About, Food, Meal Plan

Meal Planning- A History


I have written about meal planning before here and here. I realize though that those posts are more nuts and bolts of meal planning, practical and methodical. I want to share my journey with meal planning in more of a story format, because it might help you, and if not it is just fun to read. I have been cooking for a long while. I remember helping chop vegetables for salad, making croutons and garlic bread (recipes I plan to share soon), helping with baking projects and just generally being in the kitchen. I love many things about cooking and food, but what I am starting to learn that ties it all together is a sense of wonder. From these few ingredients you can create a number of incredible things. I still feel this way when it comes to food, particularly about bread. I remember getting a cookbook for kids when I was little and using it to make scrambled eggs. I used to decide what to cook, by thinking about what I wanted and finding it in a cookbook, I was lucky to grow up with a house that had many. This worked for me, but also kept me in the comfort zone of things I knew and that I knew what to expect from them.

As I got older, I started to acquire cookbooks of my own, mostly from a big library book sale. This is where I started to get creative. I chose an old Gourmet cookbook and I decided to start cooking from it, rather than going based on instinct, I started to go in order. I have many patterns in my decision making and this is one of them. This was around the time I decided to read my books in alphabetical order, which has since gone bust as a system since I never made it to the C’s. I enjoyed this because my cooking was less about feeding myself and more about feeding others. I continued this pattern, choosing a cookbook making the first few recipes and moving on. This was also partly my method in college. That was the first time I felt strong constrictions based on a budget. This method was how I cooked in Florida too.  It was not until we moved to Iowa that this started to change.

I used the opportunity of our move to decide to cook more and go out to eat less. For a while, I would think of what I wanted to cook, buy the ingredients and make it. I did this for every recipe, and yes it worked. I realized through doing this I had a harder time sticking to a budget, because I fell prey to instinct and grocery shopping without a list is not great for me. I realized after listening to a podcast for teachers (I was teaching then) that it was more efficient to meal plan. If I batched all the shopping, together it would take less time than shopping each time I ran out of food. This was the start of my journey into meal planning. I found a template and gave it a shot and easily realized that my husband and I do not eat as much as a family, we did not need as many meals. We realized we need 5 maybe 6 different meals to get us through dinner and lunches for the week. I plan out a couple of breakfast options to make sure we do not run out, but in general that is all we need. I started doing this as an experiment. I found that simply by planning our meals and strategically shopping we were able to keep to our budget more easily. By strategic shopping, I meal considering price differences at stores and shopping accordingly. For example, we buy most of our food from Trader Joe’s because we are buying mostly unprocessed foods and they sell their produce by unit rather than weight which often means we get more food for less. We also buy cheese there, not because it is cheaper but because I find it usually tastes better. We buy meat at Hy-Vee because it is cheaper there and select items unavailable at Trader Joe’s. Occasionally if what we are looking for is very obscure we will go to other stores, or Amazon for spices and things that are not produce.

If you want to start meal planning and are not sure where to start, break it down into smaller tasks. Identify what is currently most problematic, maybe just start with breakfast, or lunch. Plan those out and see how it goes, you will often find you need to adjust or you overestimated or underestimated. This is a learning curve that you will start to understand better with trial and error. Also after finishing reading Bread and Wine, I realized not everyone is as big of a planner as me. That is okay, but then a great way to view meal planning is what are the staples of your family, the things you need. What are the produce you always want to eat, or the grains you use regularly? You can just make a list of staples and replenish them every week maybe adding a new ingredient or recipe to spice it up once a month. As time goes on, I realize what works for me will not work for everyone and that is okay, you need to embrace you in all your you-ness and find a way of eating that works for you. A way that doesn’t overwhelm you, or stress you further. Last week I had a busy day of shopping trying to find just the right sweater and I was exhausted by decision fatigue. See the video below for more information on that, it is a very real thing. For me coming home and knowing what we were eating was calming and relaxing, I loved not having to decide again. Meal planning in this way gives me peace of mind and calm, knowing I will not be rushing to figure out what to make, but instead have it ready to go.



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