Guest Post: Meal Planning for Busy Schedules

living a healthy, balanced lifestyle sounds great — but it isn’t always easy. and to maintain at least a shred of sanity along with your health, it’s very important to have some time to relax in addition to preparing nutritious food and fitting in exercise. whether it is having young children at home, a crushing load of schoolwork, or a demanding job, each person has their own set of challenges to accomplishing all of these things. as a resident in pediatrics, i often have to work long hours and spend a lot of my energy working to improve the health of others. i remember that before i started, i worried that i’d have none left to devote to my own.

thankfully, i was wrong.

however, i did learn by trial, error, and experimentation that in order to take good care of myself while working 80-hour weeks, some serious planning is required. what i consider critical ‘self-care’ still takes a chunk of time, but it is manageable and well worth it for the much-needed benefits of energy and well-being.

while eating well, working out, and taking time to breathe are all essential, this post is about meal planning (and execution), since i feel like i’ve nailed down a good system in spite of (at times) some fairly harsh conditions. now, you’re reading carrots ‘n’ cake, one of the most delicious and practical food blogs out there, so it’s likely that you’re already on your way to some great eats! but in addition to getting great ideas, making it happen on a consistent basis takes some planning. here the steps i go through each week to make sure that my husband (also a resident) and i get to enjoy good food that is good for us.

1. cookbook perusal and selection of recipes for the week. i’m actually in the middle of a ‘cookthrough’ project, which means i’m going through systematically and making ALL of the recipes from a chosen cookbook (you can check out some of the mouthwatering results from this project on my site — i post pictures of each creation!). the book i’m using is martha stewart’s everyday food: great food fast, and i recommend it.

while plodding through an entire cookbook is not for everyone, picking each week’s selections from one source rather than many actually makes this part of the process less overwhelming, at least to me. instead of just one book, you could also use a magazine such as the current cooking light, or even recipes from an admired food blog! an advantage to using the current issue (or recent posts) is that the ingredients are likely to be in season and available.

2. schedule in the meals you selected. i look at my calendar as i do this, so that the plans are realistic. for example, if josh (my husband) is on call and not coming home, i am less likely to want to cook, so that’s a leftovers night! ditto to a day that is going to be very hectic or that i know will end late. i save more elaborate culinary schemes for easy days or weekend nights. i also plan for 1-2 dinners out/weekly — because i enjoy trying new places, going on dates, and the fact that there are no dishes to do afterwards. we’re only human, after all 😀 

recipes in purple corresponding to each day.

an additional note is that when scheduling, strategize with respect to ingredients and their prospects for staying fresh. i typically shop on sunday. as a result, shrimp (because i buy them frozen!) and vegetarian/tofu/bean-based dishes tend to be end of the week dishes because they will stay fresh, whereas fish is going to be used on sunday or monday night.

3. make your list for the week. whether this is on paper (my style) or on the computer (i know a lot of people, including bloggers, use todoist), this is key. on it should go all necessary ingredients for the recipes you selected, plus any breakfast/lunch/snack staples you have noticed are running low (in our house: milk, OJ, bananas, apples, peanut butter, carrots, chocolate, and coffee are just a few!). bring your reusable bags along, and shop the living daylights out of your local grocery store — but stick to your list! i find this really hard sometimes and of course occasional strays are inevitable (ooh, espresso almonds!) but staying relatively faithful is the best way to avoid waste and keep things economical. one trick i will do is put something like ‘seasonal/on sale veggie’ on the list so that i have some flexibility without being tempted to just haphazardly throw things into the cart (and have them rot in the fridge).

4. enjoy your creations . . . and sometimes enjoy them multiple times! some of the best lunches are dinners that underwent some sort of foodie makeover. often, i actually find it easier to get my veggies in while eating leftovers than with conventional ‘lunch’ choices such as sandwiches. plus, it’s easy. an example: last night’s chicken with mustard and tarragon sauce with spinach salad on the side . . .

becomes today’s spinach salad with chicken, served with some crunchy pita chips.

there you have it! i actually use the same system and thought processes for penciling in workouts. the next step for me is to add in some dedicated plans for relaxation . . . working on it! hope this was helpful to some, and i’d love to hear your strategies as well!

— Sarah, Ghost World 



12 Comments

  1. Sarah is so right about #3 – the list is key! I’ve planned many a meal before just to find that I didn’t have a key ingredient on hand when I needed to make it. Writing down everything, and then shopping one time for it all, helps so much!

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. This is a great post, and I do use many of these strategies. What I find most challenging is when I have a hectic weekend, and don’t get time to set myself up properly for thr week. Congrats on managing so well during residency!

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