Meal planning. Even during ‘normal’ times that phrase can make even a seemingly otherwise organized person hide their faces and turn away. Meal planning can be hard. You know what makes meal planning even more difficult? Not being able to find the ingredients you need to actually make the meals you plan. Also trying to avoid the stores as much as you can. Even my every-other-week grocery trips have had to become once a week trips because I can’t find everything I need at one time, and even when I can the quantities have had to be limited to try to help the shelves stay full enough for everyone.
So my meal planning strategy has changed up from my usual ways (You can find that here). These are my tips for meal planning during a time of quarantine:
- Actually, make a plan. Shop what you have first and actually make a meal plan, you can try for the whole month, or just week to week. Even if the plan ends up changing, you’ll have a starting point.
- Make a list of what you need to buy- check online if your store does online shopping to either make a pickup or delivery order or to at least check that they have the items in stock once you get to the store. The fewer changes you have to make on the fly the better because making sure your meal plan makes sense and that you have all that you need once you get into the store is probably the LAST thing on your mind. Just getting in and out without coming into contact with other people and touching as little as possible is probably the number one thing on your mind.
- My a list of all the things you know how to make or are easy enough for you to make at home. Don’t worry about an actual meal plan for this part, just a master list of your family’s favorite foods at home. You can reference this list (and add to it) as you meal plan to help you come up with ideas, if a lot of them have similar ingredients you’ll be able to stock up a little on those things, in particular, to get you by longer.
- Make as much as you can by hand. If you’re like me, that trip to the store for just a loaf of bread just doesn’t make sense right now. There are tons of recipes on Pinterest and right on this blog for different bread recipes. Some don’t even call for yeast, currently a difficult product to find and there are also recipes to make your own yeast if you’re feeling adventurous!
- Try not to make too much at each meal. I keep seeing people go the opposite way, making huge meals and thinking they’ll eat the leftover all week. Which does make sense, on paper, but in reality after three days of spaghetti for lunch and dinner maybe even breakfast… you’re sick of it and there’s still some left, so you throw it out. I’ve been cutting down on how much I cook at a meal so that our leftovers are usually gone in the next day or two. No matter how much you love a meal after three days in the fridge it has lost its appeal. You want to cut down on food waste as much as possible right now.
- Have some ingredients that are going to go bad soon? Cook them up and freeze them! We’ve taken milk that was close to its date and made pudding. To make tomato sauce, you core and blend up tomatoes and simmer it on the stove until it reduces and is bright red (instead of pink) in color, Pour it into Ziploc bags and freeze. You can freeze raw veggies that might be close to their time, you can freeze them raw and just pull them out when you want for stir-fries, soups, or anything else (although eating them raw at that point might not work, any other way is game on).
- Eat your leftovers! I said it above and now I’ll say it again. Eat those leftovers! If you start to get to a point where the fridge is getting full of different leftovers that are still edible, guess what’s for dinner tonight? That’s right! Pull them out and let the family or roommates go through buffet-style to make their plates and throw them in the microwave. Make eating them a priority if you are really needing to save money on food or stay out of the stores. If you’re cooking that much, you better be eating it. (I sound more and more like my grandparents these days… I kind of like it…)
- Having trouble coming up with meal ideas? Have a theme night! Here’s a theme night that I have done in the past or when I can’t come up with good ideas:
- Soupy Sunday
- Meatless Monday
- Taco Tuesday
- Crockpot Wednesday
- Italian Thursday
- Pizza Friday
- Special Saturday
- If you’re going to be home more often make sure to include breakfast and lunch items on your meal plan. Some people do a detailed meal plan for these meals too, just like the dinner meal plan, I like to keep a list of things we can make for breakfast. Having pancake mix (or a recipe with ingredients), eggs cereal on hand for breakfast and different stuff we like for lunch like chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and Spaghettios along with those leftovers.
- Utilize Pinterest for meal ideas. Make the different recipes you’ve been saving but didn’t ‘have time’ for before. Guess what? You probably got some time now. So many recipes are really EASY. Seriously, if you know how to turn on your stove and you can read, you can cook. You can even find recipes on youtube and get step by step instructions that you can watch in real-time to learn new recipes!
I hope this helps you build a meal plan during this weird time and that some of these ideas will also stick with you when things go back to ‘normal’. I know that as I learn some new recipes I’ll be making quite a few things homemade from now on, it’s also helping me see the areas that I was really lacking in my homemaking. Like my stockpile, be on the lookout hopefully this summer with a whole new method and list to help us all be more prepared! I’ll wait until we can actually shop again for that one though…
I hope you’re staying healthy and safe!