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