Weekly Meal-Planning 101
Chef and Lifestyle Writer Gaby Dalkin breaks down the basics of meal prep and shares how to save by planning meals ahead of time
February 21, 2024
Written by Gaby Dalkin
If you’ve been following me on social media since I launched my blog 11 years ago, then you know that I’m all about a meal plan situation. From just about the beginning of What’s Gaby Cooking, I’ve been regularly publishing weekly meal plans featuring some of my favorite recipes, and it’s not just because I love telling people what to cook and eat (though I do love that. So much.). It’s because that’s how I’m cooking and eating in real life! It’s all about the plan (sorry, having a real Type A moment here).
In all seriousness, I’m a big fan of planning for the week for a few extremely valid reasons:
- It makes getting through the week easier. When it’s a Monday morning but you know that you have that Stacked Skillet Chipotle Enchilada Bake or a Tortellini with Sausage and Mascarpone to look forward to in the evening, you better bet that day just got a whole lot brighter.
- It’s cost-effective. Planning your meals ahead of time saves you money on a lot of fronts. First, you’re no longer buying random things on a whim when you get to the store. (Okay, maybe just fewer random things on a whim.) Second, you’re able to get more mileage from your groceries. For example, you can plan on buying a bag of quinoa or rice and then using all of it to make a few different bowl variations. Third, remember that gooey, cheesy skillet and sausage-y tortellini? When you have meals that you love on the menu, then you’re a lot less likely to order takeout.
- It cuts down on wasted food. When I’m planning for the week, I’m also thinking about recipes that share ingredients. That way I can use up the entire package of herbs/meat/grains/veg that week, instead of any of it going to waste. And, because I’m only buying the groceries that I need, I’m never throwing away any extra items that I bought “just in case.”
How to Meal Prep
In terms of how to meal prep, that’s the easy and fun part. The no-brainer, easiest option is just going to my site and checking out all the meal plans I’ve saved there. Or, if you want to try your hand at DIY, then there’s really only two rules of thumb: 1. Choose recipes you like, and 2. Choose recipes with overlapping ingredients. Or, for those of you who have maybe been stockpiling ingredients for a while with the hope that something will speak to you for dinner (I see you!), consider “shopping” from your existing ingredients.
To get you started, here are three of my favorite ingredients to use as the foundation of my meal plans and the recipes that go with them:
Fresh basil is a major staple for me, namely because fresh basil means one thing: my Basil Vinaigrette. Whenever I plan to make a batch (which is most weeks, if I’m being honest), then I’m also thinking about which dishes I can make that call for a drizzle. Spoiler alert:
You’re about to start buying a lot more basil.
- Basil Vinaigrette Pasta
- Spring Mushroom Polenta with Basil Vinaigrette
- Roasted Garlic Goat Cheese Pizza with Basil Vinaigrette
I don’t think it gets any more magical than rice. It’s economical and endlessly versatile. Plus, in my opinion, the perfect meal is a bowl, of which rice is obviously the unsung hero. Buy a big bag for the week and treat yourself to countless variations of rice-based dishes by changing up the protein, the veg, and the dressing.
When I want to plan a handful of meals that all work with the same basic ingredients, chicken is always on that list. It’s the perfect blank canvas for all kinds of marinades, rubs, and sauces, and because we’re talking thighs and not breasts, you’re going to get maximum flavor from the meat itself, too. I also love having chicken in my weeknight rotation because it cooks in minutes, and any leftovers can easily get tossed with some basil vinaigrette over rice. Are you getting the full meal planning effect, now?!