For the longest time I thought that everyone planned their meals a week at a time like I do. It’s only been in the past year that I’ve heard from a number of friends that they don’t know what they’re having for dinner, and that they often go to the grocery store multiple times a week to pick up forgotten items.
I’m an obsessive meal planner. The thought of going to the grocery store without a plan makes me uncomfortable. It’s a war zone and you need to go into battle with a plan. I’m also frugal and hate to waste, so I die a little inside if a vegetable, purchased with the best of intentions, goes bad and has to be pitched. It breaks my heart.
I’m fortunate to have a small deep freezer in the basement, so if chicken (or freezer pizzas) go on sale, I can stock up. I’m always on the lookout for pantry staples to go on sale so that I have them on hand at all times. My local ‘superstore’ will price match, so I don’t even need to drive around town to make the most of the sales. And thanks to the Flip app, I don’t even need to bring the flyers with me! In addition, most of the beef and pork that I eat comes from a small farm just outside of town, and I buy it once a year, a side or half side at a time, and freeze it. This means that weekly grocery shopping is divided into 2. 1 stop for pantry items, inspired by the sales, and another for the fresh food, a.k.a. fruit, vegetables, dairy, eggs, bread, and cheese.
I’ll admit that I’m speaking from a place of privilege. I can afford to stock up and buy in bulk. I have no allergies or sensitivities. I make choices based on my preferences, and with consideration for what my husband likes to eat. He’s admittedly a bit more of a picky eater than I am, but we’ve figured out how to either make the same thing 2 ways, so that it appeals to both of us, or just deal with it for the benefit of the other person. I have no children whose needs might vary from my own. I’m cost conscious but not on a super-tight budget.
All of that being said, I still think it’s important to meal plan. My weekly meal plan is quite consistent for a number of reasons:
- My schedule is consistent
- The contents of my pantry and freezer are consistent
- The amount of time I have to cook is consistent
- I love leftovers and take them for my lunches
Breakfasts are quite repetative, and are covered by the fruit, bread, cheese, dairy and eggs in my weekly shopping. No ‘planning’ required, just groceries. Lunches are a mix of dinner leftovers and large salads. Again, no extra planning required. Sometimes there are sandwiches thrown in the mix, but not often, and usually not for me (they’re part of my husband, Al’s, idea of a quick meal). So on top of all of this, I generally meal plan for 5 dinners which I cook and 1 night of freezer food (freezer pizzas and chicken fingers, I’m looking at you), which Al is in charge of. That leaves 1 night free, which is usually date night (woot woot). I work from a short list of about 50 recipes that I pull from to make my weekly meal plan. These recipes can be divided into 7 categories:
- Meat and veg
- Stir fry
- Breakfast for dinner
- Side dishes
This means that before I leave home to go shopping I make a list of the 5 dinners that are going to be on this week’s menu. Knowing that I’ve likely got meat in the freezer, carbs in the cupboard, and sauces on a shelf means that I’m only left filling in the blanks as I make my list.
I try to balance a meat focused dinner one night with a vegetarian dinner on another. I’ll often use Sunday afternoons to cook something that takes extra time, and Tuesday’s are almost always the freezer food night when I’m out coaching roller derby so that Al can cook something he likes without me getting judge-y about the amount of extra cheese or sauce he adds to an already unhealthy meal. Wednesday and Thursday nights are tight for time, so they are usually salads and stir fries. That leaves Friday and Saturday nights where we’ll have a nice dinner at home one night and go out on the other.
I find structure comforting. I like to know what I’m eating and when. I don’t get turned off by repetition, and I have enough recipes under my belt that fit within each of the categories that we don’t get too bored of what’s on offer. Sometimes I’ll only have a vague idea of what I want to make and I’ll stand in the kitchen and google recipes until I find something that only calls for that which I have on hand. I’m also comfortable making substitutions, and I know that if something calls for garlic and ginger, I’ll like it. Same with cumin and smoked paprika. Cheese and butter and pasta? Sounds lovely.
I never did learn how to cook for 2 people. I almost always cook for 3 or 4 and the leftovers either stay in the fridge for the next day, or they get frozen for lunches in the upcoming weeks. It helps widen the menu to have stuff in the freezer to grab from when there is no more salad to be had, or when I spend too much time snuggling the dog in the morning and am left scrambling to get to work on time.
So with all of that in mind you may be wondering what’s for dinner tonight? Well. I have an unexpected Tuesday night free of derby, and for once I don’t have a gym bag packed and at the ready in my car, so I’m going to spend the night at home. My plan is to make a big pot of pasta sauce while I do laundry and Windex every surface of my home. I’ll boil some pasta for hubby, and I’ll nuke myself a spaghetti squash. My dinner will be spaghetti squash, pasta sauce, too much parmesan cheese, and a side of broccoli. When Al gets home later tonight, he’ll have pasta with sauce and cheese and broccoli.
There will be leftover squash with sauce which I’ll have for lunch tomorrow, and a bunch more leftover pasta sauce, which I’ll freeze in Ziplock bags for dinners over the next few months. It’ll probably even turn into something even yummier than just a topping for noodles. With sauce in the freezer, it’s no big deal to make a lasagna because I already have lasagna noodles in the pantry. With sauce already made and frozen, if I add lasagna to the meal plan in an upcoming week, I’ll only need to pick up mozzarella and ricotta (or, let’s be honest, cottage cheese).
What are you having for dinner?