I’m no expert when it comes to meal planning, unless you believe in practice makes perfect.
And there are lots of resources out there when it comes to meal planning – The Kitchn, Organized Home, Chatelaine all have great posts on how to meal plan. There are also countless online resources to assist you in meal planning. And of course amazing bloggers who share their family meal plans each week – A Day in Candiland, My Beauty of Imperfection and Meal Planning Magic.
So I am not hoping to reinvent the wheel with this post, but instead I wanted to share some of my favorites tips and my learned how to’s, especially when it comes to meal planning for one. Because whether you are cooking for six or cooking for one, meal planning can help you eat healthier, cut down on food costs and food waste, and help you enjoy dinner again.
What is meal planning?
To me meal planning is simply about organizing what you are going to eat. It is the best weapon against staring at random ingredients in the fridge and wondering: what the heck is for dinner??
It is a process that we all do, but do differently. What works for me, may not work for you. I like to plan a week in advance, others’ like to plan a month in advance, and some like to plan 30 minutes in advance. My aim with this post is to share some tips to make planning, cooking and eating enjoyable. Actually I want it to be fun!! The more you enjoy the process of cooking at home, the more of a chance you will stay in and bring together your family and friends around the dinner table.
What about when you are cooking for one? When discussing meal planning it seems a consistent comment is meal plan for one is just a waste of time. I think meal planning when I’m alone is just as, if not more important than when the Lovely Husband is home. When I’m alone it is easy to fall into the traps of eating crap for dinner like popcorn, a tin of soup, or plain pasta. Or worse ordering a take away too many nights in the week. By having a plan created there is no decisions to be made, it’s all done for me, the ingredients are all there. Meal planning helps to keep me on track and takes the stress out of thinking what to eat, so I can just enjoy cooking.
So where to start?
Tip #1: Set a time each week to meal plan
First I think it is a good idea to pick a day each week to set your meal plan for the forth coming week and stick to that day. After a while it just becomes routine. For me that time is Saturday morning. Over breakfast I plan out the weekly meals and write out a grocery list using a shopping list notepad (find a similar one on Amazon). I write the dinner plans on the back of the list as extra back up for when I’m out shopping. Once planned I spend a leisurely few hours out at the market, butcher and wine shop. Every Saturday that is my routine, now I don’t even think about it just happens and it is my favorite time of the week!
Tip #2: Collecting recipes & staying organized
If you have a huge cookbook collection collecting dust, dig them out and take some time scanning the books for recipes you like and bookmark them with sticky tabs. If websites and blogs are more your thing (and I hope they are!) then use an online recipe manager to save and organize your recipes like Yummly, Big Oven, or Pinterest. The save button on my recipes will link directly to Big Oven.
Tip #3: Themes
It seems very popular to set theme nights… Monday veggies, Tuesday beef, Wednesday pasta, etc. This is one of those things that may work for some, but for me I don’t like the constraints of it. Instead I like to pick a weekly inspiration or recipe source as a theme. Each week I will create my meal plan from one cookbook, one blog or magazine. This is a great way to make sure you use the cookbooks you have invested in, it can also push you to try different cooking styles and new foods. I do this every week and of course add in a few tried and tested favorites as requested.
Tip #4: Leftovers are your friend – especially when cooking for one
I know some people (aka most men I know) do not like to eat leftovers. Personally I like leftovers and when you are cooking for one leftovers are most definitely your friend. Often I cook a whole chicken or a pork roast on Sunday and then use the leftover meat for dinners throughout the week. It is cost effective and having the protein cooked cuts down on prep/cook time drastically.
Tip #5: Ask for feedback
Get feedback from those around the table, what worked, what didn’t. And think about what you enjoyed cooking and what you didn’t. Because if it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be cooking it. I love the idea of picking a weekly favorite and asking for recommendations. Leaving it open as note on the fridge seems to get feedback, whereas if I ask the question it is usually an “I don’t know” response I receive.
My biggest tip is to stay flexible and don’t forget to schedule a leftover night to use up all that remains in the fridge!! These are just a few points that work me, and I hope these tips help you create a meal plan that works for you and your household.