I don’t love cooking. “What’s for dinner?” is one of my least favorite questions. Some people can remember every great meal they’ve ever eaten. I can barely remember what I order at Panera. I laughed at 16 Things Non-Foodies Will Understand on Buzzfeed (especially #16 – Cereal for every meal). Do I not care about food, or am I just lazy? Probably a little of both. My dream is to have a Jetson’s kitchen where you tell Alexa to produce dinner.
Nevertheless, meal planning is essential for healthy eating and money management. No matter your feelings about food, you must eat, and the food needs to meet nutritional requirements. The ability to feed yourself is a key component of adulting.
Cooking requires cognitive skills that go beyond controlling fire, such as the ability to resist the temptation to scoff the ingredients, patience, memory, and an understanding of the transformation process… But whenever cooking was invented, it has evolved into one of the most varied and inventive elements of human culture. We cook thousands of different types of animal, plant, fungus and algae using a dazzling array of techniques. We spend far more hours planning and preparing food than actually eating it, and then sit down to watch programmes about it, hosted by people who have become millionaire household names. We cook, therefore we are. – Graham Lawton
Reasons for meal planning
For me, the main reason for cooking is food intolerances: no onions, no dairy except a little cheese. Eating out is always an adventure because onions are in everything. That means no Mexican restaurants. I certainly do remove onion from every recipe but, fair warning, people complain about lack of flavor. If I add flavor with herbs and spices, it’s too spicy. Pinterest has recipes without onions, but they seem to be mostly Indian food. Hence, the never-ending quest to find something to eat for dinner.
The obvious reasons:
An organized approach to cooking, shopping, and not wasting food.
Fewer last-minute grocery store trips
Reduces food expense (if that’s your goal)
Healthier, less mindless eating
In my effort to start meal planning, I ordered a meal-planning pad with tear-off shopping list and magnet. The 60-sheet pad will provide a year’s worth of meal plans. I try to sit down and fill out the week on Sunday but often find myself blanking on what to write. Cooks may scoff, but nothing comes to mind. My repertoire is expanding but still somewhat narrow. Growing up, we had meat and potatoes most of the time. Dad only wanted red meat, grudgingly ate chicken, and hated casseroles. I have to overcome the 1960s TV dinner mentality.
If I’m cooking, I will absolutely make more than one meal’s worth of food. I stocked up on glass containers and have an extra freezer in the garage. The problems start when I can’t figure out what’s in the container. I try to use blue tape on the glass and write on vacuum-sealed bags, but it doesn’t always happen. It took me a while to realize that one container had frozen applesauce made in the Instant Pot.
I’ve been very successful in making large batches of basic tomato sauce (with no onion) to incorporate into other recipes. It’s thrilling to open the freezer and find tomato sauce ready to thaw.
I find recipes that work for us, but then I need to know what to have with it. I love Chrissy Teigen’s idea of a restaurant menu for her daughter. She put laminated pages into a binder with photos of the meal, a description, and a price. Having a visual flipbook of meal ideas would make it easier. There are plenty of those available online but not specific to my needs. My new plan is to take photos of successful meals and create a PowerPoint slideshow for inspiration.
Evernote is the best tool I’ve found to keep recipes (and everything else). Tag the recipes with specific ingredients, and you can find them easily. Making notes and changes are simple. I can access my recipes on my phone, laptop, or tablet. I will also use Evernote for my meal photos.
On my 19 for 2019 list, number 10 was “create a weekly meal plan,” and number 11 was “stop throwing away produce.” I can’t check off those goals yet, but I’m working on it.