Productivity Tip: The Meal Plan

I’d never really considered having a meal plan before this past year. Cooking is a creative outlet for me. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to make something with what’s available. Even better if that something is a surprise win. A friend of mine recently reminded me of a marinading sauce I concocted years ago. At the time I had a lot of cilantro and limes to use up. Not knowing what else to do with so many, I created a sauce that turned out pretty tasty.

Aside from the creative aspect of cooking, I also find chopping and prepping cathartic. Even better if I’m prepping while catching up on my favorite podcasts, another enjoyable activity for me.

So when I started working again post-pandemic, things got hectic. To make things easy, I started coming up with a weekly meal plan. Surprisingly, I like a lot of things about it.

First of all, it reduces decision fatigue. Thinking about what I’m going to eat, or opening the cupboard to get inspired, is all time and energy saved with the plan. If I feel hungry, I now consult the weekly program to remind myself of the meal.

Secondly, even though I still have to make the food, having the plan has also reduced my prep time. For example, if I know I’m having broccoli for a couple meals, I’ll prep all the broccoli at once. Then leave the washed and cut pieces in the fridge for cooking right when needed throughout the week. I do something similar with onions. After chopping up the onions, I freeze meal-size portions so they’re ready to use.

Some people plan their meals, then go to the grocery store and buy all the right stuff. My preference is to shop, especially if it’s farmer’s market season, then come up with meals. This way, cooking still feels creative, while freeing up some mental space for other things when needed. I also leave a few open options by simply writing fruit or veg. This way I can fill in the blank with whatever is on hand.

I have to say the meal plan is working out pretty well. I spend less than an hour on it each week. I’m sure it saves me more time than that because I’m ready to go. This is critical, especially when there are hangry mouths to feed.

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