Welcome back 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.
In last week’s lesson, we introduced the concept of the meal plan – perhaps the most important tool to mastering home economics. But, while we only scratched the surface in lesson one, we’re going deep in lesson two.
This week, we’re looking at advanced meal planning. Specifically, how meal planning for one actually works.
The things you will need:
There are two very important things that you’ll need to make advanced meal planning a success.
Number one, and most obvious, is a freezer. I assume you already have one of those, but if you don’t, then please invest in one. You can’t meal plan without one and the purchase will pay off in dividends down the line.
Number two is plastic containers. Lots of them. They can be Tupperware, they can be off-brand Tupperware, or they can be those cheap plastic cartons that your Chinese take-out comes in. Whatever they are, you want them to be roughly the size of a meal portion for one person. The reasons why will become apparent momentarily…
Right. Now that you’ve got the necessary equipment, let’s dive in.
Think about your base ingredients
When you’re cooking for a typical family of four, your base ingredients will change meal-by-meal. That’s because you’ll use up, say a pack of chicken, in the process of feeding four mouths.
As a single man, though, you face a challenge. Unless you’re planning to follow The Rock Diet (spoiler alert: unless you’re a Greek demi-god, it won’t end well), then you’ll rarely get through a typical supermarket portion of a given ingredient in one sitting.
So what do you do? Watch as said ingredients slowly deteriorate in your freezer? Feed them to neighborhood cats in the hope of building your own feline army to do your bidding?
Actually, a much better idea is buying versatile ingredients that you can use as a base for multiple meals. Chicken breast, for example, is great in everything from salads to tacos to stews.
When you’re making your meal plan, take these things into consideration. Factoring in several meals that use the same base ingredients will save on waste, won’t cost you as much money, and doesn’t have to mean eating bolognaise five nights in a row.
On the subject of which…
Batch-cook your meals
When you’re solo meal planning, the freezer is your friend. This is especially true when it comes to stews, casseroles, bolognaises and chilies.
With these sorts of straightforward, one-pot dishes, don’t be afraid to make a huge batch to divide into freezable portions.
“What’s the advantage of doing this,” I hear you ask? Well, it’s two fold:
- Batch cooking gets around the problem of having too much of one ingredient.
- It builds you up a stockpile of your very own healthy, low cost micro-meals.
This is seriously useful if you get in late from work, have an emergency situation come up or just straight up don’t fancy cooking. It removes the temptation of fast food and guarantees you a nutritional meal.
Oh, one other tip, it’s a great idea to do any batch cooking at the beginning of your meal plan cycle. You get tired as the week goes on, and that’s when the motivation to cook drops, so get ahead of the game while you’ve got the energy.
Freeze Ingredients as Well
Regardless of how well you plan around your base ingredients, there will be occasions when you find yourself with surplus. In those cases, the freezer is once again your friend. That portion of meat you don’t know what to do with? Chuck it in the freezer. If you’ve got a bunch of leftover veggies, then roast them all up and freeze those as well.
There is a caveat to this point though. If you’re freezing ingredients, make sure to take a note of what you’ve got. The last thing you want is for your freezer to become a dumping ground for foodstuffs you’re not sure what to do with.
Keep an inventory of what’s in your freezer in the same place you keep your meal plan. Then, when you come to write the following week’s meal plan, factor in those leftover ingredients you have. It’s a surefire way of cutting down on waste and saving you money.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make with meal-plans is thinking that they only apply to the final meal of the day.
But, meal planning, when done right, should factor in all three main meals.
Think about it this way; if you only plan for dinner, you’re only covering a third of your meals. All the good work you’re doing for your health and your wallet goes out the window if breakfast and lunch are still convenience food central.
Taking leftovers to work (especially if your office kitchen has a microwave you can use to heat them up) is a much better way of fueling your day than a store-bought sandwich, and those veggies you batch-froze would make a killer omelet. These are the sorts of things you need to bear in mind if you want to really maximize your meal plan.
That’s it for this week’s edition. By now, we’ve got meal planning fully covered and you’re well versed in batch-cooking, base ingredients and the power of your freezer.
But, meal planning don’t mean nothing if you’re not making nutritious food! Don’t worry though, that’s where Lesson 3 comes in. Next time’s lesson is titled “Know Your Nutrition” and we’ll find out what exactly makes a balanced meal, and how to factor that into your planning.