13 Sept 2015

on meal planning

A new al desko favourite: barlotto
Earlier this year, I tried to do the weekly meal planning thing. I thought it was The Grown Up Thing To Do. Everyone on the Kitchn it seems achieves zen by using military precision and many apps to plan each meal, each morsel, each ingredient, each day. I wanted a bit of that too.

For years I’ve had my weekday working lunches down pat by making a big ‘something’ on the weekend. Right now it’s the barley and roast veg thing, risottos, barlottos, oven bakes and other casserole-y stick-to-your-rib one-pot wonders.
Potato and pumpkin curry, ready for work lunches

But after-work evening meals are a bit more haphazard; usually a last-minute decision guided by opening the fridge or pantry and making up something fairly pedestrian.

So, the weekly planning thing. I sat down before I went grocery shopping, armed with recipe books and torn-out pages, and thought about what was in season, what was doable after work (you know: when you really can’t be bothered), and what was something new I hadn’t tried before. I made lists and lists and lists!
Tomato soup made in the summer. Crackers and a magazine, what more could I want?
I decided to cover four nights, I’d cook two recipes, two serves each; the fifth night could be lazy single girl’s eggs on toast or soup from the freezer or even a bowl of muesli. Or even cake — because I can.
Anyway, a modest system, I thought. But life would get in the way and somehow the wheels fell off. A recipe made three or four portions, not two; or I’d get invited out; or somehow the more delicate ingredients (usually dairy) would not make it til their allocated night … and I was achieving no zen whatsoever.
Barlotto made with roasted summer zucchinis, from the freezer
Then winter hit with a dark and icy bang, and the last thing I wanted to do after work was stand in a frosty kitchen, even if it was for only half an hour for a speedy pasta dinner. It was bone-chilling and bonkers. I wanted to get out of my overcoat and into the warm part of my house!

So I had a re-think. I already used the weekend to cook my big Monday-to-Friday lunch ‘something’, so why not also for my Monday-to-Friday dinners? (weekends remain a lazy and haphazard affair, and I’m very happy with that. It’s the weekend after all. Vegemite on toast is entirely acceptable).
These white-bean croquettes were a bit of a let-down; they were mushy and bland
So here was my meal planning: one lunch, one dinner. Some may crinkle their noses at the lack of variety, but the sheer practicality means it’s a winner for me. I know there is something good waiting for me when I come home. Something delicious and healthy and — done!

Saturday morning is spent cooking and cooking; usually a good three hours in the kitchen. And then washing and washing: when you cook multiple meals at once (I’m also baking a pudding or cake), it seems that you use every utensil and bowl and chopping board and tea towel at once!

Broccoli, kale and toasted walnuts are a good combo!
But all that effort is worth it, because it frees my evenings up enormously, so I can spend more time on the important things in life. Right now that’s housework and reading on the couch. But come summer: gardening and being outside!

I’ve mostly been choosing one dish to be ‘fancy’ or new or more time-consuming, and the other to be more straightforward (I revert to the barley and roast veg often). Sometimes the ‘easy option’ is excavating a home-made pasta sauce or tomato soup from my chest freezer and enjoying that (I’m aware I need to eat my tomato sauces before next season).
This week's barlotto in the pot: pumpkin and roasted tomatoes and yellow capsicum
The good thing about weekend cooking, as I’m sure many of you know, is that you have the time and energy to try those new fancy recipes. Unrushed hours to get things right; and more if things go wrong and you have to dash to the supermarket and start again (it doesn’t happen often, thankfully). I need to psych myself up for new dishes, especially savoury ones; I’m currently working up the courage to try a from-scratch curry using eggplant and coconut milk, two ingredients that are never in my kitchen, using a tried-and-tested family-favourite recipe from my friend F.

So do you have a system? Are you an efficient meal planner? Are you a big-batch cooker, or a daily one? What works for you?


  1. I always think I should have a go at meal planning. I tend to stand in the kitchen at 4.30pm with hungry children nipping at my ankles, peering hopefully into the fridge. It's not the best part of my day! I'm always very impressed with the things you make, you have fantastic lunches. Here it always tends to be bread and salad. Must try harder! CJ xx

    1. i'm lucky I don' have to cater (literally) for anyone else, CJ, or I might not be so organised!
      ah but I am looking forward to leafy green salads for lunch... any day now!

  2. Well I don't work anymore, so weekdays are much like week nights to me. And I have to appease my husband's tastes which are very opposed to my tastes. So we don't even always have the same things for dinner. For somethings I make big batches and freeze them. For vegetables I'll cook large batches from from the garden and eat them over the next few days. I happen to love cold veggies more than warm ones, so that works out great for me.

    1. big-batch cooking (and freezing) is so efficient, isn't it daphne? makes life so much simpler.
      i was eating cold leftover roast potato recently - picking while i assembled my dinner proper - and they were somehow just as good as when crisp and hot out of the oven!

  3. Funnily enough, I have never been one to do meal planning... ever. But your meals sound nourishing and delicious. I guess you save money that way too.

    1. maybe more people talk about meal planning than actually do it - and it's creating unrealistic meal planning guilt!
      thanks lizzy, I definitely aim for 'nourishing and delicious'.

  4. Your tomato soup looks fab... tasty and warming. We must be at that time of year when you're nearly into the warmer spring weather and we're moving into the colder autumn, so meal choices might just overlap for a couple of weeks. I usually try to plan meals for the week ahead, but more often than not there are last minute changes when life gets in the way.

    1. hello GD! yes, we are probably at that seasonal overlap time, neither if us experiencing seasonal extremes.
      I love tomato soup in the winter time - it really does bring some summer sunshine to a gloomy day!

  5. golly there must be something in the air! I just did a post on meal planning - funny I have been enjoying it and I think save money by shopping with a list. I alos do the big batch cooking - especially for lunches - I love soups. Your curry looks very tasty.

  6. hey AA, I shall head over to read your thoughts on the subject!
    I would say it saves money sticking to a shopping list, but somehow an unplanned magazine or block of chocolate always falls into my trolley ... :-)

  7. I've just been doing the very same thing lately and getting friendly with my freezer! Trying to be organised for dinner while settling in to my new job. Well done to all of us!

    1. yes, aren't we domestic goddesses jem?! being organised does help ride out the ups and downs in life - like a new job! it's comforting to know there is always a meal in the freezer waiting for you, no matter what the day throws at you :-)

  8. I used to be a total meal planner - every breakfast, lunch, dinner was planned and shopped for as I just get brain dead about food by the evening. It also helped to know if I needed to take anything out of the freezer in the morning. Now my son is away at uni for the most part, I just wing it in the evenings (stir fries, omelette, jacket potato and veg). If I have more time (days off, eg) I'll make something quick but delicious - and preferably with only a tiny amount of washing up! Love the sound of your kale, broccoli and walnut dish. Yum!

  9. yes, sometimes all the post-cooking washing up leaves me a bit pooped out, caro... :-)
    that must have taken supreme work and dedication to be planned to every meal, but i'm sure the pay off was worth it - just like cooking ahead for me frees up my post-work evenings.
    and ps yes, I must make that one again!


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