Save Time in the Kitchen by Meal Planning

>> Thursday, February 18, 2010

A month ago, I related my K.I.S.S. method for saving time in the kitchen. Basically, the idea is that you can save time when cooking from scratch by keeping it simple: simple sides, simple meals, simple breads, simple stews...

Cooking from scratch is an important part of being a Conscious Shopper:

  • When you buy basic ingredients like oats, beans, and rice from the bulk bins, you cut back on your trash production.
  • When you use fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients, you cast a vote for a reformed food system and keep your family healthier.
  • And perhaps most importantly, you save money, making it possible for you to afford those fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients.
But the flip side of all these benefits is TIME. Cooking from scratch takes more time. Time that you may not feel you can afford to spend.

Keeping it simple in the kitchen can save you time. And here's my other big tip for saving time when cooking from scratch:


Do you ever have those "Oh, crap, it's 5:00!" moments? You know, those days when you're rushed, rushed, rushed, and you only have 20 minutes to get dinner on the table, and you spend 15 minutes of it staring into your fridge trying to figure out what to make. So you end up having PB&J.

Or you decide that you're going to have spaghetti for dinner, only to discover that you've run out of tomato sauce. So you eat PB&J.

A meal plan will solve your problems. No more staring blankly into the fridge - you'll know as soon as you walk in the door what you're going to make. No more running out of key ingredients...well, okay, running out of key ingredients less often. No more PB&J. (Unless you really love peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. Then by all means, stick with your current system.)

Your meal plan doesn't have to be ultra detailed. It doesn't have to be overly restrictive. It should simply be a basic guide to what you have available to eat in a given week. For example, my basic meal plan goes like this:

Tuesday: Mexican
Wednesday: eggs
Thursday: stir fry
Friday: bean burgers
Saturday: pasta
Sunday: meat

On shopping day, I get more specific about what we're going to eat on a given night. Mexican changes to "nachos." Bean burgers become "butter bean burgers with collard greens." Etc. From there, I can easily make a grocery list, ensuring that I have everything I need to cook for the week.

But just because I've said Tuesday is going to be nacho night doesn't mean I can't decide to make burritos instead. Same basic ingredients so an easy swap. Or I might decide on Tuesday that I'm not in the mood for nachos and would rather make butter bean burgers. Easy enough to swap Tuesdays meal for Fridays and still have everything I need to quickly make dinner all week.

And of course, don't forget to keep your meal plan simple. I make pizza on my bread baking day because I can use some of the bread dough as pizza crust and toss the pizza onto the bottom of the oven while the rest of my bread is baking. Once a week, we eat scrambled eggs and toast for dinner because I can get the entire meal on the table in less than 30 minutes, including chopping vegetables to add to the eggs and toasting and buttering ten pieces of bread. I also make sure to plan dinners that will take more time for days I know I'll have time.

I had originally planned this post as a list of ideas for saving time in the kitchen, but meal planning took over. So you'll have to wait for the rest of the tips on another day.

Do you use a meal plan? How does it work for you?

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KaKi February 18, 2010 at 9:04 AM  

I always use a meal plan. I just cannot stand to be standing in the kitchen and not have a clue what we will have for dinner. Now, it doesn't always work the way I want it too. But the basic plan is there. I like your generic outline to be filled on shopping day. I feel like I make the same thing ALL THE TIME. I used to post my meal plan every Monday. There is some blog I followed.....I'll have to look for it. It helped me to be organized and it gave me ideas looking at others'.

cpcable February 18, 2010 at 11:39 AM  

I love my meal plan, although it is far more detailed than yours. Every Sunday I sit down and plan exactly what our main dish and sides will be for dinner for every day of that week and make a shopping list accordingly. Then I pull all those recipes and have them ready and waiting. It works really well for me. I almost never have to make a last-minute trip to the store and I waste zero time thinking about what I'm preparing...I can just dive right in.

I know this is probably a little too restrictive for a lot of folks, but I've found it to actually be quite freeing and I'm actually more creative in the kitchen than I used to be. If I wait until the day of to decide, I end up making one of 3 dishes that are fast, easy, and everyone likes. But, by carving out an hour one day a week to craft a menu, I can plan to try new sides and new recipes. It's great!


Erin aka Conscious Shopper February 18, 2010 at 8:23 PM  

@KaKi - Exactly - you don't have to follow a meal plan to the letter, but the basic plan is there.

@Courtney - It makes life so much easier, doesn't it?

Brenda February 19, 2010 at 8:43 AM  

I always make meal plans so that when I head to the grocery store on the weekend I can make sure I have all the ingredients I need. Nothing is worse than running to the store after work for an item. I usually plan three or four meals, the rest are left-overs or quick meals like eggs or homemade soup in the freezer.

By the way, I linked to your "homemade febreze" page today, it was just what I needed. I love the sharing of ideas on blogs. Thank you!

Kim and Ken Carlile February 25, 2010 at 10:23 PM  

I like to meal plan 2 weeks at a time. I don't assign the meals to a particular day, but use a magnetic meal calendar that I made and that sticks on my fridge. It keeps me from repeating meals a lot and as has been repeatedly said, saves a ton of money.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper February 25, 2010 at 10:45 PM  

@Kim - Oooh, a magnetic calendar would be perfect!

Anonymous,  October 3, 2010 at 12:29 PM  

I try to make a meal plan every week after I've picked up my CSA veggies. That way I can decide what groceries need to be added.

But sometimes the planning takes too much time... :( Or I don't get around to it at all. So, still trying to find my way somewhere in the middle.

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