How to Meal Plan: A Beginner’s Guide

My life revolves around food. If you want to become my friend, feed me. That’s pretty much all it takes.

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For my last year of university, I decided to live off-campus, which meant leaving the dining hall’s meal plan. After a thorough scrub-down of my new empty, dusty kitchen (shoutout to my rockstar parents who helped me clean for 5 hours), I stocked my fridge and pantry. Every night I would come home, exhausted from the day, and end up cooking pasta or some eggs on toast. Not super nutritious and I quickly became disillusioned with the notion of homecooking.

Pretty soon I realized I needed a new approach to making meals. Cue meal planning.

This tiny change in my life ultimately saved me so much time and money. And, perhaps more importantly, I began to fall back in love with food and cooking.

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Here’s how a typical week panned out:

Every Saturday, I would sit down with my cuppa and flip through the pages of my cookbooks. I’d find two very different recipes (say, a soup and shepherd’s pie) that sounded delish, write down the ingredients, and see what I didn’t have in the cupboards. Come Sunday, I would walk to my local coop, buy the missing ingredients and whatever “essentials” I was running low on (more on that later), and do my meal prep. For the following week, I would alternate lunch and dinner with those two recipes.

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Now, I know meal planning sounds like it’ll get boring fast, but that’s where you bring in your “essentials”. There are a few ingredients I always have in my pantry/freezer/fridge. (At the bottom of this post is my “Fridge and Pantry Essentials”, if you’re interested in seeing my grocery list!**) If I didn’t feel like eating one of the two meals I had prepared, I could always change it up and do something different.

My go-to’s were always (and are still):

  • A loaded sweet potato with black beans, cheddar cheese, egg, and avocado (or whatever else I had on hand)
  • Vegetable fried rice or pasta stirfry
  • Vegetable omelet
  • Canned soup (I love Amy’s Organic Soups)

Here are a few tips for anyone looking to give meal planning a go:

  1. Find yourself a cookbook you love

You’ll be more likely to get cooking if you don’t have to sort through millions of Google search results to find a good recipe. When looking for cookbooks, do the cookbook test. Flip through – usually there’s a list of recipes that a chapter or section contains. If 65%+ of those recipes sound up your alley – you’ve got yourself a winner.

  1. Tupperware is your best friend

Go do yourself a favor and buy some tupperware. Ideally have one or two pieces that can hold a gallon of soup. You’ll thank me later.

  1. Pencil in “meal prep” time to your schedule

Meal prepping can be a little time consuming, so make sure you schedule out the time to do it. And, if you’re like me and not an expert with a kitchen knife, budget more time for your prep than what the recipe calls for. I don’t know how cookbook authors can cut a million vegetables in 5 minutes. Personally, I like leaving the kitchen with the same number of fingers that I entered with. So, instead of racing to finish, I add an extra half hour or so to their time estimate.

  1. When in doubt, put an egg on it

When you’re feeling bored with your meal, throw an egg on it. Eggs, I’ve found, make everything better.

  1. Relish it (no pun intended)

This is your time. Make the most of it. Find recipes that bring you joy. Buy good-quality ingredients (you’ll still save money, because nothing will go to waste in your fridge!). Have some wine or a beer while cooking. You’re more likely to keep on keeping on if you enjoy the overall experience.

  1. Don’t doubt your cooking abilities

I thought I was a terrible cook until I started meal planning. Turns out, following recipes each week teaches you a lot about how to cook ingredients and properly season your food. I feel so much more comfortable improvising now than I did two years ago. And, let’s get this straight – it’s never too late to start learning how to cook. Julia Child was 32 when she started. So channel your inner Julia, throw caution to the wind, and give it a go.

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Have any of you tried meal planning? What are your main tips for beginners?

**Fridge and Pantry Essentials

 

Thanks to Julia (my talented sister) for taking some of these photos!

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