More Efficient Meal Planning

I wanted to take a bit of a detour on the blog today and share something that I’ve been trying out recently to simplify things at home and save us a bit of money in the process. (Added bonus, it’s also helping me be more healthy so it’s also contributing to my year of health).

I received a copy of Cook Once Eat All Week for Christmas, and it’s been getting used just about every week since.

In essence it’s a cookbook centered on meal planning, but if by meal planning, you’re thinking you have to eat the same thing packaged into containers for a week straight, think again. The recipes are each quite different.

Meal Prepped Food In Containers

Prepped Ingredients from Week 1

The title itself is actually a bit of a misnomer. You don’t actually cook once. You actually cook throughout the week. What you actually do once is most of the meal prep, which cuts the time you spend on cooking during the rest week down to 10 or 20 minutes.

There are a few things about the book that have made it work for us more-so than other cookbooks or recipe services we’ve tried in the past:

  1. Each week is based around 3 main ingredients (usually a protein, a veggie, and a starch). This means we can save by buying things in bulk even though we’re only a household of two with limited freezer space.
  2. Each week features 3 recipes that serve 4-6 (plus two bonus meals). Well before this book, I found that planning for 3 dinners at home is the perfect amount for us each week. Three dinners (plus our usual night or two out or ordering carryout) usually leave just enough leftovers for lunches or nights when only one of us is home without throwing away a ton of food. This has taken a lot of the guesswork out of which meals to make each week. I just pick a week and those are my three meals. For larger families or those who prefer to eat in every night, I realize 3 meals isn’t enough, but for us, it’s just about perfect.
  3. Grocery lists are already made. Each week also comes with a pre-prepared grocery list meaning as long as we stick to those 3 meals, our grocery list is practically made for us give or take a few usual extras like milk, coffee creamer, or some time of fruit.
  4. Ingredients are straight forward. I’ve tried meal planning services in the past, and the one thing I couldn’t stand was always having to buy some obscure ingredient. Not only did this require a special trip to a grocery store other than Aldi, I often never used the items again. This book seems to feature pretty common ingredients. There have been a few items Aldi hasn’t stocked but they’re often pantry items I’ve reused in subsequent weeks. As we start to stock our pantry properly, I’m finding that our grocery list is becoming mostly just meats and produce.

Unexpectedly, I’ve found a couple unexpected bonuses as well:

  • Prepping everything on a single day means the kitchen only gets really messy for one day versus multiple days. Most of the messy steps requiring pots, pans, knives, and cutting boards have already been taken care of prior to cooking during the week.
  • It simplifies trash and compost. We tend to do our shopping and meal prep on Sundays or Mondays which happens to be around the time we set out our trash to get picked up for the week so most of the packaging gets thrown out almost immediately. I also keep our compost bin out and open while prepping so the bulk of our scraps get tossed into the bin all at once rather than having to open it several times throughout the week.
  • Last but not least, I find I’m getting more confident in the kitchen. I don’t mind cooking, and I’ve never been told I’m terrible at it. That being said, I tend to gravitate towards making what I’m comfortable with and that tends to be some variation of a cheesy chicken casserole found on Pinterest. This book has pushed me out of my comfort zone both in terms of flavors but also by helping me improve overall skills.

The book is composed of 26 weeks of recipes. Rather than working straight through from Week 1-26, we’re working through the weeks based on what’s in season (based on a chart included as an online extra). Thus far, we’re halfway through our 5th week and have made Weeks 1, 3, 4, and now 8.

Food in Casserole Dish

BBQ Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole Before it went in the oven

Admittedly, some weeks have been home runs (e.g. Week 1) and others not so much, so I’m recording our thoughts on each week in Evernote in hopes that I can find at least several to rotate through. As an added help on my part, I’m also snapping photos of each week’s worth of prep and recipes and including them in Evernote as well. Not only does this allow me to have the recipes on my iPad while I cook, which I prefer, I can also pull up the recipes or prep instructions while I’m away from home if I need to. For our home run recipes like the Loaded Cauliflower Casserole from Week 3, I’ve also added just the recipes themselves directly to my recipe manager, Paprika, in the event we just want to make the recipe on its own.

All in all, this book has taken most of the guesswork out of cooking for the week. Cooking is almost fun again. We’re eating at home more and we’re eating much better too. Two thumbs up for this book from me.

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