Yup, February marked three full years of meal planning at our house! I still remember being intimidated by the process. Some of the things I was afraid of:
- I would schedule a meal and then “not feel like” making it
- I would plan a meal and not have time to cook it (or we’d have to eat at 8 pm)
- I would actually have to cook every day
- It would be Rom or Link’s turn to cook and something would come up so they couldn’t do it
- We would end up in a rut like grilled cheese on Mondays, eggs on Tuesdays…
- Choosing in advance would be boring – we’d always know what we were having
- I wouldn’t be allowed to have fun food any more like frozen pizza
- We would never spontaneously go out to dinner
But then I looked at what our meals were really like, and I knew we had to improve. Here’s a sample of weekdays from 2010:
- Monday – frozen cheese ravioli with bottled tomato sauce; frozen peas
- Tuesday – chili and rice
- Wednesday – breaded chicken fingers, oven fries, cubed mixed vegetables (all from frozen)
- Thursday – pan fried sausages, mashed potatoes and canned corn
- Friday – microwaved salmon, packaged rice mix, and broccoli
- Saturday – frozen pizza
I didn’t like using frozen and packaged food all the time, and although it looks like there was variety, we usually had the same meals most weeks in a different order. I would always think, “I would love to make lasagna” or “We’ll have baked chicken later in the week,” and I would throw out pounds and pounds of fresh food when I was too tired to come home and cook from scratch. I was always so mad at myself when I threw out boneless, skinless chicken breasts that cost a fortune, or a lovely crisp romaine lettuce that sat in the fridge long enough to go soggy. It was always easier to make some spaghetti or throw some fish sticks in the oven!
So we met as a family and agreed we would cook every day, be prepared to wait for dinner, and eat what was planned without complaining. We all voted on our favourite meals, and then I scheduled them throughout the month. A typical week in the early days looked like:
- Monday – Chicken and veg stir fry with rice
- Tuesday – Chick pea and veg curry with couscous
- Wednesday – Meat loaf, baked potatoes and canned corn
- Thursday – Pan fried haddock, potatoes and carrots
- Friday – Chicken pot pie (from frozen – couldn’t resist them!)
- Saturday – Stuffed peppers
There were weeknights when the meal wasn’t ready until 7:30 (not something you could do with small kids), but otherwise, it worked. As a bonus, Link learned to meal plan and cook (which they still do), and Rom took on a fair share of cooking. In his early days in Canada, he thought of it as “Dar’s kitchen” and I had to disabuse him of that notion!
What I didn’t expect is that I would look forward to each day’s meal, knowing what we were having. I’d look forward to cooking my choices, and look forward to my nights off. It was a win-win-win situation!
About 18 months in, after Link had left home, Rom and I gave vegetarian eating a try, and decided to stick with it. Since we didn’t have a stockpile of recipes, we each chose a vegetarian cookbook and cooked from them for about three months, until we gained some confidence. Now we have a good repertoire, and we still like trying new recipes from cookbooks. We usually cook enough for two meals at a time.
A sample two-week period for this month is:
- Monday and Tuesday – Rice Carrot Casserole (has eggs and cheese, tastes like quiche)
- Wednesday and Friday – Vegetable Tagine (new recipe from One-Dish Vegan cookbook)
- Thursday – I work late so we both fend for ourselves (beans and toast, probably!)
- Saturday – Popover (Dutch Baby pancake)
- Monday and Tuesday – Pasta with Red Lentil Tomato Sauce
- Wednesday and Friday – Indian-Spiced Risotto (another new recipe from One-Dish Vegan)
- Thursday – same as previous Thursday
- Saturday – Veg and Nut Stir Fry
Thanks to Katie at The Pursuit of Paulson for the cookbook recommendation!
It’s no lie that meal planning changed my life. It has changed my relationship with food.
- We eat Real Food now – almost no packaged (KD once a month!)
- I buy only the groceries I need to make the meals – virtually no waste
- I cook less because we cook for two nights at a time, and Rom does a full half of the cooking now
- We have enough recipes that we don’t get bored, and we still try new ones
- We go out for meals once or twice a month, and focus on foods we don’t make at home
If you don’t make meal plans, why not?
If you’ve been “on the fence” about meal planning, my advice is: Just Do It!