Sometimes you get lucky and you’re able to improvise a tasty, healthy meal. But for the most part, eating well takes at least a little planning. But life is busy, and it’s all too easy to overlook that key planning step.
“I’m going to be more dilligent about planning and preparing healthy meals,” says Sara Floor Miller, communications manager for the Dairy Council of California. That’s a goal many of us share.
Planning is also a core tenet of eating cheaply, since it enables you to make use of everything you buy. I attended a seminar at the Culinary Institute of America’s Northern California campus last fall, where Chef Adam Busby (he’s one of just 62 Certified Master Chefs in the States) discussed the virtues of “planovers.” This is not the same thing as making a massive amount of one recipe and eating the leftovers throughout the week. Instead, it’s a matter of choosing recipes with similar elements to make your shopping and cooking more efficient. For example, on Wednesday, I made a batch of Pantry Pasta Sauce, which I used on homemade pizza that night and planned to serve over pasta on Friday. When I make roast a pork tenderloin, we’ll enjoy it sliced with veggie and grain sides that night; we’ll have again in quesadillas later in the week.
“Planovers” are not the same thing as making a massive amount of one recipe and eating the leftovers throughout the week. Instead, they’re a matter of choosing recipes with similar elements so your shopping and cooking are more efficient.
Here are ways to create your own planovers:
Designate a half-dozen or so dinnertime meals as your go-to recipes. We all have family favorites that we prepare in a more or less formal rotation. The more often you make them, the easier it will be to plan and shop efficiently. You’ll also become more comfortable with substituting different ingredients so you don’t get bored and more confident working in a new recipe every week or so to expand your repertoire. Free, online resources like Meals Matter offer meal planning tools, recipe storage, and shopping lists to make it easy.
Keep the pantry stocked with basics for your favorites. These might include chicken broth, pasta, rice, canned tomatoes, olive oil–whatever you use regularly. That way, you can pull together a good meal on the fly if you need to.
Plan your meals for the week, and create a shopping list. Be sure to check the pantry and fridge to see what you already have on hand so you don’t buy duplicates at the store.
When you’re cooking one night, do work for the next. Stretch prep work by cleaning and chopping extra vegetables for recipes later in the week. You can even cook extra food with little extra effort. Let’s say you’re fixing rice for a side dish. Double the amount, refrigerate the extra, and use it to make stir-fried rice another evening. If you have the grilled fired up, use all the space to cook extra food for another meal. Cooking Light‘s “Grill Once, Eat Twice” guide is a perfect example of this strategy.