A New Approach to Meal Planning

Meal planning is something often recommended, but difficult to do. If you can be consistent with it, meal planning is very beneficial in terms of time saved and efficiency in shopping. And if you have managed to get a good meal planning system going, kudos to you. Seriously. I really respect that. 

I have never had much success with sustained meal planning. I have many starts and stops with it and tend to give up after a few weeks. When I’ve lost my motivation, I find it helpful to think in terms of meal repurposing or extending; that is, using familiar dishes in different ways and ensuring they last beyond one meal. Here are some tips for how to do it.

Make a Basic Dish That Can Be Seasoned Differently

You can use the same basic recipe, week after week, but just change the seasoning. The first example that comes to mind for me is the baked chicken breast I recommend from Gimme Some Oven. Try different spice mixes, as I suggested in my post. Or use different homemade or bottled sauces on the chicken instead of a dry rub. Try BBQ, chimichurri, butter chicken, pesto, or any sauce you like. You can also mix things together for new sauces: try a little hot sauce in your BBQ sauce, or combine equal parts Buffalo wing sauce, mayonnaise, and plain yogurt to create your own spicy topping. Most of the dry rubs and sauces that work with chicken will also work with meats like turkey and pork tenderloin. 

And anything you can put on chicken to bake, you can also put on tofu. Cube or slice the tofu and marinate it in whatever seasoning or sauce you prefer, then bake it until it reaches the desired level of doneness. 

Change the Presentation

Move beyond just placing the protein on the plate and serving it with a side. You can change the tone of a dish, so to speak, by serving it differently. Cook your protein in the same way as mentioned above, but choose another option for serving:

  • Slice the protein and put it in wraps with lots of vegetables and different sauces, like guacamole, salsa, tzatziki, your favourite vinaigrette or salad dressing, a homemade or store-bought sub sauce, or whatever flavour works with it. Buy wraps in different colours to mix things up more. 
  • Chop the protein into small pieces and serve it in a lettuce leaf. Have garnishes on the side like green onions, sunflower seeds or dry-roasted peanuts, chopped sweet peppers, grated carrots, olives, chopped cucumber–whatever will go with the protein. Have a little extra sauce on hand to drizzle over top or try a dressing that complements the protein, even just basic oil and vinegar. Serve as a lettuce bowl, with forks, or use the lettuce as a wrap.
  • If the flavours match, serve your protein with pasta and tomato sauce. Add a dash of La Bomba to spice things up. 
  • Put the protein on a bun and top it with your favourite burger toppings, for example, red onion, spinach or lettuce, tomato slices, roasted red pepper, guacamole, sliced cucumber, pickled hot peppers, dijon mustard, or anything you like. 
  • When baking the protein with sauce, top it with some cheese and seasoned bread crumbs to give it a different texture. 

Think of Leftovers Before You Start Cooking

If you know your protein is versatile and can be used again for a completely different meal, be sure you have enough to complete two meals; double it if necessary. Consider the seasoning you’re using on your protein so you’ll know what to do with the leftovers.

  • If the seasoning is more Mediterranean or Italian, consider using leftovers in a pasta dish with tomatoes or pesto. 
  • If there is some heat to the dish, maybe fajitas would be a good option. 
  • If you’re using anything with curry, plan to toss it with some cooked potatoes and the sauce you used, top it with phyllo or pie crust, and make a pot pie. Or make individual pies inspired by samosas, using store-bought dough, stuffed with your leftovers, folded into triangles, and baked. Using the same process, you could make a meal inspired by empanadas using chimichurri or similarly spiced protein, beans, peppers, olives, and onions. 
  • Wraps and sandwiches–listed above as variants on presentation–are also great ways to use leftovers. 

There are lots of possibilities. The key is to make sure you have everything on hand to do round two. 

Less Thinking, Same Good Results

With these simple tips, you can use the same basic recipes repeatedly, but create totally different meals. And if you stock your pantry well, you won’t even have to think too much about it; just grab whatever sauce or seasoning you feel like, then go through the same motions as before. 

It’s because I like to repurpose the same recipes that I recommend keeping some staples in the house, like a few marinades/dressings/sauces, dry rubs, bread crumbs, hot sauces, pasta, tomato sauce, and fajita seasoning. Since things like wraps and buns are more perishable, you can plan to buy those things the week of your meal. Same with things like phyllo pastry or pie dough–you may not want to crowd your freezer with them so buying them as needed is probably better.  

Repurpose meals often enough, and you’ll get into a rhythm: bone dust chicken followed by fajitas; BBQ chicken followed by wraps; butter chicken followed by pot pie. And because there are so many variations, you can easily mix things up so you don’t fall into a rut each week. 

Image of vintage clock by Igor Netkov | Dreamstime.com

2 thoughts on “A New Approach to Meal Planning”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *