I joined Toastmasters several weeks back. It is a national (international?) organization focused on becoming better and more effective communicators, mostly through public speaking. I recently had my 2nd speech. It was supposed to be about organizing your speech – intro, body, conclusion, etc. My mind went to a recipe because of its clear steps but realized it would be difficult without a real demonstration and that was more of an undertaking than I wanted. My next thought was meal planning. To me, there are clear steps you can take to become a better meal planner and some clear results. My speech was ok, people seemed to enjoy it (oh yes, you get feedback!) but I also went quite a bit over time. No matter, I feel like my topic was relevant for me and for all other busy professionals out there so I thought I would share my outline here! (Well, a somewhat cleaned up and added to for clarification version of my outline.)
Meal Planning: it’s not just for housewives and stay at home moms. It actually makes life easier for busy professionals.
- You will eat healthier.
- You will save money.
- You will save time and become more efficient.
1. stock your freezer and pantry.
- Frozen veggies and fruits! Fresh produce is wonderful but it has a life span and since frozen veggies are flash frozen immediately they often have more nutritional value. If you have veggies on hand, fresh or not, you have no excuse for not including at least one per meal.
- Canned items. I like canned corn and beans and also some canned soups. I am very picky about canned soups and find myself buying the gourmet brands in the new fancy pouches and plastic containers – so not really canned. But there are some brands that keep the sodium low and the content hearty.
- Non-perishables like brown rice, quinoa, pasta, etc. I love the Uncle Ben’s 90 sec microwavable pouches but also have clear plastic containers filled with others grains and pastas. I love the organized look in my pantry but also know when I am running low on something and need to refill. Best places to refill are from bulk bins like from Earth Fare and Whole Foods – it is less expensive because you don’t have to pay for packaging.
- Sauces like pasta sauce, BBQ sauce or salsa can add flavor and/or round out a meal.
- Meats that you can take out the day before to thaw or put in the crockpot in the morn to cook all day.
- Make ahead meals that you freeze and then can either put in the oven or crock-pot (do this seasonly), the occasional frozen pizza (the ones from Trader Joe’s are bound to be better for you than Papa John’s).
- When you have a pantry and freezer that is stocked with convenient items to either make a meal or round out a meal, those evenings when you are too tired to cook and tend to get take-out, you can even faster microwave some rice, rinse a can of beans, and add some corn and salsa for a tasty, well-balanced meal. And if you are stocked with healthy items you have no excuse to not put together a healthy AND convenient meal. Saving money, thinking more healthy, and saving time.
2. stock your fridge each week.
Stock your fridge with regular and or favorite items that you know will be great for go-to snacks or side dishes. For me, I almost always have these items in my fridge:
- Spinach, salad, and/or kale. You can eat a salad with almost anything as a side and you know you’ve got your vegetable. You can also sneak things like spinach into meals very easily even if you’re afraid of the green stuff.
- Apples – having items on hand for snacking is also good so that you are more likely to go for the apple that is already sliced and waiting for you than for the brownie box that takes 45 min to cook. Apples are easy to pack for lunches and I also like them sliced in oatmeal or salads.
- Lunch meat is great for lunches – I send sandwiches for P’s lunches often.
- Onions are great to flavor almost any savory dish.
- Sweet potatoes are a very healthy side dish and also heavy enough that I can make them the center of a meal. One of my favorites is kale and sweet potato hash with bacon and onions, topped with a runny egg.
- Eggs – great source of protein, on sandwiches in salads, etc. And there are so many ways to cook them!
3. Plan out your meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) once each week.
I am a big fan of planning out our meals, dinners and lunches because I make a lunch for myself and P every day. I typically send a granola bar or homemade muffin with P for breakfast and I eat at the office from my stash there.
- Use what you have. I take several things into account when I meal plan: portion size – P eats more than me, period – creating well balanced meals with a fruit or veggie in every meal, what is in the cabinet and fridge that can either be the base of a meal like frozen chicken breasts, and what we have that will pair with it. The majority of my meals come from items we already have at home so that I don’t have to go to the store for little visits. I’m bad about going in for one thing and coming out with 5 so I try to control my visits.
- Be flexible. Sometimes you’re not in the mood for the black bean & sweet potato burritos you had planned and you go for the frozen ravioli instead. It’s ok to be flexible, listen to your body and mood and go for what you feel like cooking or really want to eat. That’s why your kitchen is stocked with options. And plan for one or two meals out if that’s what you like. Tt’s your life and your plan
- Plan for leftovers. I technically cook for two but I am always considering leftovers or other ways to use the food I made for lunches. I try to limit the amount of sandwiches I send Phil. Keep it interesting and you’re less likely to get bored and start eating out again.
- Think about how much money you would save each month by not eating out for lunch every day? $50/wk, 4 wks/month – that’s easily $200 saved right there.
4. shop according to your plan.
It is hard for me to stick to my list in the grocery store. There is often at least one thing that goes in that I wasn’t planning on, but having that list and your plan really keeps the grocery budget down. I can shop for 2 people who eat almost every meal, three meals a day, from home for about $200/month and that includes wine. Occasionally I blow the budget but it a conscious decision to do so. I will splurge on the expensive cheeses P likes so much or we need to do a major restocking of items.
- I typically shop once a week but I know people who go every day and buy for dinner. It doesn’t matter.
- Think about the money you will save if you’re not just throwing whatever in the buggy while walking down the aisles, when you have a targeted plan and you’re not just wandering and picking up everything that looks good.
- You will have less waste too because you didn’t buy too much food you couldn’t eat before it spoils.
- You’ve also cut your time in the store down because you know exactly what you’ve come for.
To conclude: meal planning will help you eat healthier, save money both on groceries and eating out, and it will help you be more efficient. So how are we doing these things: stocking your kitchen with easy, convenient yet still healthy foods, plan out your meals in advance and shop according to that plan.
Easy peesy. Any other tips you can share to make it easier for beginners??