Whether you're living solo or you want to be more frugal and organized (or you just want to cook less—no judgment), you've probably wondered about two of life's great culinary challenges: figuring out how to handle leftovers and finishing food before it spoils.
Enter the meal plan.
"When it comes to cooking and eating, like everything else, failing to plan is planning to fail," says Troy Mueller, R.D.-N., a registered dietitian with Carilion Clinic Dining and Nutrition Services. "But with some thinking ahead, you can turn a few main ingredients into a meal plan—and sometimes even cook once for multiple meals."
Connected meals, or multiple meals that share ingredients and even cooking or preparation steps, won't let your time or your food (and money) go to waste.
Many foods are good candidates for connected meals, but few are easier or more perfect to start with than a whole roasted chicken. Pick one up ready-made at your favorite supermarket and let it take center stage on your table as you plan out your meals for the next several days.
Choose Your Star Ingredients
Say you buy a rotisserie chicken, a fresh loaf of bread, a carton of berries and a head of lettuce. Over a few days, you can turn all that into several different meals by adding a few items you probably already have in your fridge and pantry.
Use the example meal plan below for inspiration.
- Carve the chicken, make a salad and slice some fresh bread for dinner
- Put some berries in the freezer for an easy-to-eat frozen dessert
- Top oatmeal with blueberries for breakfast
- Have a chicken sandwich for lunch
- Have a light salad with a made-from-the-pantry veggie soup for dinner (freeze leftover soup)
- Grab some eggs and milk from your fridge plus some syrup from your panty to turn that not-quite-so soft anymore bread into French toast for breakfast
- Blend up a berry smoothie for lunch
- Toss the rest of the leftover chicken and lettuce into a chicken salad for dinner
- Make and freeze homemade croutons or breadcrumbs with the rest of the bread
Now, give it a try—and feel free to have fun with your ideas and favorite ingredients. With a little creativity, you can make meal plans you'll look forward to all week!
And, check out Your Freezer Is Your Friend to learn another great culinary life hack!