Home Economics For Men: Lesson One – Meal Planning 101

Welcome to Home Economics for Men, the series that teaches you – the single man of the 21st century – the ins-and-outs of culinary self-sufficiency.

If convenience food is burning a hole in your pocket and giving you that Homer Simpson physique you never dreamed of, then this is the series for you.

Photo by Jessica Henderson

In lesson one, we’re introducing the fundamental principle in home economics mastery: the meal plan.

Without one of these bad boys, you’re up home economics creek without a paddle. So sit up, take note and no talking at the back. This is where the important stuff begins.

Photo by Alice Pasqual

Scheduling your shopping

How often do you visit the grocery store? Once a month? Twice a week? Every day?

Assuming you’re a single man, I’ll hazard that the answer is “every day.” You probably hit the convenience store or supermarket on your way home from the office after a full day’s work. And, you probably do so knowing that – save for a jar of out of date pickles and three sachets of left over Szechuan sauce from last week’s Chinese takeout – your refrigerator is completely empty.

If that’s the case, you’re committing home economics sin number 1, and not doing your wallet or waistline any favors in the process.

Not thinking about what you’re going to eat for dinner until an hour before you eat is a big mistake for two reasons:

  • You’re hungry, and – science fact – hunger impairs your decision-making you more impulsive.
  • You’re tired, and not in any state to plan out a meal.

As a result, it’s convenience food, rather than the raw ingredients that you gravitate towards. In this state, pre-packaged micro-meals and take-out are singing to you like scantily clad and beautiful (yet surprisingly greasy) sirens. You already know this; it’s why your fridge is overflowing with Szechuan.

Chinese Takeout
Photo by Jacky Tan

But, as we learned in the first edition of this series, going down the convenience route opens a can of worms that could have serious consequences in the long run.

The trick to avoiding the decent into convenience food hell is making time for shopping. And by shopping, I don’t mean a last minute dash to 7 Eleven. I mean going to an honest to goodness supermarket or market-market with a shopping list. Y’know, like mom does.

Prioritizing grocery shopping benefits you in two ways. Firstly, having a stocked fridge makes it easier to resist the take-out temptation. Secondly, you’ll save a lot of money. Studies show that supermarkets are cheaper across the board than their convenience store competitors.

“That’s all well and good,” I hear you say. “But what exactly do I buy when I go to the supermarket? And aren’t I going to end up with a fridge full of rotting food that I won’t eat.”

That’s a great question fiction man (cheers for the set-up, bro), and leads very nicely into my next point.

Planning your meals

Ever been to the supermarket to do a weekly shopping without a plan of action?

How did it work out for you?

I know how it worked out for me. When I went to the store, they were doing a BIG promotion on Oreos. I ended up with a lot of Oreos.

What I didn’t end up with was toilet paper. Or milk. Or any food containing protein.

But damn, I ate a LOT of Oreos that week.

Going to the grocery store without a plan of what you’re buying is a surefire recipe for disaster. You’ll either end up with:

  • A load of crap that you never intended to buy.
  • Loads of ingredients you don’t know what to do with that are doomed to decay in your refrigerator before meeting their final resting place – the trash.

Before you go to the supermarket to do your weekly shop, you need to plan out what you’re going to buy. And this means setting aside a time in your weekly schedule for meal planning.

Meal planning doesn’t need to be Herculean effort – you don’t need a color-coded binder with a month-by-month breakdown or anything. But, setting aside half an hour every week to plan out the next seven days of dinners is a must.

Assuming that you’ll be doing your grocery shopping on a Saturday, I’d recommend doing your meal planning on a Friday night, and working out what you’re going to eat from Saturday to the following Friday. If you’re not working a regular 9-5 schedule, or your days off don’t fall on weekends, then adjust this schedule according to when your week finishes.

Photo by Mali Maeder

At its most basic, the process of meal-planning is pretty straightforward. Decide the meals you want to eat on each day, and then list the ingredients that each recipe requires. If you’ve got staples that you already like to cook, then these will likely make up the bulk of your plan. The ingredients then form the basis of your shopping list.

If you’re a complete culinary virgin, that’s not a problem. A simple Google search for “basic recipes,” “staple recipes” or “easy recipe ideas” will provide you with a wealth of straightforward, nutritional options. This list from Taste of Home, for example, is a great place to get started.

One thing to note: for obvious reasons, meal planning for one or two people is different from meal planning for a typical family of four. I’ll get into the specific rules of solo meal planning in next week’s edition. But, for the time being, here are a couple of key things to keep in mind.

Working with a base ingredient – say chicken – that you can use for multiple meals across the week is cost effective and will reduce waste. And, the freezer is your friend: making a meal that provides freezable leftovers is a great way to save you time later in the week. Think about it this way – you’ve effectively made your own cheaper, healthier micro meal.

That’s it for this week’s edition. Join me next week for Lesson 2: Advanced Meal Planning, in which we’ll be getting into the specifics of making the most of you’re meals when you’re flying solo.