I realise I've been a bit AWOL this week... as I said in my last post, my diary was pretty chocka for the last seven days, so I've been rushing happily about catching up with buddies and ticking off to-do's - but this post is not about how busy I've been/how quite this blog has been. It's about (as the really Sherlock-esque among you may have noticed from the title) how to meal plan.
This is all part of my get healthy kick, of course. Although I try my hardest to eat well - I avoid white carbs, fatty meats, salty snacks, juice, fizzy drinks, chocolate (drool...) etc. etc. - I've found myself in a bit of a cooking rut recently, leading to me eating less healthily as I got bored with my usual cycle of recipes. And you know how I hate a rut.
In order to try to break out of this cycle, one of my ticked-off to-do's (try saying that ten times fast after a couple of shots) was to pick up a new recipe book. I have a couple of generic 'student' cook books at uni, but to be honest they're not really that helpful to me - they're based more on helping one to get a basic knowledge of cooking combined with what they imagine a typical student would want to eat (beans, cheese, and pasta, basically) than on eating a varied, interesting diet. Of course, you could use them to create that, but most of the recipes in that sort of book just don't do it for me. Instead, I went out and got the The Hairy Dieters cook book, which looks to have some new and exciting recipes in that - shock horror for a 'diet' book - actually look like good, fulfilling food. For example, it includes a few cakey things, as well as 'Fakeaways' (healthy versions of takeaways), a pasta section, and some reeeeally good lookin' stuff with fish and meat - personally, I can't wait to try out the chilli and ginger salmon.
With my new book in hand, I got to work creating the following meal plan for the upcoming week:
As you can see, I'm a bit over-excited about the Hairy Bikers' this week, because most (ok all) of my recipes are coming from there. As the weeks go on, I will branch out into other books and the good old interweb (hello, Pinterest!) in order to get inspiration. As I'm a student who cooks and shops for one, I've obviously had to split up most of the recipes, designed for 2 or 4, into solitary meals, which means that all I've had to buy is the ingredients for three recipes. Savvy, eh?
For other students out there - or just those wishing to pinch the pennies - another thing I do to cut down on my grocery bill is to buy multipacks of frozen meat/fish at the start of term (generally you can get four to six fillets of chicken or salmon at once) and subsidise with the occasional meaty treat (steak, anyone? To be fair, that recipe is on there mainly because my parents have helped out with this particular shop, as I tend to emotionally blackmail them to do at the start of each term... which is not bad. It's thrifty).
I know it sounds a bit silly to write a 'how to' post about meal planning, but it's trickier than it looks (for me, anyway... I mean, it's still not rocket science). I thought that, in the spirit of kindness and healthy-kicks for all, I'd share with you my steps to creating stress-free cooking - no more wondering suddenly, when your stomach grumbles at 5:30, what on earth you're going to cook and going for the quickest - and not necessarily nicest, or most nutritious - option. No more buying things in your weekly shop only to throw them away ten days later because you never got round to cooking them. Essentially, dahlings, I'm just saving your lives. You can thank me later.
- Start off by looking at your weekly timetable - you'll notice that I've written down estimated cooking times for each dish, which I worked out from the recipe instructions. Tuesday is my latest day in at uni - I finish at 6 - but I'm also only in for an hour, meaning I leave at 5. The salmon needs marinating, so I plan to leave it to marinate while I'm in my lecture, then come back to cook it in a flash. Also, on Friday I have quite a long day, meaning I'll be worn out when I get in, so I've planned a 'treat' meal that can be prepared quickly for that evening.
- Look for inspiration - recipe books, internet, whatever. Decide on a few meals you want to eat. See if any of the ingredients cross over - for example, my stuffed peppers need breadcrumbs, and my topless sandwiches need bread. The leaves I use in my Spinach Super Salad can be used as accompaniments for all of my meals. If you're really crafty, you could make quite a lot of different meals out of only a few ingredients.
- Decide on a shopping day - mine is Saturday, hence why all of that is 'n/a'. I plan to eat whatever I have left over on that day, so as not to create waste, and also to buy a new week's worth of food that can be planned into that. Also, since pretty much all of that week is healthy, low-calorie food, Saturday is going to be the 20 to my 80 (read about the 20/80 rule here - I'm sure you'll have read it, but if you haven't it changed the way I think about food!)
- Plan, plan, plan. But don't use the same plan over and over. Maybe I'll re-use this exact same plan in three, maybe four weeks, but until then - don't let this get you into another rut. When you get bored of the food you're eating, you'll start to snack. But if you're excited about the carefully prepared, fully nutritious and delicious meal you're having later - why snack? You'll only ruin your appetite.
I hope this has helped at least some of you! Do you have any tips for meal planning? Any fantastic recipes you're keeping under you hats? Comment away!
stay gold. xx