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[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;”] I[/dropcap]s meal planning something you wish you didn’t have to spend time worrying about?
What if I told you there is a better way? That meal planning, as you currently know it, could become a thing of your past?
I know it might seem a little ‘too good to be true’ but bear with me…
It’s been years since I sat down and actually planned out my meals before writing my shopping list and heading to the store. I admit I’m a bit unusual in that I use to enjoy planning everything in great detail.
But it did take up A LOT of time.
The main reason I changed to a new way of ‘planning’ was that something would always come up. We’d never actually eat what I’d planned. Or we wouldn’t ‘feel like’ eating what I’d planned. For example, it would be unseasonably hot and the hearty slow-cooked lamb shanks I had planned wasn’t appetizing.
Usually the outcome was that at the end of each week, I’d feel guilty about turfing the veggies that had gone bad in the fridge. Not a great result.
So over the years, I gave up on meal planning and found a much simpler, quicker, more flexible way…
So How Do I Plan my Meals Now?
The short answer is… I DON’T.
Each week, I head to the markets or the grocery store and buy what we need. I do have a list of pantry items, but apart from that, I just decide what to buy when I get to the shops.
Then I decide what to cook on a day-by-day basis, based on what I have on hand and what we feel like.
Seriously, it’s about as stress-free as meal planning gets. And it takes hardly any time. But the best bit for me is I very rarely have waste now.
Sound like something you’d like to try?
It’s not as difficult as you’d think.
All you need is to follow my 3 simple steps…
3 Steps to Simplify Your Meal Planning.
STEP 1. Stop planning in advance.
Of course the first place to start is to stop wasting your time and energy.
It’s all about ‘reversing’ the meal planning process. Instead of deciding what to cook first and then buying ingredients we need to get you shopping first and THEN deciding what to cook.
If this seems a bit to scary, you can take baby steps. Instead of planning every single meal, or whatever you’re doing, leave a few nights free and see what happens.
STEP 2. Learn to shop for what you need.
You probably already have an idea of what you need each week for breakfasts and don’t plan them out in detail. So it’s time to extend this to dinners and lunches as well.
It may take a little bit of time to get used to this. And if it seems a bit too daunting, I have a solution…
As part of the Master Your Meal Plan online program, I’ll show you my ‘2-Minute Planning Formula’ which will help you calculate exactly how much food to buy.
This will not only save you loads of time creating your detailed plan, it will make shopping more fun(!)
You won’t be following a strict list, you’ll be free to choose the vegetables and other produce that look the most appealing on the day. And of course, it will allow you to make the most of any ‘special’ discounts on the spot.
STEP 3. Stop cooking from recipes.
One of the keys to getting my new meal planning ‘system’ to work is to break-free from traditional recipes.
Now before you start thinking ‘there’s NO WAY I could cook without a recipe’, you don’t have to turn into a master chef overnight… It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
The way I taught myself to ‘cook without recipes’ was to start thinking of recipes in general terms instead of specific ingredients.
I started by coming up with ‘template’ or blueprint recipes I could adapt depending on the ingredients I had or what I felt like cooking. It’s kinda like having ‘training wheels’ for cooking on your own. Or taking the ‘variations’ I include at the bottom of all my recipes to the next level.
When I want to make a quick stir fry, for example, instead of coming up with a recipe from scratch, I think back to my ‘template’ and go from there.
To give you an idea, I’ve included an example ‘template’ recipe below. And if you join me for ‘Master Your Meal Plan‘ I’ll show you over 60 of my very best template recipes so you’ll never be ‘bored’ with your meals again.
I’ll also walk you through my detailed step-by-step guide to help you become one of those people who can walk into the kitchen and just ‘pull a delicious meal together’.
Like to learn more?
I’m super excited to announce that the 2-Minute Meal Plan System is now ready.
To pick up a copy today, go to:
Quick Legume Salad Template Recipe
Legume salads using canned chickpeas, beans or lentils are at least a once-a-week affair in our house. Especially for quick lunches. As you can see, there are endless possibilities so I don’t think I’ll ever tire of them.
Some weeks I cook up a big batch of lentils or chickpeas to have on hand. But most of the time, I’m reaching into my trusty pantry for a can of something.
If this template recipe is a bit overwhelming, don’t stress. I’ve included a more traditional recipe below.
