The great thing about having a plan – ANY plan – is that you are more likely to execute, even if you don’t execute the plan exactly as planned. Plan on it. (Excuse me while I have a mini competition to sneak as many plans into a paragraph as possible. Plan-tastic. Slap me, please.) That out of the way, the basic point is that you end up with food to eat, and that’s awesome.
If you are new to this, or generally a little anxious in the kitchen/still gaining confidence in your cooking skills, going off plan can lead to moments of terror: “AHHH! I didn’t defrost my chicken thighs and it is TUESDAY and that is chicken thigh day.” Before you toss in the towel with an “F this, I’m going to Chipotle,” take a deep breath. With a little creativity and an assist from google, you can probably create a solid meal from your refrigerator. This used to terrify me, but the bonus of working with high quality, fresh ingredients is that they generally taste pretty good with minimal intervention (e.g, salt + garlic + hot pepper flakes + olive oil = fool proof deliciousness for most vegetables). It’s not always a home run, but that’s okay.
Anyway, it’s been awhile since my posts on meal planning and pre-preparation posts, but the payoff is that meals during the week become significantly less stressful. The prep plan I came up with was still somewhat labor intensive as I had extra time and felt like cooking a lot that week, but it minimized my “what the heck am I eating tonight” and made sure none of our produce went to waste. If my time were more compressed (as it soon will be), the prep plan would be more streamlined and heavy on the crockpot!
I showed my original meal scheme here, and what I actually did is below. Items in green are those that went exactly as planned, black indicates they were on the plan and just shifted based on time/meal ideas/leftovers, and red indicates something that was added after we got a better sense of how much food we needed!
In general, breakfasts and lunches were a breeze this week. I pulled together Sunday dinner while doing my pre-preparation. On Monday, I woke up, and quickly shredded a sweet potato with my borrowed food processor (recently, and reluctantly, returned…)
Topped with fried eggs, it was a delicious start to the work week.Monday’s lunch was a quick taco salad prepared the night before.Monday dinner involved ~20 min sauteeing things for the country captain chicken and then into the oven it went! I steamed the green beans and reheated the corn and roasted peppers in the 10 minutes before serving.
Chicken leftovers reheated well for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday night’s dinner was epic meal time, crispy pork belly style, and the leftover belly made nice mini-meals and meal-time complements for the rest of the week.
By Wednesday, I had used everything pre-prepared in my refrigerator except for the sliced squash (most of that went into the curry and the remainder went into the salmon packet the following evening). We got new produce and I took about 15 minutes to slice some cabbage, wash and stem green beans, and make sure things were ready to eat for the remainder of the week. Lunch on Thursday was looking sparse, and I didn’t feel like turning to canned tuna/salmon/chicken, so I found a quick and easy crockpot recipe to cook overnight and last us through the rest of the week.
The payoff? We made it through the week with no food waste, no stressful “what are we doing for dinner!?” moments, and neither of us ate the same meal more than two days in a row. While I’ll sacrifice novelty for time, it’s nice to have variety. The plan helps provide structure and getting more comfortable in the kitchen helps you be flexible and adjust on the fly, whether it is because you face a particularly vexing cut of meat or unanticipated time constraints. (As they say in the military, “No plan survives first contact.” Semper gumby.)
If you’re new to menu planning, give it a try! If you normally come up with a good plan of attack but don’t pre-prepare, that’s a great place to start and try to save time. Once I more diligently get back into meal planning and pre-prep, our next step will probably be to get a kitchen white board that helps both of us keep tabs on “what’s for dinner?”