Playing at planning

A topic that’s been on my mind lately (which, of course, is actually always on my mind) is meals.  In this case, I’ve been thinking about how often we’re prepared for them or how often we give up and go out and buy pre-packaged food or call for take out.  I love eating, thinking about, and cooking or baking food, but like everyone else, it’s easy to get caught up in projects or errands and then boom, it’s mealtime (or past) you’re hungry.  The problem is that usually by the time you’re starting to feel hungry, you can’t think of anything in particular you want, so you settle for going out to eat yet again, or for picking up something you’ve had many times before and is convenient, whether that be fast food, a bowl of cereal, or mac and cheese whipped up from a box.  Each time the outcome is pretty much the same:  you end up feeling unsatisfied by what you eat, which then can contribute to a bored and lackadaisical attitude about mealtimes in general.  I’ve been guilty of exactly that, and I’ve had enough of the hassle and stress of it all.  I’m trying a new tactic lately, planning my meals by the week.

I got the idea from my grandma.  When I was 24, I moved from NC to Washington, DC to find work, and I lived with her the first 6 months I was in the area.  I noticed that she always had a handwritten list with a plan for the week’s meals, and there was never any talk of, “Hey, what do you want to eat for dinner?”  “I don’t know, what do YOU want?”  A few months later, when I moved into my own apartment, I tried her meal planning technique, sketching out the days of the week and food choices to go with them.  As a single woman at the time, working in an office, I enjoyed devising a system that worked for me and me alone.  For example, I happen to love omelets and they are fast and easy to prepare, so I made Monday night “omelet night.” Monday also happened to be the night that I went to the public library after work.  I’d stay there reading for an hour or two and then come home and fix a quick meal (for by then I was always extremely hungry).  I came to rely on my plan and look forward to preparing meals.  I even left one or two nights open, to be determined by my schedule and whether or not I had plans at night for a special event or for dinner with friends.  It was nice to have a little flexibility while at the same time being ready for each day’s mealtimes.

Over the years I moved around, changed jobs several times, and lost sight of my meal planning, finding myself back in the old predicament of wondering what was on the docket each day for food.  Now that I’m part of a couple, this indecision affects both my boyfriend, Jorge, and me.  Without a plan of some sort, it’s altogether too easy to fall into unhealthy patterns (why yes, I would like a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit for breakfast again this week.)  Lately, we have both been feeling a keen desire to eat more healthfully, not to mention less expensively, and so we decided to come back to the practice of meal planning.  Now it’s two people’s specifications – and work schedules – that the meal plan has to be built around.  Strangely enough, it’s been pretty fun to come up with our weekly plan.  I was doodling in my notebook, as I am wont to do, and ended up designing a re-usable meal plan template that I’ve dubbed the “Food Forecast.”  I added in some swirling colors that reminded me of the sunsets and sky that Jorge and I observe atop our roof.  Check it out:

Voila, the Food Forecast, in stages of completion...
Voila, the Food Forecast, in stages of completion…

I left enough space in each day’s block to plan for breakfast, lunch and dinner if necessary.  Though, honestly, we don’t always stick like glue to the plan, it’s helpful having it to remind us that we at least have an inkling of what’s going on.  And practice makes, well if not perfect, then at least a sort of pattern recognition.  Plus, Jorge has been an enthusiastic contributor to the week’s meal ideas, which frankly I’m over the moon about!  It usually means delicious homemade Mexican food.

Have you tried meal planning?  How did it (or does it) work for you?  Feel free to share!

Talk to you soon,