“Meal Planning” – I know, the phrase makes you a little sick to your stomach either with anxiety or with the sheer lameness of it all. “Meal planning is for boring suburban housewives” is swarming around your head. Well party people, I am here to tell you that this is just not simply true. Meal Planning is For YOU!!! Even if you are an awesome rock star, a revered DJ, or an edgy artist – you still need to eat. And if you have these aforementioned careers, than you are most likely pretty damn broke . So instead of subsisting off of PBR, frozen pizza, and bumming food off of your friends that cook – it’s time to do the cool thing: plan your meals and then cook them. There is no better way to stick it to the man than to cook your own damn food! I really feel passionate about meal planning for a dual reason: I am an industry trained chef (i.e. planning is super super important to a financially viable and lower stress kitchen) and my better half is currently a student (i.e. we are broke as a joke). Life is better when I can plan what we eat because this means:
- I can budget our tiny income.
- I can control what goes into our food, instead of opening a box of CRAP made in a factory and hope that the owner of said corporation has my best health interests in mind.
- Making food from scratch doesn’t become a burden when I plan it.
- I can reuse ingredients over and over, i.e. the I bought a lot of butternut squash on sale and roasted it all, we ate some for dinner with salt and pepper and then I used the rest to make a big batch of soup which we ate all week long. I got strawberries on sale which I used in morning granola, made strawberry cookies, and then turned the rest into jam – and did this all in under an hour.
Just because you meal plan, doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat or have an impromptu meal – it just means you help yourself by having a few meals a week planned out. There are a few steps before you can even really start:
- Be honest with yourself. This isn’t the time to be all like “I’m going to make every single thing I eat from scratch!!” and burn yourself out in a week. Start slow, be honest, do you really want to make mac’n’cheese from scratch? or does that blue box beckon.
- How much time do you actually have to commit to this? It will take a while at first, but once you get the hang of your favorite recipes (and maybe bribe your friends to help) the whole process will go by so much faster.
- How much money do you really have for food? This is tricky, but this is supposed to save you money – not force you to buy the most expensive organic ingredients. Go to the store with a calculator and a budget in mind. Don’t buy crap you don’t need.
Now that you have an idea of how much time, money, and energy you have for this – then you can start deciding what you will make for the weekly meals. First let’s trim what you don’t need and see how we can make it at home. These are the places that I always spent too much money as a hip young person:
- Breakfast. Oh god, so many breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop or diner – that’s at least $10-$15 that would have cost me like $4 if I had eaten at home. Make yourself some oatmeal with fancy toppings, cook an egg and pull some sausage from the freezer and I’m sure you know how to toast bread.
- Lunch. So so so many lunches out before my night shift, or the famous “there-is-nothing-in-the-refrigerator-so-I-have-to-go-out.” Make yourself some damn soup on Monday and eat it all week long. Have a quinoa salad made with nuts and dried fruit and ready to eat. Add a hunk of delicious bread that you keep in your freezer (frozen bread is a miracle) and you have a full meal.
- And coffee, it really can be good at home – I’m pretty sure you won’t die without your $5 double cappuccino, save that for when you really need it.
If you can make most of your breakfasts, lunches, and at least two dinners a week – you’ll be making so much happy progress! Now for meal planning! This part is the easy part:
- Decide what you want/need to make.
- Decide when you can make it.
- Make a shopping trip.
My week is a little like this: shop Wednesday and Sunday – Do bulk cooking on Sunday and Monday, and cook dinners as many nights as I can. Here are some links to some actual menus that might be helpful: The Nest Modern Meal Planning Cheap Healthy Good The Kitchn There are even websites that will do it for you: Food on the Table & The Fresh 20