It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Meal Planning

Morgyn asked: How long does it take to make these lunches?

A good question, and one I didn’t have a quick answer to. I did a little calculating, though, and discovered the answer: Not as long as you might think!

For starters: With few exceptions, these lunches are what my family had for dinner the night before. I make enough to feed my family plus five small people, so daycare lunches add little if any prep time.

(Does this mean that I’m eating the same meal twice, dinner on Monday and lunch on Tuesday and so on through the week? Well, it would if I did, but I can’t be eating two full-size dinners every day unless I want to be a somewhat more than full-sized woman! So I eat my largest meal with the daycare, and in the evening, I eat the vegetable course. A large salad, a plate of roasted beets, that sort of thing. I gather it’s healthier to eat your largest meal earlier in the day, so that’s what I’m doing.)

Secondly: In Mary’s house, Sunday is Food Day. That’s when I make the weekly menu and from it the weekly grocery list, which I hand off to Wonderful Husband to take to the store. I started doing weekly menu plans perhaps two years ago, and WHAT A WONDERFUL THING IT IS!!! You think you don’t have time? HA!

It helps me enormously to have the week’s menus worked out in advance. If I have to stand in front of my open fridge and stare down the contents at 5:30, trying to come up with a meal to place on the table at 6:30?

TOTALLY DEMORALIZING. I hates it, precious, yes I does.

That’s how I used to do it. I’d get to the end of the day, I’d send the daycare on their way, and then there I’d be, in front of my fridge, pacing the kitchen, opening and closing cupboard doors, and just generally turning into a panicky, fatigued, stressed-out, put-upon, resentful MESS. Feeding people! It NEVER ENDED!! My family kept wanting to EAT, dammit, meal after meal. So demanding. Relentless, they were. So there I’d be, evening after evening, staring into the fridge, willing something edible to leap out at me, fully formed.


But! To brew myself a nice pot of tea, and sit down first thing Sunday morning, pencil and paper at the ready, with my recipe file of family favourites, a cookbook or two, and a couple of favourite food websites?

Soooo relaxing.

And at the end of every day? I don’t have to think. I don’t have to be creative. I just have to look at the list, and do it.


So. Anyway. The husband takes my grocery list and brings home the bacon bulgar. And often, wine too! In the afternoon, with all the lovely fresh food, I make most or all of the side dishes.

This week we had beets, coleslaw and green salad as sides, as well as pesto, which can keep quite a while in the fridge. Roasted beets (by far my favourite way to cook them) take time but no attention. (Wrap them in foil and roast at 350 for an hour or so. Lots of recipes suggest topping and tailing, or adding oil and/or balsamic vinegar. I don’t do any of that. Just bung ’em in foil and ignore.) The coleslaw, pesto, and salad were made while the beets cooked. Pesto takes about 5 minutes to whizz together in a food processor, and salad is quick and easy — 15 minutes, maybe? The coleslaw was a little more finicky, even with a food processor and a mandoline, but even so, it didn’t take longer than the beets cooked to make all three. So, time on weekend, to make three side dishes: less than an hour, but we’ll call it an hour.

As for the rest of them… they varied from 10 minutes for pesto and pasta (since all I had to do was cook the pasta), 30 for rice and dahl, to about an hour for the stews (which breaks down to 20 minutes chopping/prep and 40 minutes simmering. In fact I probably simmered them longer than 40 minutes, but they could easily have been eaten after 20 minutes. If you have time, longer simmering makes them tastier, that’s all. You could use the long simmer time to clean the kitchen or organize your tax files.

Or you could put your feet up and enjoy a glass of wine. Aaaaah.

When do I prepare meals? Usually after hours. I’m trying to get into the habit of cooking real food with the tots, but this week I forgot. Silly of me: it would have been super-easy to make the pesto with them, for example, or to have them wash and wrap the beets. Oh, well. Next week!

I’d say my three ‘secrets’, which are not secrets at all, are

1. Double-duty meals: Family dinners are daycare lunches. (Cooking in bulk, in essence.)
2. Menu Planning!!! Cannot say enough about the stress-reducing virtues of menu planning.
3. Sunday side dish prep time (Some prep on the weekend, some on weeknights. Divide and conquer!).

And the occasional lunch of peanut butter sandwiches.


Add that all up and you get about 3 hours 40 minutes prep. Let’s round that up and call it four hours. For ten meals. (Five dinner, five lunches.)

That works out to … roughly 25 minutes/meal, and that’s with me rounding up in a couple of spots. Twenty-five minutes for home-cooked, nutritious, delicious, interesting food.


March 5, 2013 - Posted by | food | , , ,


  1. I do the weekly menu planning thing, too, and I totally agree with you that it saves so much time and frustration. And to those who are doubtful – the plan is only a PLAN, not a straitjacket! Say you just don’t feel like a given meal on that day, or something new was added to the calendar for an evening so you need something faster? – just swap with one of the other meals on your list! Weekly plan + weekly shopping trip = you’ve got all the ingredients you need anyway. I also like how it gets me making more variety – one poultry meal, one red meat meal, one veg/fish meal, We always allow at least one night of leftovers, ‘cuz otherwise they build up, but I’m pretty sure you’ve said you do the same.

    Comment by MsHuisHerself | March 8, 2013 | Reply

  2. We started meal planning about a year ago. What a difference! I started enjoying cooking again.

    Comment by Kate | March 9, 2013 | Reply

  3. So, what do you eat on the weekends? Do you cook on the fly, or have a plan for that, too?

    I plan six meals per week. Saturday is Fend-For-Yourself day, aka “Use up the leftovers!” (Because Sunday is grocery day and I want the fridge cleared of last week’s food.) Sometimes I just let them all forage, sometimes I make a meal of the leftovers, either just by heating them or, if I’m feeling creative and have the energy, by turning them into something else.

    Comment by rosie_kate | March 9, 2013 | Reply

  4. I heartily second the meal planning! It really does save time, stress, and money–if I know an evening is going to be rushed because of a school event or ballgame, I can plan something quick and simple like sandwiches instead of running through a drive-through. Last weekend I made it even easier on myself; I made a list of about 30 of our favorite meals, so I can just pick from that when I’m meal planning if I’m feeling uninspired.

    Comment by Leigh | March 11, 2013 | Reply

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