If we figured up the number of hours and minutes spent each week on planning, preparing, enjoying, and cleaning up meals, I think we'd be shocked. It takes up a HUGE chunk of time!! And everyone has tips and tricks on how to make it faster/easier/better/healthier/tastier/etc. A quick walk down the cookbook aisle at Barnes and Noble will yield any number of 5/15/30-minute meal cookbooks. I've tried some of these, and I think they often stretch the truth a bit in their promises. It would be pretty easy to make just about any meal in 15 minutes if you have a couple sous-chefs peeling, grating, chopping, slicing, and dicing all of the ingredients for whatever dish you're making.
I don't know about you, but I don't have any sous-chefs. I have a two year old who likes to "help," and Husband is always willing to jump in a lend a hand, but sometimes he's still working while I'm cooking. So what is the real secret to simpler and less expensive meals times (because, let's face it, if you're trying to eat anything that resembles a whole-foods diet, it can get pricey): a solid plan and a meal rotation.
Yep, that's it. Here's what that looks like for our family; feel free to try it out and adapt it as needed.
Each week, I make a thorough meal plan. By thorough I mean that I even plan breakfast and lunch. Cereal is a pretty rare treat around here because it took me all of 2.5 seconds to realize that cereal is 1. rarely good for you and 2. gone in about a day around here since it's used for its intended breakfast, mid-morning snack, and bedtime snack. POOF! Gone. And eggs are a pretty common lunch item around here because they're less expensive than meat, everyone loves them, and it's easy to hide tons of veggies in them. Oh, and they're quick which is perfect since naptime is right after lunch.
Then, using that menu, I make a grocery list. I add two or three different types of fruits to the list to have on hand for snacking, and boom. Done. The week's meal plan goes on the fridge so that no meal is a mystery, meaning, if Husband is taking over meal prep one evening, he doesn't have to come ask me what I was planning for supper; he can just look on the fridge.
I like variety. I love trying new things in the kitchen. I thrive on change and excitement, and that is true even of our meals. The idea of eating the same 7 or 10 meals on rotation sounds like a really great way to make me never want to eat those 7 or 10 meals again after about 3 weeks, so when I say that we follow a meal rotation this is more what I mean:
- We eat chicken twice a week (only humanely raised, which I buy in bulk when Earth Fare has it on sale)
- We eat beef once a week (only grass-fed, which I buy in bulk when Earth Fare has it on sale)
- We eat fish once a week (usually wild-caught salmon)
- We eat either turkey or some type of high-quality pork once a week
- The other meals are vegetarian with the occasional vegan meal thrown in for fun (Note: we avoid soy like the Plague aside from the occasional splash of organic, fermented tamari)
- Breakfasts consist of a variety of shakes, pancakes/waffles/crepes, muffins, and oats
- Lunches are often leftovers from the previous night's supper or eggs
- We round out each meal with a variety of veggies and, occasionally, grains of some variety, preferably sprouted, but sometimes there just isn't time for all that.
- Fruits, as previously stated, are for snacks
And that's it! The plan and the rotation makes meal prep much simpler because it eliminates the time I was previously spending standing in front of an open refrigerator trying to decide what to make for any given meal. It makes grocery shopping much simpler, too, because I'm not trying to think of meal ideas while wandering around the store gathering random ingredients; we also waste less because everything I buy has a purpose now. Meal prep is also simplified because, when I really am on my A-game, I can cook all the chicken for the week at the same time and eliminate that step on our second chicken day each week.
As if those aren't enough reasons to start taking the time to make a meal plan, we've also saved a lot of money. Not only am I only buying what we need, but I'm also not sending Husband to the store 4 times a week to pick up things we don't have that I forgot to buy at the store.
Keep your eyes open for the cookbook/possible app I have in the making because I'm going to use them to go one step further and offer meal plans like what I've described above! I'm hoping to have, at minimum, the cookbook in e-book form by the end of this year. I'll keep you posted!
What are some of your tips for making meals lower-stress and less time-consuming?