I have a calendar that hangs in my kitchen that is specifically for meal planning. Once a month, I pull it down and schedule specific shopping days and specific cooking days, and I decide what I’m going to cook and use that to create my grocery lists. I try to aim for Friday evenings for shopping days, and I really prefer having lightly scheduled weekends for cooking time so that I don’t have to cook during the week.
I like having a plan because it keeps me from making habitual terrible food choices that zap my energy. I do not like having to find an hour or two a month to produce said plan.
Enter epic meal planning.
This level of meal planning is not for the faint of heart. It is structured and detailed but also magically flexible. This is go-on-a-dangerous-quest, feed-a-horde-of-hangry-dragon-slayers, survive-NaNoWriMo-without-gaining-20-pounds meal planning.
Once you’ve completed this process, you will be able to make each month’s plan to feed yourself and your loved ones – choices, schedule, and lists – in about ten minutes. And once you’ve done it, it works forever. I occasionally tweak my plan – add some new, exciting ingredient to kitchen staples, add a new recipe I liked, archive an old recipe that doesn’t seem appealing anymore – but that only takes a few minutes.
Having a structured plan doesn’t mean that you can never find a new recipe on Pinterest, go straight to the market, and make it that night. It also doesn’t mean you have to give up the drive-through forever. It does mean that you have something to work with on all the other days (and will help you say no to making the drive through a major habit). It perpetually answers the “What will we have for dinner?” question.
I’m so certain that this process will work for you like it works for me that I’m writing a book about it. It started as getting posts ready for Write 31 Days and has morphed into something larger. The book will include a lot of my own personal recipes and tips on how to expand the plan to fit your personal lifestyle, but this blog series will get you started.
Here are a few things to know about my approach before we get started:
– I looooove leftovers. I can happily eat the same thing three or four times a week, especially if I can throw a poached egg on top and call it breakfast. My favorite weeks are those when I have an open weekend where I can cook three or four meals and just eat on those the whole next week.
If you do not share this love, this will still work for you. You’ll just need to cook more often. If you despise leftovers or have intense appetites in your household that make leftovers as elusive and mythical as a unicorn, and you don’t already have a meal planning system in place, then we are going to be besties by the end of this month. Having a plan will revolutionize your life. You’re welcome, and I love you, too.
– I am not you; you are not I. The minute details of our meal planning will be different because we are different people with different lives. I am single, and I live alone in a spacious two-bedroom apartment with a not-spacious kitchen and an abysmal lack of food storage space. My kitchen staples are probably going to look a lot different from yours. That’s okay – there is still something to be learned from that step.You may have more storage space and thus more freedom in this area than I do, and I encourage you to embrace it.
You may also probably shop less often than I do. You probably have a real pantry and a full-size freezer in your utility room or garage. I commend you on your great use of space. Feel free to send me pictures so that I can live vicariously through you, as having a pantry and extra freezer is one of the top five reasons I’m saving up to buy a house. If you have the space and would like suggestions of freezers to buy, I have been making eyes at a couple of units at Lowe’s and would be happy to advise.
Focus on the instructions, not the examples. The purpose of examples is to see how concepts might be applied, not to become the concepts themselves. The goal of this month is to create a plan that works for you, and that probably won’t work if you’re trying to replicate exactly what I do and eat.
– I’m 41. I’ve been the adult who is primarily responsible for my nourishment for quite some time. Most of the information I will pass on in the next thirty days is from my own trial-and-error experience. I also read a lot on the subject of food, and I will give recommendations for further study whenever the opportunity arises.
If you are twenty and have moved out of the dorm and away from its meal plan into your first apartment, there may be some things that I’ve forgotten to include simply because I am old and forget that people don’t know how to do them. First of all – welcome, and good for you! If I had started doing this when I was twenty years old, I would be a lot healthier right now and wouldn’t have had to unlearn so many bad habits to get to a decent relationship with food. Second, please feel free to ask questions. That’s what a comment section is for. And third, if you are currently staring into the blank canvas that is your first kitchen, a couple of great additional resources for getting started are Alton Brown’s Gear for Your Kitchen and Kallio and Krastins’s The Stocked Kitchen.
– You can use a computer to collect recipes and compile your grocery lists, and I encourage this if you are starting fresh, because copy-paste-print is super efficient. If you prefer to kick it old school (as I do), you’ll need a recipe box with dividers, index cards, a pen, a hole punch, and a binder ring (for shopping purposes). For both methods, you will need some sort of calendar system to assign meals to days. Regardless of which method you use, once you’ve completed the overall process, meal planning will be a breeze.
If you want to review any section we have covered, they’ll all be archived here (archive may be delayed on days I’m without a computer, but all links will be up by the end of the month):
Section One – Pre-planning Phase: Taking Stock
Section Two – Planning Phase 1: Making Lists
Section Three – Planning Phase 2: Monthly Planning
Section Four – Planning Phase 3: Entertaining and Special Occasions
Section Five – Review