Meal planning can be stressful, especially if you have other people in your household to consider. I had a co-worker years ago who argued with her husband on a regular basis about what they were going to have for dinner. While I still can’t full comprehend how a daily meal can cause that much drama, I can certainly appreciate how hard it can be to get dinner on the table after a full work day. On the flip side, my husband has been out of town for work a lot during the past month, so I’ve been setting a table for one most nights. I now have a new appreciation for how hard it can be to be motivated to cook for just one person.
But no matter what your current status is, I have a few tips that I’ve picked up over the years that have made meal planning a little easier:
1. Find your staple foods. I always tell my clients to find their staple foods. These are the items you structure your grocery list around and have on hand for breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Ideally, they are interchangeable and easily adaptable foods. I bring the same kale salad to work for lunch almost daily, but because my kitchen is usually prepared with whole grains, nuts, legumes and veggies, I can mix and match and add/subtract from the usual recipe when my taste buds are getting bored.
And I try to always have the ingredients for this Roasted Red Pepper Soup readily available because my husband loves it. It literally couldn’t be easier to make and I pair it with different veggies, depending on what I have or what we are in the mood for.
3. Be efficient with your time. Sure, there are times when I need to just chill out on the couch and not think about my never-ending to-do list. And that’s fine. It helps me recharge and keeps me motivated in the long-term. But most of the time I am looking for opportunities to get something done, whether it’s designating two hours on Sunday afternoon to make my lunches for the week, or simply chopping veggies for that night’s dinner while I wait for my turn in the bathroom. Whenever I have the time, I think about how I could be using it wisely to make my life easier later. Experiment and see what works for you. I used to put a lot of pressure on getting EVERYTHING done on the weekends (food shopping/prepping/planning), but that just wasn’t fun or sustainable. Now, at the beginning of each week I have a loose plan on how I will execute meal prep, and I stay flexible and make adjustments to it as needed. If you are prepared with your staple foods, it won’t be that hard.
4. When in doubt, eat breakfast for dinner. Growing up, we had breakfast for dinner on many Sunday nights and I thought it was the best idea ever. This certainly explains my obsession for breakfast foods and I could easily eat them any time of day — and sometimes I do. Eggs are pretty much my answer to everything, and they are certainly on the top of my staple-foods list. I know that if I have eggs in the house, I can whip up something that will satisfy me.
Last week I took a cue from a meal I had at Egg Shop in Soho and created this bell pepper egg extravaganza. While I had sweet potato “chips” roasting in the oven, I scrambled two eggs per instructions by KathEats, mixed in some pre-chopped cabbage salad I got at Trader Joe’s and added a sprinkling of goat cheese to the mix. Then I added the scramble to a sliced bell pepper with a drizzle of sirraccha to top it off. So easy. So good.
5. Utilize Pinterest. I didn’t “pin” the first flower arrangement, gown or cake during wedding planning last year. To me, it was more overwhelming than fun or helpful. However, I use Pinterest weekly so that I can keep track of recipes I come across online. Having this online recipe rolodex has saved me many times, both at the grocery store and in the kitchen. Social media channels can be hard to effectively navigate, but if you make the experience your own and use them with clear intentions, then they can be quite helpful. What I don’t do is pin dozens of recipes that I will never ever make, or waste time comparing my recipes and ideas to other people’s. I’m hard on myself as it is and I don’t need social media telling me I’m not quite good enough.
In fact, I turned to Pinterest last night and came up with a tasty honey mustard quinoa dish (minus the squash) to add to the cod I was preparing. (I remembered to take a pic when I had just one bite left, Oops!) And because I opted to watch an episode of The Fall over doing lunch prep, I made sure to cook more food than I needed so that I had leftovers for lunch today. We ate all the fish, but I had leftover squash from Friday night’s dinner and a little leftover broccoli to add to my bowl of grains. Perfect!
6. Shop online. I was an anti-online shopper in most respects until I discovered Instacart last week. Grocery shopping online? Genius. Some of the items were maybe a tad pricier than usual and you do need to tip the delivery guy, but I have decided that the convenience of doing a week’s worth of food shopping ON MY COUCH is more than worth it. (Fighting crowds and lugging heavy bags of groceries is a burden I am no longer willing to take on in this already-draining city.) I did find, however, that I made more careful selections because I wasn’t tired or frazzled like I am many times at the store, so I was able to stick within my budget despite a few markups here and there. I am not exaggerating when I say that this service is truly life-changing. It’s not available nationwide yet, but for those who have access, click this link for a $10 savings!
So as you can see, my meal-planning tips aren’t exactly prescriptive. I’m just not that organized. This is what works for me, and I hope you can take bits and pieces of my advice to help you figure out what works best for you, too.
Tell me: Which of these tips are the most helpful? Do you have any to add?