Three years ago this month I started taking a new approach to meal planning. It sounds like an exaggeration, but it really has changed my life. If you’re like me, you like to cook, but don’t enjoy deciding what’s for supper, especially under duress. There is nothing that drains the energy and ratchets up the stress quite like arriving home after work tired and hungry, with no idea what to make. Add a couple of tired and hungry kids to the mix, and it is easy to see why there is often a long line at the drive-through.
My new approach takes about 30 minutes a month, 45 if I get fancy. Around the first of the month – ideally before the new month begins – I sit down with a calendar and jot down a supper menu for every night of the month ahead. Usually I have some idea of which nights are likely to be a little hectic or unusual around the dinner hour, so I can plan simple meals for those nights. (“Tacos and leftover squash”) Similarly, I can plan to do a little extra cooking on the weekends if it is going to be a particularly busy week. (“Quiche and salad; bake a squash for Tuesday.”) It really is not that hard, but it has changed how we eat. That far ahead, mood and whim do not factor in – it is easy and neutral. If need or craving arise, I can always change the menu on any given day, but usually I am so glad to have it decided that I just make whatever is on the calendar.
The benefits here are many. Looking at our diet a whole month at a time helps me balance out the protein sources and the kinds of vegetables to make sure we are getting a good variety. It helps me anticipate and create a steady flow of leftovers so we always have something to take for our lunches. I have also found that this method helps eliminate food waste. There are just three people in our family, so it takes us a few meals to get through a roasted chicken or a head of cabbage. By looking ahead, I can shop less often and make a plan to use everything.
Read the rest of the article here.