Meal Planning for the Busy Single/Couple/Family

Are you one of those people who love cooking so much that they make it happen as often as possible because it's a hobby or a relaxing activity?

If yes, would you please add me to your rotation of friends to invite for dinner? : )

If not, continue reading!

Here is my dilemma:

I don't enjoy cooking at this time in my life, and... I want to cook all (or most of) our meals.

When I was single I had a hard time committing to cooking for myself because 1. I did not have these values to ground my commitment, 2. I did not have a system to make cooking happen despite not liking cooking.

We need strong values and effective systems to be able to consistently do something that we don’t like doing.

Ever since there have been two people to feed rather than one, the above values have served as an incentive for me to create a system to support me in my commitment to cooking our meals. Now, meal planning and cooking are on automatic pilot (even when I'm on my own for a while), so that I can go manual for everything I truly enjoy in my life.

Today I’m going to share my system of how I cook 24+ servings of food - and clean the meal prep dishes - in two cooking sessions and in less then 3 hours per week with the intention of inspiring you to create your own system, based on your own personal values and circumstances (single, living with housemates, coupled, whole family,...).

First step:

  • Making the meal plan for the week: to feed the two of us for 7 days, I need 4 batch dishes of 6 servings each to cover 6 lunches and 6 dinners. We eat leftovers for the last lunch and we get take-out or eat out on one of the weekend nights : ). An alternative is to only eat cooked food for one meal per day and eat sandwiches for the other one.
  • Creating a list of suitable recipes to choose from every week. One pot meals are my friends but dishes that are cooked in several parts work too for so long as the different parts of the dish can be cooked at the same time.

On Fridays:

  • Choosing four recipes for the four weekly batch dishes. Although it’s often difficult to design a perfectly balanced diet on a daily basis, the weekly planning makes it much easier. I make sure to choose recipes using diverse sources of protein, a variety of vegetables, a mix of raw and cooked food items, etc. I choose dishes that are easy to cook at the same time: one is usually a slow cooker meal that will cook throughout the day while the other is cooked on the stove or in the oven.
  • Making the weekly grocery list. We use the OurGroceries app for easy sharing between devices and users. In the app, we have lists for the two grocery stores we shop at and multiple subcategories sorted by aisle for faster shopping. I add all the ingredients needed for the four dishes, as well as all breakfast and snack food items needed for a whole week.

On Saturday mornings:

My husband has been doing our weekly grocery shopping on his own for a couple of years now (Thank you, hubby!) and he manages to shop at two local stores in about one hour. Every 2-3 months, we visit a third grocery store further away from home to stock up organic bulk items. Once a month, I cook a batch of beans and store them in the freezer for easy use when needed.

On Sunday mornings:

Sunday morning is Cooking Time #1. I start with prepping the stove/oven meal and while it’s cooking, I prepare the slow cooker meal. When everything is cooking, I start doing the dishes. I usually need 1.5 hours, maximum 2 hours to prepare and cook two batches of six servings and to do the dishes. This food is packed/served for lunches and dinners on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

On Wednesday mornings:

Wednesday morning is Cooking Time #2. It's the same program as on Sundays but I start very early. I usually do a very short morning centering practice before 6:15 AM so that I can cook between 6:15 and 7:45 AM. On Wednesdays I usually do the dishes at night (or ask the hubby to do them : ) so that I can have breakfast and take care of preparing for the work day while the food cooks. This food is packed/served for lunches and dinners on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and/or Sundays (there usually is a leftover lunch or a dinner out on weekends).

My system is based on the following non-negotiables:

  • I do not want to cook too many different dishes every week and therefore we are willing to eat the same thing up to three days in a row (with different dishes for lunch and dinner though).
  • I do not want to cook every day and therefore we are willing to eat food that has not been cooked right before our meal time.
  • I do not care about making food look pretty at this stage of my life and therefore we are willing to eat inelegant one-pot meals. Freshly chopped herbs add a bit of flavor and flair when desired : )

What we gain with these trade-offs:

  • We save plenty of time and money because each part of meal planning has been fully optimized.
  • Food is always ready to be reheaten and eaten when we come home hungry and tired.
  • Meals are healthy, balanced, mostly organic and inexpensive.

As you’re probably quite horrified at some of our trade-offs, I’d like to point out that there are many ways to tweak this system including scaling up for a larger family or cooking fresh food daily if that's your non-negotiable. Regardless of how you change it to make it suit your own needs, here is what you must keep to make your system truly efficient:

  • Meal planning for the whole week.
  • Only one weekly grocery trip.
  • Scheduling your cooking time(s).

Journaling Questions:

  • What system would support my meal planning and cooking within my unique circumstances?
  • What do I value? What do I absolutely need regarding my meals and nutrition? What am I willing to give up?
  • Who can support me? Any partner, child(ren), friends willing to collaborate or taking turns with me?

Proper nutrition is essential self care. Cooking for loved one(s) is essential relationship care.