Photo: Bruce Turner (Flickr)
Meal Planning – I know, the phrase makes you a little sick to your stomach either with anxiety or with the sheer lameness of it all. Well, party people, I am here to tell you that this is simply not true. Meal planning is for you!
Even if you are an awesome rock star, a revered DJ or an edgy artist, you still need to eat. And if you have one of these aforementioned careers, you are most likely pretty broke. So, instead of subsisting on PBR, frozen pizza and bumming food off of your friends who cook, it’s time to do the cool thing: plan your meals and then cook them.
There is no better way to stick it to the man than to cook your own food!
Better With A Plan
I really feel passionate about meal planning for two reasons: I am an industry trained chef (i.e. planning is super, super important for a financially viable and lower-stress kitchen) and my better half is currently a student (i.e. we are broke as a joke).
Life is better when I can plan what we eat because this means:
- I can budget our tiny income.
- I can control what goes into our food, instead of opening a box of crap made in a factory and hope that the owner of said corporation has my best health interests in mind.
- Making food from scratch doesn’t become a burden when I plan it.
- I can reuse ingredients over and over. For instance, I bought a lot of butternut squash on sale and roasted it all. We ate some for dinner with salt and pepper, and then I used the rest to make a big batch of soup which we then ate all week long. Or, I got strawberries on sale which I used in morning granola. Then I made strawberry cookies, and finally turned the rest into jam – and did this all in under an hour.
To be clear, just because you plan your meals doesn’t mean you can’t go out to eat or have an impromptu meal. It just means you help yourself by having a few meals a week planned out.
Questions To Ask/Answer
There are a few steps to take before you can start:
Be honest with yourself. This isn’t the time to be all like, “I’m going to make every single thing I eat from scratch!” You’ll burn yourself out in a week. Start slow and be honest — do you really want to make mac’n’cheese from scratch, or does that blue box beckon?
How much time do you actually have to commit to this? It will take a while at first, but once you get the hang of your favorite recipes (and maybe bribe your friends into helping) the whole process will go so much faster.
How much money do you really have for food? Remember, this is supposed to save you money, not force you to buy the most expensive organic ingredients. Go to the store with a calculator and a budget in mind.
Save Your Pennies
Now that you have an idea of how much time, money and energy you have for this, you can start deciding what you will make for the weekly meals.
Before that, let’s talk about the meals you eat at restaurants and see how we can make those at home instead. These are the places that I always spent too much money as a hip, young person:
Breakfast. Oh god, so many breakfasts at the neighborhood coffee shop or diner. That’s at least $10-$15 that would have cost me $4 if I had eaten at home. Make yourself some oatmeal with fancy toppings, cook an egg and pull some sausage from the freezer. I’m sure you know how to toast bread.
Lunch. So so so many lunches out before my night shift, or the famous there-is-nothing-in-the-refrigerator-so-I-have-to-go-out excuse. Make yourself some soup on Monday and eat it all week long. Have a quinoa salad made with nuts and dried fruit ready to eat. Add a hunk of delicious bread that you keep in your freezer (frozen bread is a miracle) and you have a full meal.
And coffee. It really can be good at home. I’m pretty sure you won’t die without your $5 double cappuccino. Save that for when you really want it.
If you can make most of your breakfasts, lunches and at least two dinners a week, you’ll be making so much happy progress!
Plan, Shop, Cook, Eat
Now for meal planning! This part is the easy part:
- Plan what you want/need to make.
- Decide when you can make it.
- Go shopping
My week is a little like this: Shop Wednesday and Sunday. Do bulk cooking on Sunday and Monday. Cook dinners as many nights as I can.