Thursday, January 19, 2012

Meal Planning

I've always had a knack for cooking and feeding people. Since moving in with RB, it's as if my knack* has exploded into an obsession.

Of all things to be obsessed over - I'm obsessed with meal planning. You can unfriend/unfollow at will, I understand.

From discussions with others I've learned that many don't plan meals and most eat out or get take-out much more often than we do. Here's the thing - meal planning is easy and it doesn't take very long at all. It's also a good way to save money, watch what you eat, and reduce the amount of waste you produce in your kitchen from throwing out rotten food.

Here are some of the things that work for RB and I:

1. Google doc with favourite meals: we have a shared Google spreadsheet that lists all of our favourite meals. These are the ones that will always be in my arsenal and I can make again and again. Along with the meal there's a link to the website where I got the recipe or the cookbook it's from (and page number) and then there's a third column that shows the 'last eaten on' date. This is to avoid eating the same things too many times in a row.

This spreadsheet works for me because I have many recipes that I like to go back to but tend to forget about them (there are currently 14 meals listed). I add recipes to the spreadsheet when I remember old favourites or when I discover new ones. The upkeep is very minimal and because it's a Google doc, it's available everywhere.

Benefit: go-to list of meals when you lack inspiration, classics that you've made before and likely take less time as a result.

2. Google calendar showing what's for dinner: If there's one thing I'm more obsessed with than meal planning, it's Google Calendar. I have 10 active calendars. One of which is titled 'What's for Dinner?". On Sunday, or Monday, I take a look at my week and see what I want to make. Since I'm already looking at all the other events during the week I have a good picture of what meals work where. For example, when I should schedule leftovers, when take-out would be best, and when I have extra time.

Benefit: planning your week = saving money = reducing waste = eating better

3. Grocery list in my phone: This one is most important. In my notepad on my phone, I have a note titled 'Groceries'. It is always there and will never be deleted. It's pretty simple, I make my grocery list here. Since I always have my phone, I can add ketchup to the list if I think of it while I'm at the dentist. Nothing gets forgotten. I also try to minimize trips to the grocery store and prevent buying things I already have. I use two tricks with this list.
  1. If I think of something that I'm not sure if I have it or not, I put a question mark beside it so that I know before I leave for the store I should check the kitchen first. I make this list on Sunday or Monday when I'm planning my calendar.
  2. I always put quantities next to ingredients. If I need half a cup of cashews, it's cheaper to get it from the bulk section than buying the 4 cup tub. This way I don't end up with lots of extra ingredients I might not use very often. (Sorry cashews, you're just not on my active snack choices list.)

To keep my inspiration going I also do the following:

1. When I get a new cookbook, I grab a stack of post-its and flag every recipe that I might be interested in trying. That way, when I'm out of ideas, I can grab a book from the shelf and it's already been screened.

2. I bookmark online recipes all the time. My bookmarks list is massive. This is another method of screening recipes in times of low-inspiration. As an aside, I currently don't have a method for managing my online recipe bookmarks, please enlighten me!

So, that's all there is to it. All of these things are now habits for me so they take even less time. I don't tend to plan meals for Friday and Saturday as we likely have plans to go out or there are ample leftovers available. 5-days of planning is enough for me.

Do you plan your meals, what works for you?

*Every time I use the word 'knack' I thick of this Dilbert sketch.


  1. One of my goals this year is to successfully follow meal plans on a weekly basis...I tend to get demotivated once the work week starts and I'm busy.

    But as for bookmarking online recipes I use to just tag recipes that were in my google reader that I liked but it didn't look after the ones I found else where. Then I signed up for Pinterest and its perfect. I pin recipes to different boards and since it shows a picture rather then just the link when I'm going through my saved sites I know exactly what I want.

    I'm actually suprised you aren't already on Pinterest!

  2. Oh and the video is awesome. Best part..."Will he lead a normal life?" "No...he'll be an engineer"

    I sent it to Dan.