Just last week I was talking about meal plans, and how we need to give ourselves room to deviate, in order to accommodate fresh, local food. I stand by that. But the vast majority of the time, a meal plan will make your life a whole lot easier. By investing time once a week (or a couple of times a month, or monthly, to coincide with payday), you can plan meals that are healthier and easy to prepare. Think about what’s in season and buy local produce. Consider the specials, but limit your packaged and prepared foods. (Here’s my label primer so you can see why).
“What’s for Dinner?”
Even if you make most of the meals and shop for yourself, a meal plan can make it easier to shop. If you’ve got kids, a partner, a busy schedule, or weeknight commitments, it can help you map out the days when you need easier meals, versus those where you can spend a little more time. It will let you figure out how to incorporate things that are in your cupboards. It can also save you a lot of money, especially if you cook in batches that can be used for lunches or incorporated in multiple dishes throughout the week. Lastly, if your partner, your kids, your nanny, your roommates, or others share the cooking, a handy list on the fridge means you won’t always have to be thinking about (and answering), “What’s for Dinner?”
Ready to Plan? Here’s what you’ll need, and some tools you can use…
- The household calendar for the week (You have one of those, right? It’s a one-stop calendar that lets you see everyone’s activities. If you don’t, maybe that should be this week’s activity).
- A quick inventory of what food you already have in the house. Look in your fridge, your cupboards, and your freezer – wherever you store your food. If you can’t find anything in there, make time to organize. Throw out anything expired. Write it down in three categories:
- Fresh and can spoil (produce, eggs, milk)
- Refrigerated or in the cupboard with a long shelf/fridge life
- Something to write the meal plan on. The easiest is to start by planning dinners, and this can be a simple sheet of paper, or a calendar. I like to track calories, so I’ve looked at apps like Paprika, software like Mastercook, as well as fitness apps like My Fitness Pal. Each of these has advantages, but what I know is this: You’re more likely to manage your calories, fibre, sugars, fat and salt well if you plan in advance (just like exercise) than if you try and log as you go. Over time I’ve developed a spreadsheet that works well for me.
- Get your laptop or a couple of good recipe books like How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Save with Jamie; you might like an all-purpose website like Cooking Light.
- Start by choosing meals that include things you have in the house. Think about your dietary goals (Are you a vegan? Do you need a celiac/gluten-free diet? Or perhaps you’re just counting calories?) Make sure you consider what’s important, in advance. For our house, we rely on label reading for fibre and other nutrients; calories are what I count to maintain a healthy weight.
Now, make a plan for each day until the next payday or shopping day. Shopping only once per payday, with a midweek check on perishables, will keep you on track, save time, and mean you don’t spend every trip home from work with a mad side-trip to the grocery store. If one of your fresh foods needs to be used sooner, switch up the days so you don’t waste. Write it down and post it where everyone in the house can see it.
A simple plan for a week look something like this:
||Peanut Butter and Banana Toast
||Poached Egg w avocado on sourdough
||Cheese and fruit
||Pear and walnut salad
||Kitchen Sink Salad
||Pork tenderloin w winter slaw and boiled potatoes
||Celery and leek Gratin
||Carrot and chickpea soup
||Pork and mushroom stir fry with brown rice
||Pasta with Marinara and Kale
||Grilled Salmon Steaks with boiled potato and steamed broccoli
||Dinner with Friends
You can see we often try and cook once, use twice during the week – it saves money, time, and effort, and gives us a much more interesting and nutritious lunch than fast food or a sandwich. If someone is away at dinnertime, we can freeze their portion to make a nice lunch for another day, or incorporate it into soup or salad.
Happy, healthy eating!