Meal Planning Part 2: My Indispensable Go-To Meal and Snack List

Last week I kicked off a four-part meal planning series with a behind-the-scenes look at how I use Evernote to organize the hundreds of recipes I’ve collected over the years. Here’s where we’ve been, and where we’re going:

  1. Magically searchable recipe collection
  2. (This week) Indispensable go-to meal and snack list
  3. Pre-populated grocery list
  4. Four basic (plus three bonus) steps to weekly meal planning.

Part one was for keeners, but this one is crucial for anyone who wants to cook regularly and well, without a lot of fuss. No matter what your recipe/cookbook collection looks like, you can turbocharge your meal planning with a simple Go-To Meal and Snack List. Gifted supercooks might be able to whip up a masterpiece with a few random ingredients, but for the rest of us, having a short list of our favourite meals makes things a whole lot eaiser.

What does it look like?

Keep it simple! Depending on whether your preference for variety versus routine, I’d aim for:

  • 1-3 weekday breakfasts and 1-2 weekend favourites
  • 1-3 lunch options, for days when you don’t have leftovers on hand
  • 1-3 favourite snacks
  • 6-20 dinners, including at least 3-6 “pantry meals” — dishes you can make even if you haven’t made it to the store for a while.

How is the Go-To list different from your larger collection?

Your Go-To list should be limited to the tried and true meals and snacks. Nothing makes my list unless we’ve cooked it at least three times and loved it. And it’s primarily for simple, quick weekday meals. Leave culinary experimentation for the weekend.

What’s the best format?

Usually I set up clients with a single sheet of paper they can keep in the kitchen. I’ll email them the file, so they can update it as their repertoire evolves. A recipe box or binder is okay, but I think it works better if you can see all of your go-to meal ideas at a glance.

If you’re comfortable going paperless, you can put your go-to list somewhere in the cloud like a Google doc or Evernote, which I discussed last week for my recipe collection. That way you can do a bit of quick meal planning before you leave work or at the grocery store.

Note I haven’t been saying it’s a Go-To “recipe” list. You might need a recipe for some things on the list, but many, like “DIY pizza night” or “scrambled eggs” you probably don’t need recipes for. It’s just a quick reference, for those of us whose brains are, shall we say, full.

How do you use the Go-To list for meal planning?

My advice is to always have the ingredients on hand for your go-to breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. You might vary the specifics, say by using a different type of fruit on your oats, but the idea is to get into a bit of a routine. You can also keep the ingredients on hand for those pantry meals, so you can make one of those in a pinch.

For most of us, variety comes at dinner, where you select 3-5 each week, depending on your plans. (Why not 7? Realistically, there will probably be at least a couple of nights that you decide to be spontaneous with what’s on hand, use leftovers, or go out.)

Dinner might not always be something on the Go-To list, but when I’m short on meal planning time, it’s the first place I look. If I want something special or I need to figure out how to use up half a tub of feta cheese, then I go hunting through the larger recipe collection.

Let’s Do This

Can you sit down and write out your Go-To meals and snacks as listed above? If you need ideas, and your cookbook collection isn’t doing it, start by downloading my list. It includes links to some of our favourite recipes, and it’s a Word file as well as a PDF, so you can make it your own.

Other good sources of everyday recipes: Dietitian Sarah Remmer’s “My Top Ten Easy Weeknight Dinners” or my “What to Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking.” Other great places to hunt for recipes include Dietitians of Canada’s Cookspiration and a local favourite, Julie Van Rosendaal’s Dinner With Julie.

Join me next week for part three, my pre-populated grocery list, after which we’ll pull it all together with my four basic (plus three bonus) steps to weekly meal planning.

Comments? Questions? Always welcome on the Sweet Spot Facebook page.

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