Sunday, February 24, 2013

PODE!: Meal Planning = Healthy Eating... Like a Bawse

It's a Sunday night and here I am mucking around the laptop while trying to work out my meal plan for the following week. I was mulling over what my first topic for Project: Overcome Domestic Entropy would be, and realized that most of my money and food woes stem from not planning ahead and heading into the grocery with no goal in mind - bahala na si Batman (Imma leave it all to Batman), and I'm guessing a lot of other people are guilty of this, too.

I don't know about you, but one of the biggest challenges I've discovered about living by myself is food spoilage. Did I mention I'm a picky eater? I don't really eat rice - sandwiches, salads, and pasta mostly. I try to eat healthy and try to stock up on vegetables and fruits for the week and stay away from the canned stuff, but by the end of the week, half of my fresh produce can be found wilted and icky at the bottom of my vegetable bin, and I still end up having to order takeout from McDonald's.

If you're anything like me, meal planning is the answer! After a lot of scrounging on the interwebs and a bit of trial on my part, I've found a system that works for me.

Here are 10 tips on how to plan your meals for the week:

How much of your budget goes to food? How much of that food budget goes to meat, vegetables, fruits, and grains? I try to keep to the outer aisles when I shop at the supermarket, and the only canned food I go for is my Tuna in Brine for my tuna sandwiches and as a topping for my salads. I try to stay away from the instant noodles, spam, and corned beef as much as possible. My budget goes mostly to vegetables and fruit, with a small budget for my cheat food: dark chocolate, popcorn, and Cheetos' Crunchy Cheddar Jalapeño.

You can plan out your meals for a week, a month, the whole quarter - go nuts! I usually plan for a week, since my diet is heavy on fresh produce and it takes around a week before I need to restock. I like to take a look at my calendar of activities for the following week as well, to check how often I'll actually be at home or if I could pack a lunch.

If you're anything like me, you probably have a big tub of yogurt, half a loaf of bread, some orange marmalade, and a stick of butter waiting for you when you open the fridge. If you have significantly more than me, then take stock of what you already have and plan your meals around those items. If you want to be really anal about it, keep an inventory of items (what you bought, the expiry date, etc.) so you can keep tabs of the contents of your fridge and pantry. I can probably make buttered toast with what I have.

Not everyone can be Wolfgang Puck or Jamie Oliver, but no one's going to take that against you. It's fine to put down 'hot dawgs' on your meal plan if you don't plan on spending more than 10 minutes in the kitchen. The important part is you know what you're having and when you're having it, so you don't find yourself scrambling to place an order at McDonald's at 11 o'clock in the evening.

There are so many places to go grocery shopping in Manila - SM Hypermart, S&R, the wet market, and Legaspi Sunday Market are a few. Whether it's a traditional grocery store, farmer's market, or specialty store, find out where you can get the best deals and plan your meals out accordingly. For example, I buy my bulk and imported items (i.e. cornbread and chili) at S&R, while my pasta, sauces, and other regular ingredients I buy at the nearest Hypermart, and every now and then order bread from online from The Green Grocer and my favorite pre-made vegetarian meals from the Ministry of Mushrooms.

This will turn your meal planning into a walk in the park.  If you have printed copies or cutout recipes of the meals you want to make, it won't be so hard every time you need to sit down and plan. I have a stash of my favorite Jaime Oliver 30-minute and 15-minute meals, as well as printed recipes from to help me along.

Keep in mind that you'll be eating more than one meal a day. Snacks are pretty important for me, since it's in our culture to have at least two merienda breaks and that's the time we start grabbing the easiest thing to open and stuff in our gob - chips, cookies, and instant noodles. Sound familiar? Also, if you don't plan for these meals, you'll end up spending extra money on heading out to the convenience store and buying the first MSG-laden food item you see. Spicy pancit canton, anyone?

Find a time to sit down and plan your meals. We're all so caught up trying to meet deadlines, catching up on the latest installment of Downton Abbey, or squeezing in a few more hours of pampering time, why not add in 30 minutes of quiet planning time before you wind down your day? I find this task to be quite enjoyable and it gives me something to look forward to at the end of the week as well.

Find a meal plan that you like, print it, and keep it! I like to use a mix of a weekly meal plan that you can download here and a monthly calendar here. The weekly meal plan  is what I use to organize what I need to buy for the week and the monthly calendar to make sure I'm not boring myself eating the same thing every other day. Be adventurous with your food and have fun with it! There are at least 50 ways to cook tuna and over 1,000 ways to cook chicken!

It takes a while to get into the swing of things when it comes to meal planning, and the first time is usually the hardest since it's something you're still getting the hang of it. There's a lot of trial and error involved, so cut yourself some slack and try again if you didn't find time to plan for this week, or you didn't follow through with your meal plan today. That's what McDonald's is for, isn't it? I kid. That's what emergency meals are for, but we'll get to that on a later date.

I really hope this helps! Let me know how these tips work for you, or better yet, share you own!

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