Enough for 1:
1 tablespoon acid
1/2 can (120g / 4oz) legumes, drained
handful vegetables or salad leaves
handful cooked protein
small handful highlight ingredient, optional
1. Combine acid with 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a salad bowl. Season.
2. Add drained legumes and finely sliced veg or leaves to the dressing. Toss.
3. Sprinkle protein over the salad and top with highlight ingredient, if using.
acid – Sherry vinegar, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, red/white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar.
legumes – butter beans, cannellini beans, borlotti beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans. Pretty much any canned legume or home cooked ones.
vegetables – fennel, zucchini, cabbage, carrots, beets, asparagus, broccoli (grate rather than ‘shave), cauliflower (grate rather than ‘shave’), snow peas, sugar snap peas, celery, red capsicum (bell peppers). Leafy veg such as spinach, kale or collard greens can be finely sliced into ribbons with a knife.
salad leaves – pretty much any washed salad leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces if large.
cooked protein – canned tuna, salmon, sardines, nuts, cooked chicken, smoked chicken, salami, prosciutto, cold roast meats, avocado (not strictly protein but good), boiled eggs, smoked salmon, goats cheese, ricotta, cheddar, parmesan, cottage cheese.
simple protein – just increase the amount of canned legumes.
highlight – crunch – nuts or finely sliced red onion.
highlight – spice – chopped chilli, curry powder, smoked paprika, tabasco sauce, ground cumin, fennel seeds, coriander seeds.
highlight – herbs – try fresh coriander (cilantro), basil, mint, parsley, oregano, chives, green onions or even thyme.
Chickpea & Feta Salad
Here’s an example of how you could turn the ‘template’ recipe above into a meal.
Enough for 2
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 can (240g / 8oz) chickpeas, drained
2-3 handfuls salad leaves
200g (7oz) feta cheese, crumbled
2 small handfuls pine nuts, optional
1. Combine lemon juice with 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil in a salad bowl. Season, remembering the feta will be quite salty.
2. Add drained chickpeas and salad leaves to the dressing. Toss.
3. Sprinkle feta over the salad and top with pine nuts, if using.
paleo / chickpea-free – double the salad leaves and replace the chickpeas with an avocado, flesh scooped into chunks and replace feta with brazil nuts.
dairy-free – replace feta with hard boiled eggs, tuna, cooked shredded chicken, sliced prosciutto, ham or replace with extra chickpeas.
vegan – replace feta with extra chickpeas and be more generous with the pine nuts.
nut-free – replace pine nuts with toasted bread crumbs or halved cherry tomatoes or semi-dried tomatoes or olives.
Video version of the recipe.
Wow, this is my way of planning meals, I love picking what looks fresh and what is in season at the shops, rather than trying to find old, over priced veggies for a recipe I have planned out. I love the idea of the templates and I think I already sort of do this.
I love the idea of using ratios in cooking, instead of recipes. I have tried using recipes for years but always found it was way too time consuming and expensive! This way is much more flexible and quicker!
My mother kept a full pantry and shopped every day for fresh food for the evening meal. I used to think she was nuts but I find I buy things and then I don’t feel like cooking it or eating it on the day everything is freshest. Great idea.
I have never, ever planned my meals and always thought there was something wrong with me-not organised enough or something. These salads will be featuring in my weekly meals from now on. I found your great site by googling Stone Soup because I am a illustrator in South Africa and was looking for the story. I love the way blogs connect people in such random ways!
Eating is such an important pleasure, but so many think it is just too time-consuming and difficult to do it well. Bravo for pointing the simple way for others. One of the reasons why I grow most of our produce, besides that the taste is sublime, is that the French style of a potager, that is, to have something fresh growing all year round, prevents throwing out veggies. The garden is the best storage area for fresh food.
Your post reminds me of a famous French chef (don’t recall his name) who was taught how to cook by his mother who would say each time she was asked what is for dinner: it depends on what jumps into my market basket in the morning!
I love the idea of shopping and cooking this way, although I think it would take me a while to get used to not shopping with a list to keep me from over spending! The salad idea sounds great and I can already think of several combinations that work be tasty.
This is exactly how I’ve started cooking, although I’ll make a rough “menu” of potential things I could make so that I don’t have to do any thinking/stressing when I get home from work. Crafting a flexible menu for the week makes any planning you do so much more creative than following recipes! Fantastic, fantastic advice, unfortunately lots of “official” advice is the exact opposite :( I guess they are trying to cater to people who don’t know how to cook?
We regularly have a ‘template salad’ dinner but I love all of the suggestions that you have for paleo and vegan options. Just reading the list of additives makes the ‘unplanned’ shop easier tomorrow morning!
Absolutely agree about buying and using what is in season and looks good rather than planning meals. It makes for a much more interesting variety of dishes. I tend to use a lot of intuition rather than recipes when cooking. I use recipes to check on cooking temperatures and times but that’s about all.
Maybe I’m odd; I love my meal planning!
I’ve only started planning in the last few months, but it’s saved me huge amounts of time, money and unwanted extra kilos! It’s usually a pretty flexible plan, but a plan nonetheless, because there is nothing I hate more than coming home from a long day and staring into my fridge with no idea of what to eat.
I don’t usually leave comments on blogs, but I just wanted to say this template thing is amazing! I will definitely be using this idea. Also, I’m the mother of a toddler and pregnant with our second baby at the moment and your quick, healthy and protein-y recipes have often saved my life! They’re obviously great for people short on time, but they are really very pregnancy-friendly and I love that! Thanks a million for many enjoyable meals :-)