One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard from A Cup of Jo posted about meal planning recently. I was in heaven! Here it is if you haven’t read it yet. One thing I can totally relate is when she says that meal planning can save brain space. So true! I invest so much energy and time thinking about what we are going to do eat on a daily basis. It’s crazy!
I was on the meal planning bandwagon for a while, motivated by the same reasons: more savings, more time to do things other than looking for recipes etc…
So I designed a three week meal plan by gathering all my winning recipes and trying to find some kind of balance, nutritionaly speaking. The idea was one Monday = soup day, Tuesday = pasta day…well, you’ve got the idea. The kind of shortcut that frees up a lot of “brain space”.
This is what it looked like.
These were the recipes for Week 1:
Black Bean & Butternut Squash Burrito
Tomato Soup & Quinoa Croquettes
Pizza & Kale Salad
Extras: Buddha Bowl
Recipes for Week 2:
Soba Noodles Stir Fry
Brown Rice Bowl & Kale Salad
Extras: Vegetable Couscous
Recipes for Week 3:
Kale Quinoa Bowl
Extras: Dal, Lentils with Roasted Carrots and Potatoes
On each sheet, I included a master grocery shopping list for all the ingredients needed for the week. I also had a few extra optional recipes, just in case.
I strictly followed the plan for what I think was two months and then…I gradually dropped it. I have identified two issues with meal planning.
First of all, I get too much pleasure trying new recipes to eat the same thing over and over again. To me, this sort of “free play” is vital. I still get excited when I find a new recipe and even more excited to try it, even when it is a flop. As a matter of fact, I’ve had many flops: many recipes that were alluring but just didn’t keep up. I could play it safe, I have so many recipes that I know work but yet, I keep trying new recipes. It infuriates my husband, who just doesn’t understand my need to reinvent the wheel so to speak. Meal planning does save brain space but for me, it also deadens me. I almost feel like I’m on autopilot…not a good thing.
So I have adopted a middle ground.
We still do eat a lot of the same food (hello spaghetti and Rao sauce) but it doesn’t have to be on a fixed day. Typically, I would say that these type of meals come in heavy rotation in our house:
Pasta with marinara sauce + protein (sausage, turkey meatballs)
Soup (tomato soup, lentils…)
Stew (chili, vegetarian couscous, curry…)
Fish (salmon, tilapia,…)
And then, I always have a day or two where I try brand new recipes that fall into one of the above category. It is totally random and depends on what I might across, wether it is a recipe in the New York Times Magazine or one on my favorite blogs etc…
My second issue is that my meal planning increases waste. I know it sounds counter intuitive as you would think the opposite. But last week for instance, I bought way more than I needed. And I would say it is pretty much the case every week. My only explanation is that I might under evaluate the leftover potential of my meals. Stews or soups typically last a couple of days.
This also got me thinking about possible cultural and environmental differences. When I used to live in Paris for instance, I would typically buy food day by day, usually stopping at the grocery on my my way back home from work. There are several reasons.
First, French fridges are minuscule compared to American ones especially when you live in a small, no matter how charming, apartment in Paris. There was just no way I could store much food. Secondly, Paris is mostly a pedestrian city and most people buy food on foot, consequently not carrying a lot. More fundamentally, I would say that grocery shopping in France is really part of a broader lifestyle.
I grew up going to the Farmer’s market twice a week with my mom, helping her carrying the produce in a basket. I remember stopping by the butcher and the baker on our way home. My mom seldom drove to the supermarket but instead would rely on these day by day outings, and she still does to this day. There is a lot of pleasure involved in these daily outings: a chance to buy fresh, high quality produce, an opportunity to catch up with local vendors or your neighbors etc…
My experience of food shopping dramatically changed when I moved to California. The major change is that I now drive everywhere. Therefore I try to plan my grocery shopping as much as I can to avoid unnecessary trips. It has a lot to do with convenience. Although I don’t buy in bulk (I have tried several times to shop at Costco as many of our friends recommend their produce but when I see the crazy quantities, I just can’t), I do buy a large quantity of items at once that fill up all the space in my pantry and fridge. My concern for buying high quality food that is as fresh as possible is still the same but of course, with the way I shop, it can’t be as fresh as if I was buying a little bit of food everyday like I did in Paris. So I would say that my goal today is to buy less and fresher food to avoid waste.
I see where I could do valuable adjustments though, like for instance, committing to not buying anything until finish everything or maybe cutting on the convenient one day grocery shopping trip and instead, buy just what I need everyday…these are all legitimate alternatives that are worth being investigated.
How do you feel about meal planning? Does where you live impact on how you buy food?