Last week’s meal plan ended up being slightly ambitious. Big ‘ol pot of chili ended up lasting for four days and I was sick on stuffed pepper night, so it took a bit of time to eat up everything. Furthermore, this week, I’ll be out of the house two nights for dinner and Friday night will be a bit different for Valentine’s day. So, no fancy meal planning this week.
That makes today an excellent opportunity to talk about flexible meal planning. What is it? Flexible meal planning attempts to simplify your grocery shopping, maximize your prep time, and work with the craziness of your life come dinnertime. It’s easy to get the hang of, and is optimal if you have a highly variable schedule or try to emphasize fresh produce in your diet. It’s also a great way of eliminating waste.
How do I build a flexible meal plan? I start by figuring out on how many nights my boyfriend and I could possibly sit down for dinner. On a normal work week, that’s four days. Most of my recipes produce 4-6 servings, so I can reliably count on one night’s dinner lasting for two nights, as long as we don’t eat leftovers for lunch. So, on an average week, I cook twice.
I like to further-flexify my meal planning process by focusing my meals around one or two fresh ingredients. Whatever ingredient(s) I pick will be a major part of what I’m making. Last week, that meant my red bell peppers went in everything. Then, I select my recipes based on what needs to be eaten, such as eggs, cheese, or bread.
I generally do all of my grocery shopping for the work week on Sunday or Monday. While at the store, I’ll get things for our breakfasts and lunches (which are highly predictable) and two nights of cooking. I try to avoid locking myself into specific meals on specific nights, because I have a capricious palette that will resist my planning if I do that. So, I might decide I’m having stuffed peppers, chili, frittata, and enchiladas in a week, but I don’t assign each food a night of the week (contrary to last week’s post).
Finally, I simplify my meals for the week by prepping as much as I can all at once. Generally, this means chopping all of my vegetables for the week at once, but it could also mean browning meat or baking bread, depending on what your family eats.
Voila! That is how we plan our meals in the Cardigan-Clad Kitchen. All in all, this style of flexible meal planning works for me; I know that it doesn’t work for everyone. That said, it enables us to eat a lot of fresh, unprocessed food, and to keep down the number of things in our tiny pantry.
What tricks do you have for weekly meal planning? How do your habits change from week-to-week? Share your thoughts below!