Meal planning is essential to running an efficient cooking operation. Whether it’s for yourself, you and your spouse, or a family it will save you gobs of time and cash. All you have to do is put some time aside for planning and dedicate a day or two to a cooking frenzy. After that, you can take the month off and eat foods from your freezer!
1. Plan your meals – 60 minutes
Sit down and decide what you want to eat for the next few weeks. If this is your first time planning meals, start small. Plan the next 14 days of meals. A good place to start is once a month meals. They will let you view their monthly plans and recipes for free. Look at their “Whole Foods” menu for the month for healthy-ish meals (not at all related to the expensive grocery store). You can use their recipes if you trust them; I prefer to find similar recipes from epicurious or allrecipes. For example, if meat loaf is listed, check recipes on epicurious and find a highly rated one and use that instead. That way, you don’t make 8 servings of mediocre meat loaf.
*For extra credit, you can focus on recipes that use ingredients you already own.
**For extra extra credit, focus on recipes that use ingredients that are on sale.
2. Make a shopping list – 15 minutes
Once you’ve selected your recipes, make a list of all the ingredients you need. Don’t buy stuff you already have.
3. Go shopping – 1 to 2 hours
Go to the store and buy everything on your list. Nothing more. You don’t need anything else because you’ve planned everything out. If you snack in between meals, pick up some peanuts or fruit. Don’t even think about getting those cookies…
4. Dedicate time to cooking – 1 to 2 days
There are two methods you can follow here. The first being that you spend an entire day (or two for large families) on the weekend cooking everything. The other method is cooking 1-2 meals per day. For example, if you’ve planned 5 different dinner meals, you can cook one per day. Serve it as dinner the day you cook it and then freeze the rest for later. It all depends on what you prefer. I have trouble sticking to an all day cooking frenzy, so I prefer cooking 1-2 meals per day. It makes a busy cooking week, but I get the next 2 to 3 weeks off from cooking.
5. Enjoy your meals from the freezer
Reheat meals as you need them and enjoy your time off and fattened wallet. Most things can just be microwaved back to serving temperature.
My fiance and I are living in separate cities for now, so I only plan meals for myself which takes about 1 day to cook everything and I don’t need any extra freezer space. For large families, you may need extra freezer space. If you’re serious about meal planning and bulk cooking, a 7.0 cubic foot deep freezer can be had for $200 or so. I only know this because I bought one on black friday for my beer brewing hobby.