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Meal Planning, or How to Lose Less Time Cooking


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Last update: 18/01/2021


Hey there Zen Organizers,


Today, we’re going to talk about one of my favourite topics: food! I love cooking and learning new recipes. I believe food should be a priority for everyone and we should all take more time to cook for ourselves and our loved ones. However, with our hectic lives, it’s not always possible to dedicate a lot of time to cook, let alone think about what we’re going to eat as our next meal.


How many times has this scenario happened to you: it’s 7:30 PM, you just got back from work. You’re tired. You have no desire whatsoever to think about what you’re going to eat, and yet, you are obliged to think about it and prepare it...


Answer honestly, when this situation happens, do you usually end up eating a healthy and hearty meal? Or do you end up eating some unhealthy ready-made meal?


Did you know that our capacity to make choices declines as the day goes by? You’re indeed more likely to make poor choices in the evening than you are in the morning. Consequently, in the aforementioned situation, our tendency to resort to unhealthy but quick solutions such as frozen meals or take-out is scientifically justifiable.


However, this doesn't mean we can't change our eating habits. On the contrary! With the proper tips, it is possible to cook and eat healthily 99% of the time without having to spend too many hours in the kitchen.


So if you’ve been wanting to eat more wholesome and delicious yet simple meals for a while, keep reading!



1- Create a list of meals


If you had to choose only one of the tips I mention in this article, I think you should pick this one. Why? Because it's the easiest one to put into place. It's also the basis for the following tips.


To put it into practice, you simply have to write down a list of easy, delicious, and healthy meals your family and yourself like. Try to list at least ten meals. This way, you'll have a good selection of meals to choose from when you have to cook.


Here are some of my favourite, easy and quick meals: vegetable couscous, omelets, pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables, legume salads, and sandwiches.


Having this meal list helps me a lot when I have no inspiration. It allows me to make healthy choices even when I would be tempted to order in or eat less healthy options instead.


This list is also very useful when I do my meal plan, which is the next tip!



2- Plan your meals


Meal prep and batch cooking also help save time on the preparation of the ingredients. This is especially true if you have a food processor. For example, if I cook three meals that all require onions, I put the total number of onions needed in the food processor and within 10 seconds, it’s all chopped up!


I very often refer to my meal list mentioned above when planning my meals for the week. That’s why this list is very important. If you only write down ten meals on your list, though, you will quickly end up eating the same thing again and again. I recommended starting with ten meals so the exercise wouldn't seem too overwhelming at first. However, I would recommend adding as many meal ideas as possible to your list as you discover new recipes.


For example, my meal list currently contains more than 70 meal ideas. It might seem a lot, but I like to eat a wide variety of meals, but more importantly, it truly makes my meal planning much simpler. And don’t worry, your list will naturally grow as you cook more and discover new recipes (see point 4 below).



List of meals divided into different categories
Meal Ideas spread in my Bullet Journal

Enough about the meal list. It’s time to talk about meal planning.


I usually plan my meals for the following week, one or two days before going grocery shopping. This way, I only buy what I need, therefore saving money (and time while shopping), and, ultimately, avoiding food waste.


I always try to have all five lunches and dinners from Monday to Thursday planned, so I never have to wonder what we'll eat throughout the week.


I don’t usually plan for Friday night or the weekend since we have more time to cook on those days and usually eat out once or twice. Also, we sometimes have some leftovers from the week so we eat them during the weekend to avoid food waste.


Although meal planning might seem tedious, too organized, and rigid, it’s actually liberating to stop wasting time and energy thinking about the food we have to eat three times a day (21 meals per week!). That’s a lot of decisions to make in our already overwhelming lives!


Moreover, you don’t have to strictly follow your plan. It's there to guide you and help you be more zen about what you eat. If one night you feel like cooking a different meal than the one you had planned, by all means, go for it! As a bonus, you can recycle the meal you didn’t cook in your meal plan for the following week!



3- Do a meal prep or batch cooking session


On the path to eating more healthily and varied, the next step is to do some upstream preparation. I know it might seem counterintuitive to spend a few continuous hours cooking on your free day to save time during the week, but believe me, it does!


The concept is fairly simple: instead of cooking something every day, you prepare your meals for the week (or month, if you're really motivated!) ahead. There are mainly two different ways you can do that.


  1. Batch cooking. If you don't want to prepare whole meals in advance, you can simply prepare all the necessary ingredients for your weekly meals without cooking them. For example, on Sunday, you can cut all the vegetables you’ll need for your stir-fried rice. You can also already cook your rice. This way, when the time comes to “cook” your stir-fried rice, you'll only need to assemble the ingredients. Instead of taking 30 to 45 minutes to cook your dinner that night, it will only take you about 10-15 minutes!

  2. Meal prep. Otherwise, you can cook complete meals during the weekend so you only have to reheat them during the week. This, of course, requires more time on the weekend, but it saves so much time during the week. To increase the efficiency of this method, I like to prepare our lunch portions ahead so they're ready to be packed. It’s also a good idea to freeze the portions you plan on eating later during the week to prevent them from spoiling.


Apart from having most weekly meals prepared in advance, both methods help cut down on the number of dishes to wash. Since you cook multiple things at the same time, you can only rinse the pots and pans before cooking a new meal instead of washing them thoroughly. You can also rinse and reuse the various utensils instead of washing them every time. This aspect alone saves a lot of time, trust me!


Meal prep and batch cooking also help save time on the preparation of the ingredients. This is especially true if you have a food processor. For example, if I cook three meals which all require onions, I put the total number of onions needed in the food processor and within 10 seconds, it’s all chopped up!


At this point, you might be tempted to try one of these two techniques but wonder how to apply them concretely. I think there will probably be some trial and error before finding what works best for you, but ultimately, everyone will find the best organization for them. There is no right or wrong way to apply the techniques. Do what works best for you!


I personally prefer meal prep because I arrive home late on weekdays and prefer to enjoy my evening doing other things. And, with this technique, I’m never too tired to eat well since everything is already ready! So it's a win-win for me!


As for how I apply the technique, I cook three complete meals each week. I find that this is the right number to have some variety throughout the week without having to cook too many different meals, which would take more time. I’m usually able to cook these three meals and a cake, all within two hours. It isn't this much time if you think about all the things I’m able to cook within this amount of time. If I didn’t do it this way, I would have to spend at least 30 minutes every day to cook dinner, plus the time to wash the dishes.


So, for me, this really is a no brainer: meal prep (or batch cooking) is definitely a time and a life-saver!

 

If you want templates that help you put into practice the 3 steps mentioned above, feel free to download the workbook I've prepared for you!

 

Putting these tips into practice


After reading all these tips, you might feel very motivated to put them all into action at once and revolutionize the way you used to prepare your meals. That’s great, and I’m glad these few tips have had this impact!


However, I would recommend going slowly but steadily. Start implementing one step at a time. Why? Because this way, there’s a bigger chance you’ll acquire these new habits and stick to them in the long run.


That’s why I would recommend implementing one tip into your routine and see if it helps you. If it does, then you can go on with the second one, then with the third one, and so on. Since it takes approximately three weeks for a habit to form, try implementing each tip for three weeks before proceeding to the next one.


There you have it Zen Organizers, my personal tips to eat more healthily and varied almost all the time. If you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments section, on Instagram, or on Facebook, so we can all benefit from them!


I wish you, as always, a zenly organized life,


Sarah



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