Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meal Planning for One: Buying Guide

So Meal planning feels like a lot of work when you’re just cooking for one person, right? But it really makes even more sense. How does it feel going home and cooking just-for-you every night? Would you prefer to pop in a microwave-dinner? Or order take out on the way home?

You will save both your health and wallet by meal planning. However, you don’t want to over buy for just one person. So how do you know what’s enough?

1) Generally humans, like all animals, go for the highest calorie per least effort foods. This is a biological drive designed to guard the body against starvation. That means, that when we “shop lazy,” we will consistently order foodstuffs that are high in protein, carbs and sugar. The amino acids in both can be broken down into store-able fat. Whether or not this is good for you, your body desires this stuff, unchecked. When shopping for one, it is harder to police your own buying decisions and the fact that these items proliferate in our grocery stores does not make it easy to adjust these buying patterns.

(Easy-Peasy Chicken Pasta Salad--noodles, chicken, pickle, mushroom, spinach and greek yogurt)

2) Gravitate to dishes--no matter their region of origin--that combine veggies with bread and meat (unless, of course you are vegetarian, in which case you should research what you need for complete protein). These dishes are like: pizza, pasta, stir fry, soups, burritos, enchildadas, salads, casseroles, crepes, sandwiches, pitas...

(Polenta snack--baked polenta discs topped with marinara and leftover balsamic artichoke chicken. Chicken dish can be added to a variety of meals: including pasta salad, salad, pizza and couscous)

3) Select a series of mini dishes--veggie, fruit or meat-centered that can be versatile. That is, seasoned and cooked veggies (or other) that can be tossed into different dishes when you are cooking, baking, or otherwise preparing food.

(Carrot Rice pseudo-frittata)

4) Strategize leftovers--play with dishes that take a long time to eat. If you are afraid they will be going bad soon, try to add them to something, or bake them in a way that turns the dish into something else entirely. Or, pawn them off on family and friends with a last-minute: “Wanna come over to eat?” invite. Just reheat (and perhaps re-season depending on the item) and serve in a pleasing manner.

5) Remember-- ⅔ of what you eat should be fruits and vegies and ⅓ meat, dairy, and everything else. Let that govern how you shop and how you cook.

6) Gage how well you accomplish these things, and then adjust your shopping accordingly. A fruit and veggie-heavy diet should be very cost effective.

Monday, May 30, 2011

7 Things to Know about Yourself before Meal Planning

1) What do you like to eat?

This sounds silly, right? I mean, we all know what we like to eat! You can list meat, veggies, cheeses, fruits, and brands. Now take a step back, what “ethnic” category do these foods belong to?

“Food Families” if you will are regional cuisines. If all you eat is “asian food,” perhaps you could split them up into country-of-origin. Or, if you like “Asian Food,” generally speaking and “Italian/Mediteranian cuisine,” and “French food,” you have three distinct “Food Families.”

This is important to identify because it will influence what you stock your kitchen with, in order to then decide what meals you will make nightly.

2) When are you hungry?

Some people want to eat right when they wake up, others wait a few hours. Some people prefer dinner at 7 and others eat as early as 4. Knowing when you’re hungry will determine when you cook, or when you pop something into the microwave. If you are so hungry that you need to plop a meal in the microwave right when you get home from work, you will know that that is a meal you will have to make ahead of time so that it can fit seemlesly into your routine.

3) Are you a snacker?

If you love to snack, know when you snack and on what. If you want not only to lead a Greener and more affordable life, but also a healthier one, you might need to identify night-time snacking habits you want to alter. However, snacking tendencies will also have to be planned. You need to know what you snack on and when so that an alternate snacking choice can be made ahead of time.

4) What is your buying habit?

How often do you go to the grocery store? Weaving and adjusting your current habits into your meal-planning structure are integral to knowing how and when you will be cooking. There are a variety of ways to meal plan successfully, but knowing what sort of time you spend shopping will help you to determine which ones you are best suited to.

5) How much do you know about cooking?

If you rely on pop-in-microwave meals, how much do you know about what goes into a dish?
If you boil water, add pasta, dump bottled marinara on top and call that dinner--you might want to start with a few very simple dishes. If, on the other hand, you know how to cook holiday meals, and just think that’s too much work on a daily basis, you might want to scale down the fancy and pick up some easier dishes.

6) Do you follow recipes?

If you follow recipes, then keep it up. If you don’t, and you want to switch the cuisine you are creating, then you might want to try following a few recipes first. You can improvise after you have the proper feel for taste in the dishes you are creating.

7) How many people are you cooking for?

Knowing how many people you are cooking for will decide a few things about your tactics. See Meal Planning for One, if you are cooking for just yourself. There are also Family guides, and Cooking for Two.

Friday, May 27, 2011

5 Reasons to Consider Meal Planning

1) Cost--

It takes an initial invest to stock an empty kitchen with the right implements to institute a meal planning regimen. However, long term, the cost is lower. When you meal plan correctly, your week-to-week expenditure on food is reduced. You buy some items in bulk, and others on a weekly and seasonal basis.

2) Budget--

Spending less on food allows you to budget better, squeezing in vacations, or expensive indulgences that otherwise would have been out-of-reach, but with a little put away each month--that no longer is spent on food-you can use budgeting techniques to improve your quality of life.

3) Health--

Planning what you are going to cook gives you more control over what you are eating. That means, integrating more fresh ingredients and lessening your dependence on pre-packaged and restaurant bought meals means that you can control fat, sodium/msg to better affect. Eating food that does not require preservatives, and be certain you eat not only as you ought to, but what tastes good leads to richer, healthier and more enjoyable meals.

4) Environment--

Planning, inventorying, and using what you have to create meals on a daily and weekly basis leads to less waste. Generating less waste is always better for the environment. On average humans generate more waste than the Earth can sustain. See “The Story of Stuff,” if you haven’t already. Becoming more conscious of the excess we produce is the first step to leading a Greener life.

5) Learning and Exploring--

The more disciplined you become about Meal Planning, the more exotic dishes you can try. It is fun to allow yourself to buy one odd fruit or vegetable which you have no idea what to do with, and then take it home and choose a dish from a blog or cookbook featuring said item. It is a cooking education, as well as a learning experience for your taste buds. The adventure of experimenting while cooking is simply fun.