Welcome to How I Eat: Meal Planning for Normal People. (If you missed it, click over to read more about this series on The Pajama Chef.) This series is meant to inspire readers (and myself!) with tips and tricks for meal planning and getting dinner on the table. Whether you’re cooking for one or a crowd, I firmly believe that good food shouldn’t be sacrificed just because life is busy.
Today’s feature on How I Eat is Andrea! We’ve known each other for more than 10 years now, since I worked with Cru at Ohio University. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!! #old) Though it’s been awhile since we got to catch up in person, it’s fun to keep up with her on social media. When I started this blog, Andrea always commented about my recipes. Lately I’ve been seeing her post more about cooking online and wanted her to share her perspective on meal planning, food, and all those things with you!
Tell us about yourself. Who are you cooking for? What else influences how you get meals on the table?
My roommate and I take turns cooking dinner for each other so we can try new recipes and not eat alone. My roommate sometimes likes cooking more complex meals, but when I’m cooking I’m looking for something I can throw in a crock pot or that can be done in around 30 minutes and still taste great. Its been great having a taste tester to give me feedback on my meals.
What meals do you plan?
In a typical week, approximately how many meals per week do you plan to eat at home or prepare to take with you (e.g., to work or school)? No shame… curious minds want to know! For this, I would include any food purchased at the grocery store (e.g., rotisserie chicken, bagged salad mix, etc.) but not takeout.
- 16-18: I eat out 3-5 times per week, maybe a few days for lunch or so.
What is your basic meal planning method?
Because we are fans of leftovers, my roommate and I each plan one or two dinners a week, leaving us with leftovers for other dinners and some lunches as well. During the week, I write down the basic things I’m getting low on in the notes app on my phone, and look through recipe ideas online, mostly Skinnytaste, for inspiration for my two next meals, and put those ingredients in the notes app as well, so everything is accessible when I do my Sunday afternoon grocery run.
What are your favorite weeknight meals?
My roommate and I are both trying to hone our cooking skills, so neither of us has made the same thing more than a couple of times. One thing that will definitely stay in my recipe bank is a chicken tortilla soup I made by combing through a few different recipes to create my own. Very easy, dump and go and the flavor is fantastic! I gravitate toward soup when I’m cooking most of the year, as I find it is a great way to get vegetables in while not SEEMING to get vegetables in. Again, I rely on Skinnytaste to give me healthy alternatives to what I might otherwise make that still taste fantastic.
Some of my favorites have been Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili and Baked Potato Soup. I’m also trying to get her Quick Marinara exactly to my liking and I LOVED her Skinny Chicken Enchiladas.
What are your “no-brainer” meals? Or what meals do you make when there’s “nothing” to eat?
If I’m in a rut but want to cook something that will give good leftovers, I grab the ingredients for tacos. Recently I made spaghetti and meatballs using frozen Italian meatballs, cans of crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning. And we always have frozen pizza and cans of soup around for those nights neither one of us wants to/has time to cook.
Do you use any tools to help you create your meal plan and/or execute it?
Andrea talked about her system above, and adds: on weeks that my roommate is away, I always pick out a few recipes that I want to try that she may not like or can’t eat, see how many servings each one is and “map out” a plan in my planner. Knowing what I’m eating and when I’m cooking helps the food not go to waste and allows me to not get bored eating the same thing for EVERY meal because I made too much. I haven’t perfected this, but I hope to use this method if I ever live alone or am responsible for cooking for a family.
What is your best advice for someone who is just starting to meal plan?
Think about who you are cooking for and what your goals are for cooking for each week. Do you just want to cook a few times and have leftovers or do you want to have something different every night? What is your schedule like that week? Do you want to spend time in the kitchen creating (me some weekends) or do you need to be able to eat dinner almost immediately after you get home (me most weeknights). I’m no expert by any means, but these questions have almost become second nature to me now.
Anything else you want to add?
I love being in the kitchen, but I don’t want my time to be laborious, or to spend a lot of money on ingredients I’m not going to use up in the recipe or have other uses for. I try to blend creativity with reality.
Thank you, Andrea! It’s so fun to hear how you partner with your roommate at times to make yummy dinners together/for each other. But it’s equally great that you can take the time and make recipes you enjoy! My favorite part of this interview is hearing how you try to blend creativity with reality. That’s so evident in your desire to make great food but not spend a zillion hours or a zillion dollars doing so. Great advice, friend!