I used to live for my planner during college. Every date and time were perfectly mapped out. My class schedule was constant enough that I knew when I’d be eating most meals and, since I was just cooking for myself, it was pretty easy to stock up on things and only grocery shop once every 3ish weeks.
Now I cook for two. My work schedule changes weekly AND I’m eating with new dietary restrictions.
I tried mapping out every meal when I first started meal planning. I didn’t like that I had no freedom to randomly decide I wanted falafel one night instead of the meal I had bought the stuff for. I also didn’t like that planning for the specific amount of time meant having to go to the store on a specific day. Sometimes M and I would both be working and couldn’t go to the store so… we had no healthy foods left to cook and ended up eating poptarts or chips for dinner. Not great.
I think I finally found something that works for us now.
One night I grabbed every cookbook on the shelf and had M (unwillingly, I might add) write down all the stuff he’d really like to try. I did the same. So now we just have a running list of recipes that I’ll eventually make.
For the actual planning, I look at my schedule to see when I’m gonna be able to go to the store and *try* to guess when my next trip will be. It also matters greatly if M is able to go with me because I can’t carry everything home by myself. If he can’t go, I’ll plan to buy half the stuff on my trip and let him get the rest later. Grocery shopping in nyc is… it’s an experience.
I also have to check the times I’ll be at work. What meals will I actually be home to cook for and when do I need to eat leftovers?
I try to focus on recipes in the same family, so it does help to pick things that are in season. For example, we had a mexican-inspired corn salad the same week I made a mexican-inspired watermelon salad. Both used cilantro, cotija cheese & lime juice, so I was able to use up all of the ingredients rather than them sit in the fridge forgotten.
So, instead of deciding what days we’ll eat certain meals, I just pick one breakfast for each of us, two lunches for each of us, and two dinners to share. At least that’s what it’s been so far. If I want to change it, I will. Fun stuff. A sample list can be found on my easy egg bake recipe post.
The method usually goes something like this: See if there’s anything in the fridge, freezer or cabinet that can be combined for a meal. Eat that first or plan around it. Pick a couple meals from our cookbook list that sound good. Compare ingredients. Narrow it down to maybe two recipes that use similar ingredients. Buy eggs. Because that’s the only planned breakfast we’ve come up with so far.
I write everything down that we’ll have, but without a set schedule. The positives of this method are that it allows us freedom to stray from the plan. Sometimes we’ll randomly make plans with friends or I’ll get a babysitting job or be scheduled for night shifts so I can’t cook that night. (Leftovers and cooking in bulk are friends!!)
The cons are, I have trouble portioning. We tend to have extra ingredients at the end of the week that I then have to figure out how to use. (Sometimes it works out! Like when I randomly had extra kale, too ripe bananas, ripe pineapple, and almost expiring coconut milk and minimalist baker posted a green smoothie recipe with all those ingredients…..) I also usually accidentally make way too much of something because we never know how hungry we’ll be and I overestimate. But is that a con, really? You can decide.
It can also lead to food waste if you don’t put dates on your prepped food! I let half of my last egg bake go bad because I forgot about it. Into the trash it went. Sad.
Because my meal plans are kind of a rambling mess and so was this description, it may just be more helpful to show you…
Here’s what I’m planning for this week and how I got here:
CURRY & RICE
What I had left from last week that needed to go: raw broccoli, kale, riced cauliflower, opened coconut milk.
- This seemed like it could be curried and souped. So it was. Recipe coming soon. 🙂 Add some rice, which I always have stocked up in bulk. Add some chicken, which I always buy in the large frozen bags at Trader Joes. A meal.
- I decided to buy 2 servings of prepackaged chana masala to go with this just because I love it.
SOUTHERN PINTOS & CORNBREAD
What I have in the cabinets just sitting there: lots of canned food my dad sent me, packaged corn bread (not gluten free), lentils, rice, and tons of spices.
- I bought cornmeal from a farmer’s market a few months ago and it expires in December. A while away, but I thought I’d give my first homemade cornbread a go since I can’t eat the packaged stuff anymore. This required buttermilk, which I added to the grocery list.
- Had a can of pintos, chow chow (I told you I’m southern) in the fridge and cajun seasoning.
- Side item: ANOTHER package of broccoli that needed to be cooked. I even made my own ranch from mayo and extra buttermilk!
BBQ AND SLAW
- I had planned on having pork one day last week, but I made so much food that we ended up not using it. I pulled it out of the freezer for this week and am really excited to make pulled pork with a north carolina style sauce yayyyy. Add cabbage to the list to make my mom’s slaw recipe to go with it.
To be honest, I kept thinking I didn’t need lunch because my new job provides it for me. But I forgot I wasn’t starting there this week… That’s next week. Oops! Luckily we have extra bread (and gluten free bread), so peanut butter sandwiches will be just fine. Also! Freezing bread. It’s a LIFESAVER.
Any leftovers from dinner will be packaged up for a lunch too.
EGGS AND AVOCADO
I told you I like eggs. Add avocado to the grocery list. I scrambled a bunch so I could heat them up and eat with avocado for my early mornings. M prefers hard boiled, whatever, I think it’s gross i’m sorry
So that’s it. That’s what we’re eating this week! The good part about accidentally buying too much one week means buying less the next. Our entire week’s grocery list this time was only 3 items (though… I bought flowers and extra eggs and extra chicken just to have on hand). Still. Feeding 2 people for $25 for a whole week sounds pretty good to me.
Let me know your meal planning and money saving tricks in the comments below!