recipes I’m using that week puts my mind at ease and I enjoy looking through cookbooks (OK, and a LOT of Pinterest) and finding new recipes to try. I’ve expanded my repertoire of meals and noticed I’m more often cooking things slightly out of my comfort zone because I’m not stressed or time-crunched, feeling I need to make something I’m super comfortable with.
Do you plan your meals for the week? How do you do it; what works and what doesn’t?