Swifty’s Eats: How to meal-plan

It’s 6 p.m. and time for dinner. You got home from your last class of the day two hours ago and you’ve finally finished your homework, only to find that trip to the grocery store four days ago barely lasted you two. You could make it another Cane’s night or make an airtight plan of attack for the grocery store.

I get it — trying to balance your schedule with school, homework, a job and adulting will never be easy — but sometimes a little planning goes a long way, especially when it comes to your meals. Never been able to nail meals planning? Swifty’s got you covered with these five simple steps for a foolproof meal plan that’s sure to last you through the week.

1. Finding your recipes

The first hurdle in creating a meal plan is always deciding what the meal is going to be, and that’s not always easy if you’re not an avid cook. However, over the years, I’ve been able to find a variety of websites and cookbooks that I keep coming back to.

In the realm of the interwebs, there are endless home-cook blogs as well as credited recipe testers and chefs, but there are a few that have the Swifty seal of approval. The recipe websites on this list include: Bon Appetit, its cousin Epicurious, Food and Wine, Food 52 and, yes, Southern Living. Each of these websites have thousands of recipes and tips for creating a masterpiece fit for your weeknight meal. I must mention, however, that Bon Appetit and Epicurious require a subscription.

Now, if you’re old-school and prefer to get your recipes from published cookbooks, I’ve got you covered there too. Some of my favorite cookbooks include Magnolia Table Vol. 1 and 2, Jack Allen’s Kitchen and The NY Times Cookbook.

2. Creating a list

Now that you have at least five recipes from your new favorite websites or cookbooks, you need to make a list before you head to the grocery store. This part is just as important as anything else because your list allows you to stay on budget.

When making a list, you want to make sure nothing goes to waste when you get it back home, so it’s important to write down exactly how much each recipe calls for and get as close to it as possible. For example: if two recipes call for an onion each, but you prefer less onion than it calls for, don’t buy the two onions, simply use half, and save the other for another recipe.

Another important part of creating a list is making sure that there’s some room for you to gather pantry staples. My favorite staples for making quick meals include dried pasta, canned crushed tomatoes, parmesan and cheddar cheese, canned enchilada sauce, flour, sugar, eggs, tortillas and butter.

3. Picking a store for your budget

Like everything else, food is becoming more expensive, and it’s hard to find a store that’s not charging astronomical prices these days. For me, the best way to spend an appropriate amount and stay on budget is to split my time between Trader Joe’s and another close-by grocery store.

Trader Joe’s is awesome for students, especially UCCS students, because it’s so close to the campus — and it’s cheap. Trader Joe’s can charge way less than their competitors because they sell their own brand, and the quality is often better than a competing store’s brand as well. However, Trader Joe’s doesn’t always have everything on the list, so make sure you plan on going to another grocery store if you can’t find what you need.

4. Plan to eat out

Meal planning is called that for a reason; you’re planning your meals, not just recipes. However, don’t think you have to stick to making dinner every night. Make room in the budget so you can head out of the house at least once a week for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

5. Eat your leftovers!

I come from a home that always made sure to save our meals from the night before, only to forget we had them in the fridge the next day. So, when I meal-plan on my own, I find it is less expensive to eat the food you made the night before for lunch or even dinner again.

I know, leftovers kind of sound, well, leftover, and you might want something different, but planning your meals based on what you had the night before will make your life and your budget a lot easier to manage.

Photo caption: Swifty’s Eats overviews the meal planning process. Graphic by Lexi Petri.