Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Ease into Meal Planning for One - Start with Lunches

A simple, hearty sandwich for lunch.
When I finally got serious about meal planning for one, after my daughter left the nest, I felt uncomfortably adrift in a sea of confusion. I'd been cooking and meal planning for most of my adult life, but aside from a few years of being on my own before marriage, always with others in mind. With my daughter off on her own, I found I'd have to break the old habits associated with cooking day-to-day for others and make some new habits that centered only on me. At first I bought too much, cooked too much, and wasted too much. But over time, I developed a few successful strategies for planning meals for one, and this is one of them: start meal planning with one category of meal at a time--breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks (yes, snacks are meals!).

The Simple Lunch - Healthy and Satisfying Any Day of the Week

My favorite lunch is a sandwich. Not only is it a lunch item that's fast and easy to prepare, it is also a comfort food that always reminds me of my childhood. I associate sandwiches, particularly baloney, lettuce, and mayonnaise sandwiches, with long drives in the country and days at the beach. My mother wrapped our sandwiches in waxed paper and placed them in a small brown paper bag along with an orange or apple, and sometimes a cookie. The "beach" sandwiches were the best; after a morning of being tucked under a blanket beneath the shade of an umbrella, they were warm and fragrant with such a distinctive aroma that I can just about smell them right now. Even today, a day trip to the beach is never quite right without baloney sandwiches.

Although a sandwich is my favorite lunch item, I also enjoy salads and soups. Here's a suggested list of lunch items, some of which I prepare ahead of time, that take less than five minutes to toss together for a simple lunch at home, at work, or at the beach. I'm all about grab and go.

Grab and Go Lunch Items 
  • Sandwiches.
  • Homemade or purchased soup.
  • Garden salad and dressing.
  • Yogurt.
  • Whole pieces of fruit.
I prefer to make my own soups in large quantities and freeze them in individual serving containers. Usually, a batch of my homemade soup will give me six to eight delicious, healthy lunch or dinner servings that will keep in the freezer for up to three months. Lunch could not be easier when all you have to do is microwave a bowl of soup and add some crackers and a piece of whole fruit.

When it comes to garden salads, I prepare ingredients ahead of time by washing, drying, and slicing my favorite salad ingredients and storing them in my refrigerator's vegetable bin in individual containers. When it's time to assemble a garden lunch salad, all I have to do is grab the prepared pieces I want, throw them in a bowl, and toss with salad dressing.

Make Your Weekly Lunch Calendar and Shopping List

Once you have a good idea of what you'd like to eat for lunch for the week, make a simple calendar that shows the lunch items for each day. Focus on the foods you like (after all, you are pleasing only yourself) and whatever foods you require to meet any special health needs you have. Also think about how much food you need to feel satisfied.

Your grab and go lunch calendar may look like this:

Shopping List

  • 1 or 2 heads of lettuce
  • 2 Cucumbers
  • 1 Onion, sweet or red
  • 1 Pint grape tomatoes
  • Salad dressing
  • 1 Pound grapes
  • 2 Bananas (one will be for Saturday's fruit salad)
  • 1 Pear
  • 1 Orange
  • 1 Loaf bread
  • 1/2 Pound ham
  • 1/4 Pound Swiss cheese
  • Sandwich spread (mustard or mayonnaise, or both, or salad dressing)
  • 1 Box crackers
  • 1 small container of berries in season (for Saturday's fruit salad)
  • 1 Head fresh garlic
  • 1 Container yogurt (8 ounces)
  • 2 or 3 Servings soup (your own homemade soup or commercially prepared)

Tips for Managing Your Weekly Lunch Plan

Take a Day Off
First and most important, devote one weekend day to eating out, at least for breakfast and lunch, as in brunch. Combine the two on a Sunday and treat yourself to a meal that requires no thinking, preparation, or planning. Even better, enjoy that Sunday combined meal with a friend or family member.

About Fresh Produce
Use fruits and vegetables, fresh meats and cheeses, within three to five days of purchasing them. I'd love to be able to grocery shop one day a week for everything on my weekly menu plan, but that's not always possible. Plan on a quick trip to the market a second time in the week to replenish fresh foods.

About the Shopping List
No doubt, you already have items in your kitchen like sandwich spreads, salad dressings, and garlic. These probably don't need to be on your weekly lunch shopping list. The shorter that list, the better.

Add Fruits to Salads
Salads don't need to be boring. Take some of those fresh berries and grapes and add them to your garden salads for variety.

Could starting with lunches be a first positive step in your adventure toward total meal planning for one?

Photo source:  Meneer Zjeroen CC BY 2.0


  1. Hi there fellow hubber. I like your blog. Great ideas since it is really difficult to cook just for one!

    1. An interesting comment, Julie! My daughter and I spent Saturday cooking for my mother's 90th birthday party. It was a lot of fun to spend so much time in the kitchen with my daughter...and now, I'm struggling a bit to get back into my "cooking-for-one" routine. Good for me that I brought home plenty of leftovers from the party to hold me over until I get myself kick-started. Thank you, fellow Hubber. :)