Meal planning has been something that I have struggled with for quite a while. I still dream of the day when my fridge resembles those perfect pinterest-ishq fridges. Glass containers labeled with 3 different types of breakfasts, lunch, dinners, snacks — all ready for me to take with me and enjoy! If I had a lovely Sunday afternoon to devote in making this dream a reality … I would! But, these days I find my time is spread thin, doing the laundry, cleaning the house, doing other chores, working, thinking, me time. If I had five or six extra hours in the day I would probably be catching up on some lost sleep.
I’m a first-year high school teacher. Even though I’m contracted for 40 hours of work a week, I easily work 55-60 hours. I invest so much energy and time to come up with fun and engaging lesson plans, that I don’t have any brain capacity left to focus as closely or intensely…especially an entire week of meals! This takes practice — and right now I’m just not there yet. But that’s OKAY! Although I am not a meal planning master, there have been a couple of tips and tricks I’ve learned on the way to make sure I’m eating well — even during a stressful work week.
Before you go off and find some complicated recipe to cook in a batch — let me tell you Salads are your friends! “Salads” is such a broad term, and can consist of so many variations! I love recipes that require little prep, but produce LOTS of leftovers. I have a few go-tos: tuna salad, cold pasta-based salads, and your good old-fashioned lettuce-based salad. To help bulk up a sad lettuce salad, I like to add beans, nuts, and a whole variety of vegetables. For my tuna and pasta-based salads, it usually only takes about 30 minutes of prep (washing, cutting, and throwing the ingredients into a bowl) and it lasts for a few days. Another fun thing about salads it can be had as a side (to make your dinner extra fancy), or a really healthful lunch!
Similar to Salads, one pot recipes have a very special place in my heart (and tummy). I find that soups are a really nice way to throw a bunch of ingredients together and have a melody of flavors all on one spoon! Most of the effort in making soup is concentrated in the beginning of the cooking session — clean, chop, and mix. Then, you can let the dish work it’s magic over the fire over an hour or so, and come back to an amazingly hearty dish that can last you days (potentially weeks!). Some of my go-tos are vegetarian chili, chicken drop-dumpling soup, or a nice vegetable rice soup.
Freshly Cooked Foods
Let’s say — cooking big meals is scary for you because you tend on wasting food.
Here is a little secret I use: If I find the time — trust me it’s not as often as I would hope — I like to take 30-60 min, after the grocery trip, and wash/prep my ingredients. This means slicing those onions, smashing those garlics, dicing up the tomatoes, and yes, de-beaning your edamame. Preparing my produce beforehand saves me a lot of time throughout the week and still allows me to eat freshly cooked meals. The trick is getting produce you know you like, and have different ways of cooking. You have the freedom to eat a salad one day (with raw produce), and then have roasted veggies (usually at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes) and rice the next — all with the SAME INGREDIENTS!
I like this method because it forces me to eat better, avoid eating out, and still keeps food interesting! You always have the freedom to change your mind about how you like something prepared, and will cut down on wasting food.
Preparing and/or prepping your food beforehand is still a good bit of work, and there will be days when you come home, you’re completely wiped, and the thought of spending 10 minutes making dinner sounds absolutely exhausting. This is when frozen meals are your go to– and that’s completely okay. I like to have a few options in my freezer at all times. Sometimes this could be frozen meals that I bought at the grocery store, or if I have been quite ambitious in the past, meals I have previously made that freeze well (such as soups or stir fries). I know there will be days that I will have to turn to the freezer for help; it’s okay to have a plan B.
Although my refrigerator is far from perfect, I still like to take a bit of time organizing it every other week or so. I want to make sure that the things I should consume first are visible and that I’m able to take in my options easily. I think the trick to meal planning is trying to figure out what works for you in your given situation. Some people may have hours each week to dedicate to preparing their meals, others (like me) may not.