I love to eat. I even enjoy cooking most of the time. However I have tried and tried again to trick myself into loving meal planning and I have failed miserably each time. In my mind I picture myself happily cooking away and then storing everything in our fridge in a beautifully organized way. Week after week we have labeled and delicious meals. What it actually looks like is one afternoon of mass chaos squeezed into our tiny kitchen, lots of dirty dishes, a week of pretty decent meals, and then absolutely nothing planned for the following week because I’m exhausted.
Once I realized that this cycle having planned meals one week and nothing the next was happening on repeat, I realized that I needed to find a simpler way to meal plan. One that I actually enjoyed, and also helped us to stay within our budget.
The first part of this consists of a new mindset about meals that we eat. This mindset is to enjoy simple meals. Not every meal has to be a full on feast, or made using a recipe. Some of the best meals can be made with whatever you have left in your fridge or pantry. A few meals we have been enjoying recently are: grilled shrimp & veggies, chicken burgers & veggies, and spaghetti squash with marinara sauce. For a simple lunch I have been making something similar to these deli snack boxes from Damn Delicious (mine include turkey, strawberries, cucumbers and hummus).
“Batching”, or prepping similar things during one time period, can also be very helpful when it comes to meal planning. I usually make at least three of the deli snack boxes for lunch on Sunday (sometimes Monday if I have time). In the end this gives me more time in the mornings to enjoy breakfast with my husband, instead of scrambling to make lunch. You can also take an hour or so one day (I try to avoid entire mornings or afternoons of cooking) to make some freezer meals if this is more your style. One easy freezer meal I have been making is this baked ziti. I make one large batch and divide it out into smaller containers for multiple meals.
One of the most important things I have been trying to do is to take inventory of what food we already have before making a shopping list/meal plan for the week. I then build my meals for the week and shopping list off of that. This has really helped me to stay within our grocery budget for the month. Some foods that are commonly forgotten in our pantry or refrigerator are:
- Frozen leftovers
- Leftover/unused vegetables
- Lettuce or spinach
- Frozen meat or seafood
Speaking of leftovers, this is another large part of our meal planning (especially with just two of us in the house). If you don’t eat leftovers, you should definitely start trying to! If the thought of microwaving day old food grosses you out, try heating leftovers in the oven. Or, freeze your leftovers and save them for another week. My husband and I love our food saver, and use it to freeze leftovers all the time! Not sure what is safe to freeze or for how long? Check out this list!
The last thing, and newest in our household, is starting a small vegetable garden if you have the space. If you don’t have a lot of outdoor space, some vegetables can be grown in containers. We were able to plant a small vegetable garden out front this year and it has started to take off! We decided to keep it simple and start with easy to grow veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and peppers. Not only have we enjoyed spending time taking care of the garden, but we can’t wait to have our own fresh vegetables to eat!