This post is all about meal planning.
I think a lot of people when they’re first starting out on their own, including myself, are not sure how to cook a healthy meal – especially if it’s only for one person. My thinking was that it wasn’t really worth the effort. As a result, I spent a lot of money (a LOT of money) on eating out – and none of it was healthy! However, you don’t have to be a five-star chef in order to make yourself a decent meal, and you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen either.
It can be overwhelming in the beginning, but it doesn’t have to be. I plan my meals one week at a time – on a Saturday evening over a glass of wine :). However, if you find this a little too much, plan for two or three meals a week and work your way up from there.
I use a Google spreadsheet as my meal planner, but you can use anything – a note pad, a piece of scrap paper tacked to your fridge, or you can buy a meal planning note book if you prefer.
Find Your Preference
There are a couple ways of doing this, depending on what you prefer and, of course, your lifestyle. You can:
- Go through the grocery flyers every week and plan your meals around what’s on sale, or
- Plan your meals around a combination of your favourites and new recipes
Or a combination of the two – it’s entirely up to you.
I plan my meals around favourite recipes from a few cookbooks I have in my kitchen, and new recipes from a couple of cooking Blogs that offer healthy and tasty meals, and food from the Mediterranean area. I love trying food from other countries! Some weeks I plan a leftover meal also, especially if I buy a roast. That also adds to the savings. Tailor it to fit your lifestyle. Give yourself lots of leeway to experiment and don’t forget to make room for Pizza night!
Meal planning doesn’t have to be hard work. You do a bit of concentrated planning at first (like on Saturday night over a glass of [insert favourite beverage here]), but after that, it’s plain sailing and will save you tons of money and time in the long run (I promise!). You can even make a bit extra and take it to work for lunch the next day.
Whatever your strategy, write down your meals for the week in your note pad, on your scrap piece of paper, your fancy menu planning book or on your computer/tablet.
Choose Your Recipes Carefully
If you’re looking to save money at the grocery store (that’s the main reason why I started meal planning) make sure that you choose recipes or meals that don’t require expensive ingredients that you’ll never use again. If your recipe calls for a spice found only in the foothills of Morocco, then you’re defeating the object. (Unless, of course, that Moroccan meal is something you’re going to eat every week 🙂
Over the years, I think I’ve probably bought an entire room-full of recipe books only to discover that just a handful of recipes suited our taste, budget and lifestyle. I must confess that I’m a pretty lazy cook. I want it all – recipes that take 20 minutes or less to make from start to finish, but are also tasty, healthy and affordable. And yes! there are recipe books out there that tick all those boxes! I have now narrowed it down to two or three cookbooks that fit this criteria, and two food blogs. They are:
Jamie Oliver: Jamie’s Food Revolution: This book was inspired by all the people Jamie had met who thought they could never and would never learn how to cook. He’s picked a whole load of meals that we all love to eat and broken them down to make them as simple as possible (I love simple). There are plenty of clear instructions and step-by-step pictures, so whether you’re an accomplished cook or a complete beginner, you’ll be able to enjoy cooking and achieve great results in the kitchen.
The Looneyspoons Collection by Janet & Greta Podleski: I have made almost every recipe in this book (did I mention I’m a lazy cook?). This book has something for everyone – diabetic recipes, gluten-free, vegetarian, counting points, recipes for finicky kids and more. This book is overflowing with gorgeous, full-color food photos, hundreds of practical weight-loss, anti-aging and healthy-living tips, and, of course, a heaping helping of Janet & Greta’s trademark corny jokes and punny recipe titles. Their recipes are also very easy to follow.
Skinny Taste: Here’s an excerpt from her ‘About’ page:
Hi, I’m Gina Homolka, author, photographer and recipe developer here at Skinnytaste.com. My food philosophy is to eat seasonal, whole foods and maintain good portion control (everything in moderation!). Let me help you navigate your way around the kitchen and teach you how to prepare delicious, light, fresh meals your whole family will love!
The Mediterranean Dish: Here’s an excerpt from her ‘About’ page:
I’m Suzy. My roots are the shores of the Mediterranean. The sea’s riches, and my family’s fondness for big gatherings, created in me a passionate cook. My easy and approachable recipes follow the values of the Mediterranean diet: eat with the seasons, use whole foods, and above all share. Pull up a chair, and let’s cook together!
There are so many excellent cookbooks out there and equally excellent food Blogs – Pinterest and Bloglovin’ are great places to start – but these ones suit our lifestyle because they offer everyday food with ingredients that I can find at my local supermarket or farmer’s market, at affordable prices. They are also healthy meals that help reduce Hubby’s high blood pressure without leaving us hungry after dinner (unless it’s for chocolate ice cream, of course).
Decide How Many Meals to Plan For
I usually write down dinners only, and I make a bit extra to take for lunch the next day. That way, I don’t have to make extra lunches for Hubby and myself. For breakfast, we usually have fruit, cereal or eggs, so I don’t write a meal plan for that. I also like to plan for a slow cooker dinner or two a week. It’s good way to make delicious meals from the cheaper cuts of meat. I love slow cooker meals – it’s like coming home to a meal that somebody else cooked! If you don’t have a slow cooker, think about buying one – it’s a good investment.
Make Your Grocery List
Make a grocery list based on the ingredients in your recipes, crossing off any ingredients you already have on hand. That way you won’t buy another bag of cornmeal when you already have one in your pantry (I did that a month ago!). Don’t forget to include other staples in your grocery list like coffee, sugar, tea, etc. If you like, you can take things a step further to make your shopping experience even more pleasant, and group items together – meat, dairy, fruit & vegetables, etc. And don’t forget your reusable grocery bags!
Now, sit back and finish your wine (or whatever it is that you’re drinking).
Once you’ve gone grocery shopping, you can do one of two things; you can spend an hour on Sunday batch cooking and chopping, or you can simply do all that on the day you cook. It’s completely up to you.
Congratulations! You’re well on your way to making your life in the kitchen a bit better (and yourself and your bank balance a little healthier!)
For more ideas on what to make for dinner, check out my weekly dinner plan here
Don’t miss part 4 of our Beginner Series: Living on Your Own-Quick & Easy Ways to Keep Your Space Clean and Organized.