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September 20, 2015

Meal Planning to Simplify Life—Even if you’re Disorganized.

funny food

Historically speaking, I’ve always been a little disorganized.

I procrastinate—I always had a messy room when I was a kid, I never know what I’m going to wear the next day when I go to bed, and my desk at work is covered in papers.

I guess some people might say I’m bad at time management, but I really don’t think that’s the case.

I always get everything done…just in my own way.

Anyway, I never thought I’d be someone who plans out the week’s meals. But then I entered my senior year of college, and I realized I should probably start cooking for myself. This was right around the time I got sick of my “home cooked meals” consisting of pizza rolls and wasting all my money on fast food.

Growing up, no one in my family ever taught me how to cook, so naturally, 100 percent of my inspiration came from Pinterest. (Thanks, delicious food Pinners.) By the time I was ready to cook one of the yummy-looking recipes, I probably had over 400 Pinned to choose from. So many options! So many ingredients!

Oh, f*ckso much planning.

Determined to cook a real meal (plus save money and eat healthier), and still have the ability to work full time and go to school, I found a way to make my life a little easier. And even though I’m not super organized, it’s something I’ve managed to keep doing. (Granted, I do have my lazy weeks, but hey—still pretty consistent!)

Here’s what I do:

Since it’s generally just me eating the meals I cook, I try to stick to no more than three dinner recipes a week. This gives me the opportunity for leftovers, and a day to be lazy and say, “F*ck it. I’m getting pizza.” Depending on how many people you’re cooking for, adjust accordingly.

I find simple meals to make for breakfast and lunch. If I eat the same thing every day for breakfast all week, I’m totally fine with that. As long as I’m not hungry by 10:00 a.m., life is good. That said, I do like switching up my lunches. Still, I keep things simple. (Tip: fruits and veggies make an easy side to take for lunch.)

I take all the recipes I’ve picked out for the week, and I plug them into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet (you can also just use a calendar or word processor) to give myself a vague idea of what I’m making for each day. I like using my computer because I find it really convenient to include a link to the recipe.

I space out my “cooking” days according to my week’s schedule. For example, if I write down that I’m going to cook something on Thursday because I have class on Friday, I usually put “leftovers” or “lazy day” under Friday. (Tip: leftovers make great work lunches, too.)

Lastly, I make a list of all of the ingredients needed for the week’s recipes, and I add whatever I don’t already have to a grocery list. Since I get paid bi-weekly and don’t particularly enjoy grocery shopping, I do two weeks at a time unless I have plans that I already know will interfere. (Tip: I’ve found that it’s a lot easier to go grocery shopping in the morning before the stores get really crowded.)

Now, being me, I don’t religiously stick to my weekly plan. Things come up, and I change my mind sometimes. The only exception is when something is going to go bad and can’t be frozen. Nonetheless, regularly sticking to the general idea of my weekly plans saves me a lot of hassle.

When it comes to planning meals, I hear a lot of folks say, “Cooking is such a chore!” or “I just don’t have time for that!”
If that’s what you’re thinking as you read this, I’m here to say you do have time for it, and by planning meals out, it actually saves time and definitely makes cooking less of a chore.

How much time do we spend asking ourselves, “What should I have for dinner?”

With meal planning, that question can be entirely avoided on those busy nights after work! The key is simplicity in both planning and cooking. The only time I plan a meal that will take longer than 30 minutes to prepare is when I know I’m going to have the time to make it (which is rare).

If you don’t like cooking at all, just stick with the quick, easy meals that will only take a few minutes to make. A quick Google or Pinterest search of “quick easy recipes” or “20 minute recipes” will give you hundreds of ideas to choose from.
As for the time it takes to plan, it takes less than 30 minutes.

30 minutes for a whole week of simplicity.

I’ve spent more time than that waiting for my order at many restaurants!

Take it from someone who used to hate cooking and still isn’t the most organized person:

It’s cheaper.

It’s healthier.

It’s easy.

It’s a time saver.

And I finally get to put some of my delicious Pinterest inspiration to use.

So what about now? Are you interested?

For the next month, I challenge you to try this out. The first time you do it will probably take the longest, but as you continue doing it, you will see that it just gets easier and easier. Even if you don’t like it after the first week, try to stick with it for the whole month before throwing out the idea.

Your schedule will thank you. Your wallet will thank you. Your health will thank you. So, grab your computer, open a new spreadsheet (or grab a calendar), and start searching for this week’s tasty meals!

 

Relephant:

A Bachelor’s Complete Guide to 5 Days of Easy, Healthy & Delicious Meals.

Author: Stacey Johnston

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Windell Oskay/Flickr

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