I cook for one and while that may sound like an opportunity for less time in the kitchen, it actually comes with many challenges. There are no other people around to keep you motivated to prepare healthful meals at home. On the up side, you can really practice catering to your own preferences.
- Be honest with yourself – No matter how many people you are cooking for, you need to be real about how much time you are really going to dedicate to meal planning and preparation. I enjoy planning a long cooking day once a month when I can prepare and store those freezer friendly meals. This ensures that I have healthful alternatives when I have an unexpetedly long day, a deadline is looming, or I want a night to be lazy at home.
- Plan, Plan, & Plan – Planning is really the key to more efficient meal preparation. My plan will inlcude recipes that will use ingredients that I already have on hand as well as meal ideas for the week with a shopping list. My meal plan is something that takes into account my schedule for the week and/or month. A plan will also include all the other things in life I need to work within or work around. This week I have a neighborhood social activity, dissertation revisions, a dieting dog, and then the regular day to day work/exercise/enjoyment I will want to work within.
- Choose a Planning System -With a quick search of “weekly meal planner” you can obtain hundreds of options. I tend to either use a meal planning program on my computer or my own version of a weekly meal plan. I tend to use a computer version since I like to look back and reuse plans. The free printable provided is one from NiftyMom.com. What I like about this printable is that it has all meals and snacks listed. Having something on paper can make grocery shopping a bit easier since you will not skip to just focusing on dinner in your plan. This is also a strategy for saving money on lunches or meals away from home since you can plan ahead and pack a leftovers for lunch.
- Clean Your Food Storage Areas – Throw out old items and those items that you know you are not going to use. Having a regular routine for cleaning food storage areas may also give you some ideas on foods you might want to prepare during the week. I have some 1 pound ground beef packages that have been in the freezer a few months so this week, I’ll be using some for my meals. I have also been focusing on returning to a plant based diet so cleaning the refridgerator has made room for more fresh fruits and vegetables in the crispers and on additional shelves.
- Plan Breakfasts – I am not a fan for cooking breakfast on work days. Many days, getting in my workout, preparing for work, and taking care of my dog is enough to tackle in the morning. I like to plan easy meals to get me started in the morning such and a smoothie, fruit and yogurt, overnight oats, or even just a large glass of milk with a banana. Breakfast can even be a sandwich if that is what works for you. Plan something that you know will work for you.
- Preparing 3-5 meals (dinner/lunch) can usually provide enough variety and save on time spend cooking. Since I tend to plan something simple for breakfast (ideas below), preparing 3-5 lunch/dinner meals each week means that I really only eat the same thing two or three times in the week. I have learned that the most I can enjoy the same meal in one week is about 4 times. If that potato casserole is in front of me a fourth time, I really lose my appetite and it might mean several months of avoiding potatoes as a result. With this strategy you just list the 3-5 meals that you plan to prepare that week taking into account planned outings or social events. This week my 5 meals will be-
- baked penne pasta
- pesto spagheti squash with mushroom beef meatballs
- roasted vegetables and baked chicken
- chicken salad sandwich
- roasted vegetable stew
- Plan Stand Bys – This will be a list of those meals that you can quickly prepare and that you will most likely have the ingredients on hand to prepare. This could be a bowl of cereal, eggs and toast, grilled cheese, and other staple meals that will get you through the harshest of days.
- Shakshuka – eggs from hell – is a great recipe that is filling and delicious with a few ingredients that I tend to have on hand. It is also an easily adaptable recipe for when you don’t have specific items. At its most basic, eggs, diced tomatoes in sauce, and jalapeno really make a great meal.
- Frozen Meatloaf – I have a few individually frozen meatloaves on stand by. That, combined with instant whipped potatoes, make a great and hearty meal.
- Potato Leek Soup – This classic recipe take an hour to prepare. This weekend I made a large batch in order to have some on hand (fresh and frozen) for those lazy evenings.
- Salad – I don’t eat as many salads as I could due to my aversion to dips and dressings but a salad with greens, cucumber, red onion, and squash makes a great bed for some pan seared scallops and balsamic dressing.
- Pineapple Smoothie – I don’t plan smoothies as a back up very often since I tend to favor stick to your ribs meals for dinner but with some warmer nights, a cold smoothie of fruit and yogurt can be a refreshing change of pace.
- Make the Most of Planned Leftovers – This week I will be roasting a chicken and that will help me prepare chicken salad on a different day without added cooking time and without the use of processed canned chicken. I will also be dividind the baked penne into single and double portions in order to freeze all but 2 portions for the week. I have a mother who does not cook much so these also make great items to deliver to our non-cooking friends/relatives in need.
- Plan Remaining Meals – This is when you can fill in the blanks. Do you want a night when you plan sandwiches, soups, salads, vegetarian, etc… This is really just about filling in the blanks and helping you make sure that you arent’ forgetting special events or scheduling barriers.
- Make Your Shopping List – Keep your meal plan handy as you create your shopping list. Keeping an organized pantry, refridgerator, and freezer can help you save money when shopping for ingredients. Don’t forget those spices and seasonings that make the difference between simply edible and delightfully delicious.
If you try to adopt any of these steps, let our team know. And keep checking in for updates on Set Up for Success Thursdays and You’ve Got This Mondays.
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