Meal Planning – Not Fun, but Worthwhile


Image by MStewartPhotography on Flickr

As Saturday evening approaches, I start to prepare myself for the festivities ahead. Party with friends? No. Out to the bars? Nope. A little time in the casino? Nuh uh. Movie and popcorn? Hardly. Saturday night is meal planning and groceries. Oh yeah, I know how to live it up!

Meal planning and grocery shopping are not my two favorite chores. I don’t actually know anyone who has them on that list (though I am sure some of you are out there). But, they need to be done and my life goes much more smoothly when they are.

Without meal planning, my grocery shopping strategy is to go through the sale ad, see what is a loss leader that we need to stock up on (far fewer than I used to when I was buying more prepared foods), catch a few other things on sale, and then try to remember everything we’ve run out of recently and restock. Some weeks, that works fine. Others, I get the groceries home on Sunday and realize that, while I have purchased $200 worth of groceries, I don’t seem to have anything to make for an actual dinner.  Ooops.

The better plan, for me, is to start my Saturday night fun by coming up with 5-6 dinners for the week. I consider what we haven’t had for a while, what seems fitted to the weather or to the most recent crops in my area, what I’m in the mood to make, and whether anyone has written something on the “Dinners that I Hope Happen Soon” board on the refrigerator. I only select 5-6 dinners to make because there will almost certainly be leftovers for 1 night, and there may be a pizza night or an event in there that takes up the other one. I try to vary the prep time across meals, so that I have some flexibility.

Once I have an idea of what I plan to make that week for dinner, I can then create a shopping list that includes all of the ingredients that I need. It also allows me to start making some tentative decisions about which meal to serve which night, though I leave those pretty loose, so that I can adjust based on how a day unfolds and the amount of time available. If I buy items that I worry will spoil quickly (though those are usually things for the omnis and not the vegans), then I know that the meal that involves them will probably be Sunday evening (grocery pick-up day) or Monday at the latest.

For breakfasts and lunches, because it is “serve yourself” around here, I don’t plan specific meals. Instead, I just keep a general list of things we should have available and try to replenish each week.

Once I make my list of dinners, and buy what I need for those, I can fill in the rest of the shopping list around that.

This process makes my week so much easier. Each day, I come home from work and look at the list and figure out what I am up to making that night, and what I have time to get done. If I am out of the house for a night and Mr. VeganAsana needs an idea, the list is available on my desk. Sometimes, I switch it up as I go, because I decide I want something different, I end up with a fresh ingredient that I didn’t plan for, or time becomes an issue. But, the plan is there, so I have a starting place.

Using this system also allows me to look at each meal for nutritional purposes and determine what I need to adjust. It’s easy for me to make too many carbohydrates and not enough of anything else if I just throw together meals at the last minute.

So, that’s my basic strategy for meal planning. What’s yours?


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