Meal planning for two

I never thought I’d get into meal planning. Truth is, I dismissed it as a way for stay-at-home moms to keep their three kids and hardworking husband fed on a steady budget of coupon-funded casseroles. My dual-income-no-kids household looks nothing like that. But lately, partly through the example of my young married PhD student friend who’s an amazing cook, I’ve begun to realize how useful it can be for any size household.

I love to cook. I see it as an awesome creative adventure that tastes good at the end — win win. So I’m the head cook while my boyfriend is usually the sous chef and dishwasher. Recently, though, my workdays have increased by a couple extra hours. The reward is that my firm gets every Friday afternoon off (yay!). But the downside is that the rest of the week I make it home much later than before, worn out and hungry. Nothing comes to mind when I stand in front of the open refrigerator after 10 hours at the office.

Family dinners were important in my childhood. Almost every night we all sat down around 6:30 for home-cooked food that was rarely complicated but always delicious. In high school when schedules were busier, there were always leftovers on hand. My mom was in charge of cooking (though my dad has taken over since he retired!) but even though she had a job, I don’t think she ever really had a meal plan. Maybe it was in her head. She did have a repertoire of reliable recipes which probably made it easier to keep the core ingredients on hand.

My boyfriend’s family had dinner together each night too. His mom doesn’t really enjoy cooking, so she made it easier on herself by declaring a theme for each day of the week. Like Monday pasta, Tuesday tacos, and so on. Even now he can recite the weekly menu by heart.

As a couple we eat out more often than our parents did, and we don’t mind sometimes scrounging pantry meals like carrots with hummus and tuna on a bagel. We also love the flexibility of deciding what to eat at the last minute. But we truly enjoy sitting down together with a real home-cooked meal. There are a ton of documented benefits — it’s healthier, tastier, cheaper — but my main reason is that I just like it.

So I’m going to try meal planning.

I want to:

  • have ideas written down so I don’t have to think after work
  • make sure groceries are in stock for those meals
  • save money by not buying ingredients I don’t end up using
  • cook extra when possible so we have a good stock of homemade leftovers

Here are my “rules” of the game:

  • write down main dishes and sides for each meal
  • leave two or three days blank each week for leftovers/eating out with friends
  • make a shopping list and buy groceries on my free Friday afternoon
  • cook something big and time-consuming once each weekend
  • plan quick meals for nights when we know we’ll be getting home late
  • include one nice breakfast for the weekend
  • try one new recipe each week if I can

I made a little chart to list each night’s meal and the location of recipes. But I just ran across a great suggestion to use Google Calendar for meal planning so you can set reminders to thaw meat, drag meals to different days of the week, and set up recurring meals every few weeks. I love this kind of system so I might have to try it out.

Plan starting October 6:

  • Saturday: out with friends
  • Sunday breakfast: ham and cheese quinoa cups, cantaloupe slices
  • Sunday dinner: BBQ beef brisket, cheesy scalloped potatoes, green beans
  • Monday: leftovers (getting home late)
  • Tuesday: Hawaiian pork burgers, veggies & dip
  • Wednesday: leftovers (maybe that tortilla soup in the freezer)
  • Thursday: Greek chicken kebabs and salad
  • Friday: enchiladas just for me (Dan doesn’t like my favorite version, so I make them when he’s out!)

The ones without links are wonderful family recipes that I hope to blog about in the future.

Do you plan meals? Please tell me about your system so I can figure out how to improve mine as we go along!

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