“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” (Julia Child)
Growing up we ate the same two week rotation of meals until I graduated high school. I can still recite the 14 dinners my mom made for us throughout my childhood. Because of this, I avoided meal planning for years. It felt like returning to the predictable meatloaf Mondays and taco Tuesdays.
All this changed when Josh and I graduated college and both began working full-time. Cooking, health, and budget suddenly became vital aspects of our lives. We each took two nights in the kitchen and spent the other three nights eating leftovers or going out. Spending time chopping, sautéeing, baking was a welcome break from teaching — it became meditative and restorative.
During this season, I began looking to cookbooks and specific cooking websites for inspiration rather than Pinterest, which I found overwhelming because of the infinite amount of available content.
Reasons why meal planning helps your budget, health, and daily rhythm:
- Going to the grocery store with a list of specific items keeps you from impulse purchases and overspending. Taking stock of what’s left in the fridge and cupboards before heading helps too.
- Having a list of meals planned for the week prevents those 5 p.m. munchies from happening. When you have a dinner on the docket, you aren’t scrambling and eating the easiest, least healthy thing in sight. Whenever I’m cooking, I pull the trail mix out and munch on some nuts and dried fruit to hold me over. Not having unhealthy foods in the house to begin with leaves the snacking options limited.
- When you meal plan, pay attention to what else you have going on during that day leading up to dinner. If you’re aware ahead of time how much energy and time you’ll have for preparing dinner that day, you won’t overload yourself with an intense meal on busy days and you can enjoy a longer more involved cooking session on days with more space.
How to make meal planning a part of your life:
- Set aside time every week to go through the fridge and cupboards to see what’s available and to sit down and create your weekly menu.
- Write it down. Write down the meals you will make and write down the items needed to make those meals. I use pen and paper for the meals and keep it on the fridge. I use my phone for the grocery list.
Things to consider when creating your menu and grocery list:
- The current season. Using ingredients that are seasonal prevents getting stuck in food ruts. It also promotes sustainable farming practices and supports local and regional economies.
- Your season of life. Working full-time? New baby in the house? Give yourself grace to find a pace for meals that works for you.
Some caveats and resources:
- Be flexible. Sometimes you need a break, so take a night off and make some grilled cheese or pancakes.
- It takes time — start small and slowly change habits and practices incrementally. If you start small and go slow, change is sustainable and long-lasting.
- Include some easy days and leftover/clean out the fridge days each week.
- Maybe you’re in a season when a meal planning service makes more sense than anything (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, and Daily Harvest are all great options)
- Try to mix up the protein throughout the week and have at least one vegetarian night (this is good for your health and the environment!) This provides a loose structure and helps to narrow the choices. For example:
- Monday: beef
- Tuesday: chicken
- Wednesday: vegetarian
- Thursday: leftovers
- Friday: breakfast for dinner (could be as simple as eggs and toast)
- Saturday: fish
- Sunday: take-out or restaurant
- Cookbooks are inspiring and informative. They don’t just include recipes, but provide valuable insights from experienced cooks and chefs. Here are some of the most helpful ones (budget friendly tip – check them out from your library for free to see if they work for you before purchasing):
- Simply in Season – this is helpful for a crash course in seasonal cooking
- The Art of Simple Food – one of the most foundational cookbooks full of cooking wisdom and knowledge
- Salt Fat Acid Heat – the cookbook that completely transformed my approach to cooking (FULL of amazing information and beautiful illustrations that will elevate your skills)
- An Eater’s Manifesto – not a cookbook, but an essential resource that will change your mindset surrounding food and eating habits
- Those four are foundational resources. Here are a few more if you want to dive deeper:
- How to Bake Everything – it really does what it says
- How to Cook Everything – also full of all the recipes you’ll ever need
- An Everlasting Meal – practical insights for frugal cooking
- Deliciously Ella – an amazing story of a health journey, full of delicious meat/dairy/gluten free recipes
- Jamie Oliver 5 Ingredients – fun and inventive meals
- The Wellness Mama Cookbook – she’s amazing
- Cooking for Baby – fun recipes and tips for introducing babies to solids
“Every repast can have soul and can be enchanting; it asks for only a small degree of mindfulness and a habit of doing things with care and imagination.” (Thomas Moore)