Thursday, July 31, 2014

Meal Planning for Beginners/ How to Meal Plan.

My lovely friend Brigid Kaelin recently tapped me for a guest blog. This was pretty easy to ignore until she called me out publicly on her birthday week! I guess I have a knack for entertaining. Although as a working mom of two, I do far too little of it myself, I get enlisted all the time to help plan couples showers, birthday bashes, and (most recently) a heart-healthy, kid-friendly, vegetarian-friendly barbecue. That last one is probably deserving of its own blog. Today, I’m going to write about something a little more mundane. Meal planning.

So this is MY fridge (Brigid's fridge). It's a mess.
I'm hiring Colleen to meal plan for us all.
by Colleen M.

“What do you want for dinner?” “I dunno, what do you want?”

Apparently, a lot of people struggle with this. I think the key to meal planning -- like so many things – is striking the balance between not making an effort and not trying too hard. I’ve definitely been guilty of both at one point or another. It always amazes me, though, that the moments when I seem to impress people the most are those when I am barely trying.

I remember a certain red-headed friend gushing when I served her vegetable stir fry with Ramen noodles and frozen pot stickers. Ramen noodles! In her defense, it had been a busy week and it was probably the first home-cooked meal she’d had in days. Also, I took the time to arrange all of the pot stickers facing the same way (really about 40 seconds, but it made it look sooo pretty!) and throw together a house dipping sauce (Thai peanut salad dressing out of a bottle with soy sauce mixed in).

So what’s the proper balance?


Make an effort.

Don’t try too hard.

·       One of the biggest complaints I hear about meal planning is that people end up throwing things away. So, don’t over-plan. Plan meals a week at a time, and go shopping for ingredients every week. This is the only way to eat fresh produce.

·      Aim for a little variety. Brainstorm lists of Asian dishes, Italian dishes, soup-and-sandwich combos, cook-out menus, and the like. Then, choose one from each column and save the rest for another week.

·      It has been said that cooking is the only art which involves all the senses. Food should look good. Stop serving things out of pots and pans (if you do that). Get out a serving bowl. Arrange the pot stickers. Take the extra minute or two to make things pretty. It’s worth it.

·      If you want to eat in five nights a week, plan four meals. I don’t know about your family, but often something comes up in ours and we accept a last-minute dinner invitation or have a late night and order pizza. Sometimes, we have a lot of leftovers and make a meal of those. 

·      As a last resort, have a couple of pantry meals on-hand or go with the old B for D routine (breakfast for dinner). One of the biggest excuses complaints I hear about meal planning is that people end up throwing things away. So, don’t over-plan.

·      Yes, I know how to make tortillas from scratch, and pasta, and gnocchi, and amazing Naan. Yes, it tastes better. No, I don’t do it all the time. Are you kidding? I’d weigh 300 lbs. and never get anything done!

·      Limit yourself to one new recipe a week. Stick to what you know and expand your repertoire slowly. You don’t run a 10K without working up to it. If you try three new recipes in one night, you’re bound to over-extend yourself and get burnt out.

Apparently, I don’t take very many food pictures. Here’s another easy (but pretty) fruit dessert:

Brigid here: I've already tapped Colleen for several more foodie posts, so look out for more from her. How's that for calling her out publicly??? Good thing I've known her forever, or she might defriend me. Now to attempt a meal plan...


  1. Only problem is, us beginners have no idea what a "pantry meal" is.... :)

    1. Ha! I didn't know that either. My guess is, like, a jar of pasta sauce and some noodles?

  2. Ha! I didn't know that either. My guess is, like, a jar of pasta sauce and some noodles?