Meal planning has been something I’ve been working on ever since Matt and I started living together (over a year now). For some reason it was really easy when I lived by myself. I just went to the store and bought what looked good. I didn’t really think about it, and definitely didn’t have a plan.
Recently I feel like I’m finally getting it down so that the whole process isn’t as daunting and doesn’t take as much time. I can put my menu and shopping list together in a couple minutes, and by the end of the week, we’ve successfully eaten healthy home-cooked meals without spending lots of money or wasting a bunch of food. Hooray!
Here are my 5 Tips for Meal Planning for 2 people:
1. Start a Pinterest board (or more) with recipes that look good. I have several: general meals, veggie-centric foods, paleo recipes, desserts & sweets, and drinks. Before I pin a recipe, I try to make sure and look at the ingredient list and process to make sure I have everything I need (like a crock pot) and/or the ingredients will be easy to find (Garam Masala for example). Every week I sort through these boards and look for recipes that stand out. I then print them out, put them in my recipe notebook, and make my shopping list.
2. Only cook 3-4 days a week. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I was starting to cook for Matt and I, was cooking way too much. Most recipes make enough for 4-6 people, so we would have so much left over, and a lot of it went to waste. Also, I would get so worn out by Friday I wouldn’t want to cook anything and we would end up going out anyway. So now I start the week off with 3 cooking days, Monday – Wednesday. Thursday we usually have leftovers and Friday we’ll go out. Over the weekend we’ll use up any other leftovers and/or make another meal and/or go out. It all depends on what we made that week and how busy our schedule is.
3. One crockpot meal a week. A crockpot is a great tool. I use mine all the time to make stews, roasts, chili, etc. I love having a large amount of a single dish that I can eat for lunch, or we can use for another meal during the week. You have to schedule your time differently and throw it together in the morning instead of after work, but once you get that part down, it’s so easy.
4. Vary your protein. This is pretty obvious, but again, takes some planning and thought. One week I realized we ate chicken 3 days in a row… not very exciting. Now for the 3 meals I make every week, I split it up between chicken, beef and pork or sausage. One of those will be a crock pot meal, the other 2 will be roasted, grilled or baked. It’s much easier coming up with meal ideas when you have a variety of cuts to select from.
5. Keep your pantry and fridge well stocked. Here’s a list of my pantry and fridge basics, and some the veggies I make sure I always have on hand: pasta, pasta sauce, canned soup and chili, rice, soy sauce, a couple mustards, lemon juice, onions, garlic, ginger, mushrooms, bell peppers, spinach or baby greens, eggs and a couple kinds of vinegar. I also keep bacon and ground sausage in my meat drawer. So worst case scenario: you have no leftovers and you can’t go out. Using these simple ingredients you can always throw together a healthy meal.
Speaking of throw together, last-minute meals, I wanted to share one of our all-time favorites I found on the Nom Nom Paleo blog: Baked Eggs with Meat (scroll all the way to the end of this post). It’s so easy and so delicious, I probably make this every other week, and always have the ingredients ready to go if need be.
Baked Eggs with Meat (adapted from Nom Nom Paleo)
oil/fat of choice
1 diced onion
minced garlic to taste
1 package mushrooms
1 bell pepper or any other veggie you have laying around like carrots or celery
1lb ground sausage
1 jar marinara sauce
1 bag baby greens or spinach
Preheat your oven to 350.
In a large, deep sauté pan, brown onion and garlic in your oil or fat of choice. Add mushrooms and any other veggie (NOT LETTUCE) and sauté with salt and pepper until soft and fragrant. Add sausage and brown by moving it around your pan. Stir in your marinara sauce and let it all cook together for a few minutes. Add your lettuce in large handfuls until it wilts.
Pour mixture into a square baking dish. Crack your eggs on top—one in each corner and maybe another 1 or 2 in the middle. Put your baking dish in the oven and set your timer for 8 minutes. Check the consistency of your eggs and bake until your whites are solid and your eggs are runny.
One last note: I wanted to share what I’ve learned with you, however I realize every house hold is different. I work from home, so I have access to my kitchen during the day when I get hungry. And Matt is home some days of the week which I know isn’t common for most of you. When he’s working on set, he always gets his breakfasts and lunches provided for, and sometimes even gets dinner. This has been part of my struggle with meal planning because our schedules are always in flux. I might cook more if he’s around home more, and cook less if he’s working all week.
I hope these tips help you! Please let me know if you have any other tips, notes or suggestions. I’m always looking to make this process better, easier, faster and more fun.
(photo above taken during our engagement session by our friends Lukas & Suzy Van Dyke)