While 2020 has been a complete mess, one of the best things to come out of all this craziness is more and more people (at least among my own circles) embraced cooking.
So many of my friends began cooking and baking when previously they ate out or relied on frozen meals. My friend Bree went vegan. My friend Megan mastered Thai curries, and my friend Frank became the King of Sourdough Crepes.
But now that things are beginning to return to normal with jobs and schools reopening, we are scrambling to cook healthy meals and do all the other things that functional adults are expected to do during a global pandemic. — Including waiting in line for 90 minutes just to get into Costco.
There has never been a better time to start meal planning and meal prepping.
What is meal planning?
Meal planning is the act of figuring out what you’re going to eat for the week ahead, and writing it out on a piece of paper or a calendar.
While it may sound tedious and boring, there are numerous benefits to meal planning.
1. Less food waste.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely hate throwing out food. By meal planning you know exactly what you’re going to make and what ingredients you need for the week. You’re less likely to overcook when you know that the next day you will be eating something different.
2. Shopping is easier and you save money.
There is nothing I hate more than wandering around the store wondering what the heck I need to buy. Invariably, I end up buying far more than I really need to of certain things, and not nearly enough of others. I’ll buy more lettuce than I really need, but not enough tomatoes or cucumbers. By planning out my meals ahead of time, I know exactly what needs to go on the shopping list. This also prevents me from wandering around the store and throwing random items in the cart.
3. It’s a lot less stressful.
The phrase, “What do you want for dinner?” is perhaps the most dreaded phrase in my house. Unless one of us has a specific craving, we don’t care what we do for dinner. I ask my husband what he wants out of the hope that he has a craving so I don’t have to think about it. But more often than not, he doesn’t care just as long as he doesn’t have to cook. This annoying conversation ended when I started meal prepping. I just look at the plan.
4. It’s healthy.
It’s obviously not guaranteed that everybody who meal plans will get healthy, but planning your meals for the week is a vital part of getting healthy. It helps you take your new health and wellness routines seriously, and reach your goals. For example, when you know that you’re going to make homemade ravioli on Friday night, you know that on Thursday you should have more vegetables and fewer carbs.
5. It’s easier to meal prep.
This is perhaps the biggest selling point. When you have completed all your meal planning for the week, the next logical step is meal prepping. Meal prepping is a huge time saver. I believe meal prepping is going to be huge this autumn as we are still dealing with a pandemic, and we also have to deal with work and school. While we had an abundance of time during the lockdowns, our time will be tighter than ever once things are all reopen. Batch cooking, or meal prepping, will save you a lot of time throughout the week.
Related: Jump start your healthy eating goals with this bundle of cookbooks and meal plans. Available for a limited time.*
What is meal prepping?
Meal prepping is the process of doing as much cooking in a batch as possible at one time so throughout the week you can just throw your meals together. Restaurants have a prep cook who is responsible for doing all of the meal prep so the chefs can focus on cooking and assembling the dishes. It’s the job of the prep cook to do as much work as possible ahead of time so in the middle of the dinner rush, the chefs can get meals out in 20 minutes instead of an hour.
While you don’t have a restaurant, applying the same concept to your home kitchen will help you save time during dinner. By prepping things like vegetables, grains, and even proteins, you only have to cook and assemble right before you sit down to eat.
There are a couple levels to meal prepping:
- Full meals
Prepping full meals is just what it sounds like: you cook as much ahead of time as possible. This works for dishes like curries, soups, bento boxes, Buddha bowls, pasta salads, bibimbap, and even casseroles.
Ingredient prep is best when the end meal doesn’t keep well in the fridge, or if you want the flexibility of remixing ingredients. You can easily prep rice, barley, couscous, lentils, carrots, celery, bell peppers, onions, cabbage, and meats ahead of time. This way when it comes time to cook, you just have to throw a few things together.
How to Start Meal Planning
1. Get clear on the core recipes.
The first step to meal planning is to it down and figure out what you and your family like to eat on a regular basis. If you’ve been doing a lot of experimenting during the pandemic, you might have to poll your family for ideas and suggestions. But by in large I’ve discovered most people I’ve talked to about this tend to rotate through a few core dishes.
My household rotates through these dishes:
- Green chile stew
- Vegan “chicken” soup
- Bento boxes
- Stir Fry
- Chef’s salads
- Cold salads
- Pasta salad
- Bean salad
- Edamame salad
We both do intermittent fasting; the first meal of the day is a late lunch, so we don’t eat breakfast. If you do eat breakfast, your list should include whatever breakfast items your family tends to rotate through.
2. Look at the calendar.
The next step to easy meal planning is to look at your family’s calendar. The night before a big day, you should probably cook something easy the night before so you don’t have to spend as much time cleaning up the kitchen.
With your calendar open, write out a list of meals for the week. Plan your meals with prepping in mind. If you’re going to prep a big batch of rice over the weekend, think about how that will impact your meals for the week. Fried rice, for example, is best prepared with old rice. Plan to eat stir fries and curries at the beginning of the weak when the rice is fresher, and serve fried rice on Friday when the rice is nicely aged.
3. Shop ahead of time.
To make this as easy as possible, go to the grocery store a couple days before your meal plans kick in. This will ensure you can get all the ingredients you need. If you realise you have to source something from Amazon, for example, you’ll have plenty of time to get it in before you need it. This also gives you the ability to rearrange your meals for the week if there is something out of reach that you just can’t get.
The first time you start meal planning and prepping, you’re probably going to need to stock up on some kitchen supplies. Tools like bento boxes*, painter’s tape (to label your containers), and single-serving sauce containers*, will make your job a lot easier.
4. Don’t deviate.
This is the hardest part. Once you have your meal plan in place, you have to actually stick to it. This is the single most difficult part. There’s something about looking in the fridge that makes us not want to eat anything there.
Sticking to your plan gets even harder if you have children. Invariably kids don’t want to eat what’s for dinner. It might be difficult, but I strongly encourage you to stick to your meal plan and serve what you actually planned to serve. All your hard work spent planning and meal prepping (and all your time and money savings) will vanish if you give in and cook something completely different.
Jump Start Your Meal Planning
If you want to make meal planning even easier, I strongly encourage you to check out the 2020 Healthy Meal Planning Bundle*.
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