As a control freak navigating life in my twenties, my number one coping mechanism is meal planning. I’m learning to juggle a full-time office job, manage a semblance of a social life, and in general be a total boss. I’m just one of those people who has to have complete and utter control over at least one aspect of my life, and since I can’t control work or friends, I’ve become a master at planning out my meals for the week.
I want to nourish my body and take care of it while I’m still young so I don’t have trouble with health issues or weight later in life. I also like to know what to expect, so I plan very distinct meals each day. This means I meal plan, and I meal plan hard. My Sundays are devoted to hitting the grocery store and then setting up shop in the kitchen to cook everything I’ll eat for the week.
This takes work and devotion, but there are some weeks when I’m simply not feeling it or just don’t have time. This is what I’ve learned.
Make one large batch of something to eat all week long.
If you’re on the lazy side, I’m going to assume you’ll be okay with eating one food for seven dinners straight. Choose something you really love, whip up a double batch, and relax the rest of the week. Personally, I like to do this with pasta dishes (you can use whole wheat pasta, spaghetti squash, or a veggie noodles to keep it healthy), casseroles, and pre-portioned protein and veggies. All you have to do is dish up however much you want for dinner each night.
Keep your snacks simple.
Don’t worry about planning elaborate snacks, like smoothies and parfaits. The less prep involved, the better, in my opinion. It’s 10 times easier to just eat fresh fruits and veggies, granola bars, and nuts. Incorporate mother nature’s portable foods into your meals, too. A side of raw carrots and ranch go just as well with a turkey burger as fries do. My go-to snacks are always an apple or banana with peanut butter and a ¼ cup of salted almonds with ⅛ cup of dried cherries or cranberries.
Freeze food you’re not going to eat.
If you’ve reached the end of the week and there’s still one or two servings of something in your fridge, do your future self a favor and freeze it. As long as it’s still good, you can keep it in the freezer for a little while. You’ll be glad you did when you have a week that doesn’t allow much cooking, or when you get sick of whatever you’ve freshly made. I recently made a mega pot of vegetable soup and didn’t eat half of it, so I froze what was left and now I have a little wiggle room for meal planning in the coming weeks.
Don’t aim too high.
Look, if you’re on the lazy side when it comes to cooking and meal planning, then don’t try to do more than you actually will. You might think you want to attempt multiple dinners for the week or some trendy health food, but you probably won’t feel like that all week. Stick to what’s realistic for you.
I’ve had several complicated protein ball recipes lying in my kitchen because I want to try them, but life has been too hectic for me to even add the ingredients to my grocery list, let alone grind up some pine nuts. Instead, I stick to my favorite peanut butter and chocolate protein ball recipe, because it takes all of five minutes to stir together the peanut butter, protein powder, and chocolate chips. And you know what? I’m so glad.
Cook the easy stuff.
Lasagna is delicious, but it’s time-intensive. It’s way easier to make spaghetti. Trust me when I say meal planning is so much more manageable when you make easy meals, like turkey burgers and steamed veggies. When you’re taking a whole day out of the weekend to prep meals, you don’t want to spend extra time with an intensive recipe. Keep it simple so you can get it over with.
Separate snacks ahead of time.
I know it takes effort, but having snacks ready for eating will make life much easier during the work week so you can be lazy in the morning before you head out. If you have a container of berries, then go ahead and divide them up into portions for the week. Separate servings of nuts into snack bags and sit them out. I also like to group the snacks I’ll want each day. For example, I place Tuesday’s apple with the nuts and blueberries I’ll also eat. This is beyond helpful when I’m grabbing everything in the morning.
Crockpot meals, yo.
Crockpot meals are the bread and butter of meal planning, especially for the lazy. You can use a slow cooker to make just about any recipe you want. Soups, pastas, casseroles, dips, and almost everything else can be made with a minuscule amount of effort. The sky’s the limit, so use the crockpot to your advantage when meal planning.
If spending a day making every meal for the week isn’t really your thing, then a slow cooker is your best bet for managing your time and meals. All you have to do is place the ingredients in it and let it cook for the recommended time and on the recommended setting.