I have found meal planning and prepping to be an invaluable resource to me. I work three + jobs, work out regularly and maintain at least a semblance of a social life. If I’m not going to eat out every meal (or eat food that makes me feel yucky) I HAVE to meal plan.
I’ve developed my own way to do this fairly organically, and I’ve adapted it over the last six or so years. It works fairly well for me. It worked fairly well for me when I was cooking for the household too, although granted it’s a little less work intensive as a single person. However, it’s a fairly adaptable system, and you should feel free to adapt it to suit your needs!
Why I meal prep:
Well, for starters, I’m really, really, really busy. There are plenty of days where I eat all of my food on the go. This is why I bought a nice (and kind of expensive) cooler/lunchbag. (I have this one) Because I always have to take food with me. So I meal prep because I’m busy.
It also saves me money. If I go to the store one time during the week, with a very comprehensive list of what I need, I save money over multiple trips, browsing and eating out a lot. Also I live in a food desert, and going to the grocery is not ever on my way home.
It provides some structure and form to my week. Because my schedule is so nuts, it’s nice not to have to make decisions as I go about what I’m going to eat that day.
It helps keep me away from disordered eating. Due to my past history, I have a tendency towards disordered eating when I get stressed or too busy. Having a plan in place as I head into a busy week helps ensure that I will eat enough to keep me moving.
Ok, so that’s why. But HOW, Charis??
If you don’t know this about me, I use a 9×12 sketchbook for everything. Work, personal, all of it, right in my book. So I start with that.
As you can see, I’ve written the dates for the week across the top, and then listed the days out down the sides, with a slot for each meal. At the end of the week, I’ve listed a spot for snacks.
Next, once I’ve got my form set up, I go through and write in any meetings or events I have that week that will have provided food. So, for example, if I’m having dinner with Dad on Thursday, I write down “dinner with Dad”. Then I know I don’t have to plan a meal for that time slot.
Once those are all filled in, I count how many total meals I have left. Usually it’s about 16 for me, it might be more or less for you. That usually includes 7 breakfasts, and the rest are (obviously) lunch and dinner. So first, I decide what I want to have for breakfast.
I tend towards mostly paleo meal prep- in fact, my goal is to eat paleo at home so that when I’m out and about I don’t worry about it as much. That does extend to breakfast (sometimes unfortunately, breakfast is my struggle meal!) When I decide what I want to have for breakfast, I fill it in in as many of the blank spaces as possible, and then I either decide to make something else and fill that in, or get some “convenience” breakfast items (post forthcoming) to fill me in.
Then I do the same with lunch and dinner. But how do I know what I want to make? And where do I find recipes? Also fair questions.
First, I think about what I’m in the mood for. Just in general. Mexican? Salads? Fish? Steaks? Chicken? Sweet potatoes? Stretch my cooking wings? Play it safe? Then I take a look for recipes that fit that desire. Some things I can do now without a recipe. If I want fajitas, for example, I can do that without a recipe. But if I want this amazing enchilada crockpot casserole that I only let myself make about twice a year, well, I need the recipe for that. Or if I want to try something new, I’ll definitely want the recipe!
The first place I look for recipes is Pinterest. I tap a few keywords into the search bar and we’re off. I do have a couple of cookbooks and I like them. My favorite right now is the Frugal Paleo Cookbook. She’s amazing.
If I’m using Pinterest, I pin the recipe to the proper board, and then I write the name of the recipe and that I pinned it into the slot on my meal plan chart. At the same time, I start a grocery list on the bottom of my meal plan. Frequently at this stage, I just write down everything the recipe calls for (except spices).
I’m also a really good leftover eater, so even though I’m only cooking for myself, I make family portions regularly and eat the same two or three meals for a week.
Once I’ve chosen all my meals, written in all the times I’m going to eat which recipe and made a composite list of ingredients, I double check my pantry to see what I’m out of or what I already have. I don’t keep very many pantry staples on hand, but it’s always a good idea to check. I also double check things like paper towels, dog food, etc at this point, and add anything I need to my list.
Then, if I’m feeling really crazy, I rewrite the grocery list and group like items together (produce, meat, canned goods) to make it easier to shop.
Lastly, I go through my grocery store’s flyer and the coupons in the app and double check if there’s anything I’m already buying on sale or that I can use a coupon on. I do this last because it keeps me from adding things I don’t need to my list. Oh, I’m eating Italian and American comfort food this week, but corn chips are on sale… this helps with that instinct for me.
And there you have it! Meal planning 101. It takes me less time to do it than it did to write this post at this point. I know it seems overwhelming! But you can do it.
I tend to do my grocery shopping on Sunday afternoon (although I’m thinking of shifting to Monday morning), so I try to do my meal planning on Saturdays. Frequently I’ll schedule a meal I call “grocery surprise” on Saturday- and I let myself get whatever I want at the store to cook and eat that night- usually it’s fresh fish or a small steak.
When I’m really on top of my game, I then spend some time meal prepping for the week- post forthcoming about how I do that!
Superhero action of the day: do some meal planning today! Maybe it’s just planning your lunches for the remainder of the work week. Or maybe, you go wild and plan out the whole week. Be sure to let me know how that worked for you!