Even the most casual home chef will tell you that meal planning is a smart idea: it saves time (fewer last-minute trips to the store) and money (less wasted food, grocery lists that correspond with what you actually eat, fewer restaurant outings), and ups the odds that you’ll make something relatively healthy–as opposed to ordering pizza or Pad Thai because you have nothing to cook.
But … I’d be lying if I didn’t say that meal planning stresses me out a little. Coming up with a week’s worth of meals in advance has always seemed complicated, if not creativity-sapping. Then last week, I read a post from Meagan Francis, who runs the über-inspiring blog The Happiest Mom, that made me realize I’d been going about meal planning the wrong way.
Instead of my reinventing-the-wheel strategy, Meagan employs a brilliant technique she calls the “Six Meal Shuffle”, which involves assigning a category for each night of the week–for example, Monday could be “Soup Night,” Tuesday “Salad Night,” Wednesday “Homemade Pizza Night,” and so on.
Meagan writes: “Six basic meal categories, with a day off for leftovers, take-out or those busy “everybody fend for yourself” nights. The beauty is that you can adapt it to match your family’s lifestyle and your own skills, preferences and confidence levels. Insecure cooks or those who need to keep things really simple can literally make the same six meals over and over. Those who want a bit more variety can create broader categories and then experiment within those categories. The structure is actually freeing, because you can say to yourself, “Okay, Tuesday is pasta night. I’m sick of spaghetti. What can I do that’s more exciting?”
How easy is that? Having set categories takes the guesswork out of making dinner night after night without totally sapping the creative aspect of cooking. (And it’s not like you can’t skip a night when you have other plans or are itching to make a new recipe that you stumbled upon).
As Meagan says, “there’s nothing wrong with repetition. Yes, variety can be a great thing. I love cookbooks and cooking shows. But when you’re already struggling to make a meal plan and stock your fridge and pantry with enough basics to keep your fingers off the pizza-delivery speed dial button, choices aren’t always your friend. And if your cooking skills are shaky, too many recipes–equalling too much to learn–can be overwhelming. Look at it this way: Even if you make the exact same meals over and over, it’s a lot better than resorting to fast food or over-salted, preservative-laden boxed and frozen meals.“ (Read more about the Six Meal Shuffle here.)
On a semi-related note, Meagan’s competing for a fantastic blogging gig; if you have a second, click here to vote for her (it only takes a second–no registration required).