Three years ago, when I was a single lady living alone on campus, but without a meal plan, I hated cooking. I usually just went over to Alex’s for dinner or made myself mac and cheese. Even when we got married (almost two years ago?!) it was assumed that Alex would be the one cooking, since he loves to cook. That worked well for the first year when I was still finishing up school. But then Alex applied for grad school and me cooking was inevitable.
I dreaded this school year—I was going to have to make us dinner pretty much every night because Alex barely has enough time to breath. Not only that, but I had to plan every meal. How do you even begin that sort of thing?
Cooking was/is hard and frustrating, especially after a long day. But it’s gotten easier over the past few months of having no other choice. I’ve actually enjoyed meal planning for the most part, and even grocery shopping by myself (also a big deal, because I didn’t start driving by myself until last August, as well. Thanks, grad school). If you’re finding yourself wanting to plan your meals ahead of time and aren’t sure where to start, this is what I do.
I have a small stack of cookbooks, but honestly, I still use Pinterest the most. I don’t remember exactly how I started collecting recipes, but I’d say a combination of looking at what popular blogs post/looking at what your friends post on Pinterest/searching Pinterest for specific ingredients or diet preferences will get you started.
I ended up with two main dinner boards (I have other food boards, as well—I was sick of sifting through tons of desserts to find regular food): Dinners to Try and Dinners, Tried & Loved. If we don’t like a meal we’ve tried, I just delete it. That way, everything on Tried & Loved is guaranteed to be delicious next time we make it!
To continuously rebuild my library of recipes in To Try, I either pin things throughout the week that I see on my Feedly, Instagram feed, or Pinterest, or recently I just browse Pinch of Yum’s vegetarian recipes (those sorting features make me so happy).
Every Sunday, I sit down with Pinterest (or these cookbooks 1. 2. 3. 4.), a piece of paper for writing out the week’s menu, and AnyList, a grocery shopping app. I ask Alex what sounds good or what he’s sick of, and then I’ll just find things that sound good that week, or what works well with our schedule. This semester, I try to find at least one meal a week that’ll have leftovers since I don’t have much time to cook on Wednesdays. But leftovers are always a good way to fill up meal slots 🙌. I religiously use iCal to document everything going on for the week, so I look to that to see how many meals I’ll need to gather. We have a date night every week where we go out to dinner, and then that leftovers night, so it’s usually finding five meals.
If I find a recipe that calls for something expensive or strange, I’ll either just not include it, substitute it, or find more recipes that use that ingredient. This happens with basil a lot—it comes in larger quantities than what I could use all at once, but it’s my absolute favorite herb so I never want to just not include it.
When I decide on a meal, I’ll write the recipe down on the menu (which stays on our fridge to reference throughout the week), add the ingredients to the grocery list, and add the recipe to a browser folder (which syncs to my phone’s browser) to pull up when I’m cooking.
As for lunch, we’ve been eating separately, which is nice, planning wise—Alex is really good about eating wraps and salads, and I am slightly pickier. Also, I can’t eat avocado, so lunch is his time to enjoy that luxury. He’ll tell me what he wants for that week and I’ll do my own thing. For weeks it’s been this chopped apple quinoa salad without the chutney because I couldn’t find it anywhere. It’s been really good even without dressing (something I never thought I’d say). We also try to eat leftovers at lunch, since I have dinners planned for every night, and I don’t want things to go bad.
Dessert tends to be as expensive as a whole meal, so it’s rare that I make anything. But if I just really need something sweet that week I’ll splurge and make frozen yogurt, a crisp, or a cake. You can tell I dream more than I actually do because of my lopsided To Try : Tried & Loved pin ratio. (Edit: I’ve consolidated dessert boards into one. But the ratio was 61:11)
I almost forgot about breakfast… I don’t even know what Alex does most of the time, because I’m usually sleeping. Probably something involving eggs. For a few years, I ate greek yogurt, frozen raspberries, and granola everyday. Recently it’s been coconut milk (or whatever milk we have that week), frozen blueberries, and granola. They’re both so dreamy, and honestly sometimes my favorite part of the day. 😌 When I want to switch it up, I’ll eat this quinoa breakfast bowl, and when I’m really in a hurry I’ll have ABM’s Coffee Shop Oatmeal, since I usually have everything on hand.
That’s it, y’all. That’s how food gets planned around here. Eating well is one of my top 5 passions, so expect a lot more of this. ✌️