Meal Planning for the Pandemic

Hey y’all. Different kind of post for everyone, but still about food! Just wanted to quickly share how I’ve been doing meal planning the last few months when living with friends in case you might be interested in doing so for your family or if you’re living with some other group!

Meal Planning

So, the first thing I do is lay out all of the days of the week in a row on a spreadsheet, and then I find recipes for dinner on each day! I typically find that making a good amount of food for dinner and having leftovers for lunch is good enough for me, but I guess if you want to make lunch too you can have a row for that. That looks something like this:

Meal planning spreadsheet.

Feel free to also add the chefs for that meal on that day. Definitely link the recipes to each cell—it’ll be super useful. It’s also helpful to add various things you might buy for breakfast/lunch/snacks just so it can all be in one place.

A good rule of thumb for a week is to do 1-2 days of takeout (maybe on particularly busy weekdays), 1-2 large project meals, 3-5 quick/normal-effort meals.

After this part of the post, I’ll talk about some recipes I like for each type of meal! But for now, once you’ve found all of the recipes you’re planning on cooking for the week, it’s time to organize your grocery list.

First, make a new tab on your spreadsheet for your grocery list this week. Then, just copy and paste all the ingredients from you recipes into this empty table. It’ll be a mess, but that’s okay—you’ll go through it later.

Grocery list before formatting.

So then, after you’ve pasted everything in there, it’s time to go through to categorize and consolidate. At the end, you want your grocery list to look something like this, where every item is categorized so it’s way easier to shop at the store (important now, since you really don’t want to be at the store for longer than you need to be!):

Final grocery list.

(At the grocery store, I usually just open the list on my Sheets app and bold items as I get them.)

This seems like it would take a long time, but don’t worry—it really doesn’t take very long (3 min at most and very worth it!), especially when you have multiple people doing it. Make sure to consolidate ingredients precisely so you know exactly how many onions you need! Sometimes I like to throw in an extra onion or package of butter since I know I’ll need it.

The great advantage of this meal planning regimen is that you waste much less food. Also, you know exactly what you’re getting at the grocery store each time and you’re in and out quickly—no more staring at produce wondering what you’re in the mood to make. And it means that you definitely only have to go to the grocery store once a week, since you’ve planned it out beforehand.

Okay, second part of the post!

Recipe Suggestions:

First, get a subscription to NYT Cooking because so many of their recipes are fantastic.

Quick Meals

Eggs in Purgatory

Amazing dish for any meal. Pantry ingredients, takes 20 min and basically no prep. Just keep lots of cans of tomatoes and eggs and maybe some bread.

Pan-Fried Trout With Rosemary, Lemon and Capers

With a quick zucchini salad.

It’s true—it really only takes 20 minutes. Makes for a great meal with a quick salad and maybe some bread, and trout is fairly cheap (you can also sub other fish). Most of the other ingredients you’ll likely already have in your pantry.

Korean Beef Bulgogi

You do have to prep this ideally the night before, but it’s a quick marinade and you can just toss it all in a plastic bag. After that it’s just frying up the beef and making some rice. Delicious with some kimchi, sliced scallions, and maybe lettuce to wrap!

Kitchen Sink Pasta

No recipe for this one, although you could maybe base it off of this one with cherry tomatoes, aglio e olio, or this one with capers and olives. The point is to use the stuff in your pantry, like olives, anchovies, or canned tomatoes. There is no going wrong; as long as you use olive oil and garlic and a splash of pasta water, you have delicious pasta. You can also be extra like me by making your own pasta, but that makes it a middle-effort meal.

Middle-effort Meals

Chicken Paprikash

This is a classic Hungarian dish. Also incredibly easy and you’ll likely only have to buy chicken for it. Super flavorful, and if you cook it right, the chicken just falls off the bone. It’s like something you stewed for 3 hours but you actually only cooked it for 30 minutes. The sauce is also perfect to dip bread into.

Fish tacos

You can make a lot of food with this recipe too. It’s a lot of fun and feels fancy, but you really don’t have to put that much together—cook the fish, whip up the sauce, and slice some veggies. You could also add some grated cheese or salsa. Everyone loves tacos!

Keema

Amazing meal. It’s really easy, you just need a blender, but the rest of the ingredients are fairly standard. Would highly, highly recommend making tzatziki and buy pita or naan (or make it, if you’re feeling ambitious!) to go along. You can make these great wraps that are the perfect blend of spice and richness with the cooling taste of tzatziki. This meal also stores very well.

Project Meals

Bo Ssam

Yes, you need 10 pounds of pork for this recipe. And it takes 7 hours. But it’s totally worth it, and feeds a crowd. Other than the meat, you don’t have to make much other than the sauces and maybe some rice. But it’s so delicious—the meat falls off the bone and it’s all incredibly juicy and fatty.

Boeuf Bourguignon

Ah, a classic of French cuisine. But really, not as hard as you think—just takes a long time to simmer, but it’s the top dog among beef stews. Make sure you buy the right beef (chuck is ideal!) and you’ll end up with a rich, unctuous, homey dish.

Pizza

I call this a project meal, but it’s really not. You only need to do a couple things:

  1. The night before, make the pizza dough and let it go for a slow rise in the fridge.
  2. 1-2 hours before your pizza party, start on your pizza sauce.
  3. 30 minutes before you start, put your “pizza stone” (can just be an baking sheet) in the oven and crank the temperature up as high as it will go.
  4. Right before you start the pizza party, bring out the toppings. Here are some ideas:
    1. Mozzarella, of course! Parmesan too if you’d like.
    2. Lots of basil
    3. Some type of Italian cured meat
    4. Anchovies, olives, etc. if you’re into funky flavors
    5. Bell peppers, mushrooms, caramelized onions if you like veg
  5. Now everyone can shape their pizzas together and top them with whatever they’d like! As a rule of thumb, about 4 ounces of pizza dough makes a generously sized personal pizza (5-6 inches across).

And that’s it! You and your roommates will now have pizza parties every Friday. You’re welcome.

Sides

Tomato and Watermelon Salad

With carnitas!

A super summer-y recipe, but it’s so delicious and easy to make. The watermelon and tomatoes go together with a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity, and the feta adds salt and nuttiness. A great light addition to a richer meal!

Manouri, Eggplant and Orzo Salad

A tip: you won’t be able to find manouri in a normal grocery store, but you can sub in ricotta salata or feta! Such a fun, balanced salad. Literally just go read the recipe, it’s delicious. And fry that eggplant, not bake. It’s so worth it.

Sweets

Apple Crumble

I was not a fan of fruit crisps or crumbles before this. But just pair this with some ice cream and you’ve got soft stewed apples with the perfect amount of crumb. If you double this recipe, you’ll feed an entire house for dessert and breakfast the next day. Cut the apples smaller if you want them to be softer. And preferably assign someone to apple peeling and cutting duty.

Giant Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cookie (GCPBC)

Just do it. It’s a giant chocolate and peanut butter cookie.

And that’s that! Now’s the perfect time to get into meal planning and cooking if you haven’t yet already. Hopefully you’ll get the chance to try a couple of the recipes above. Stay safe 🙂

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