Meal Planning 101: What Are Your Building Blocks?

We are talking about meal planning during this week of the Kitchen Cure, and we started out with a look at sample seasonal menus. Seasonality is one thing to consider when building a meal, whether it is a quick supper for yourself or a sprawling weekend brunch for friends.

But another aspect of meal planning is building blocks. Some of us think of our meal building blocks in a very traditional Western European way: meat, vegetable, starch, sweet. Others of us may have a different idea of what consitutes the basic parts of the meal. What are your basic building blocks? What do you consider essential to have on the table for a well-rounded meal?

This is a helpful way to start thinking about meal planning for the week. You can start breaking down five nights of suppers, for instance, by thinking about the different parts of the meal. Let's say you want a meat or protein at each meal, plus a vegetable, plus bread.

Well, when you start thinking in those categories you can plan more comprehensively for the whole week. For instance, perhaps you think up a salad that will stay fresh all week (like a coleslaw) and can be made slightly different on later nights with an addition of herbs and nuts. Well, make that big bowl of salad and you've now covered your vegetable for every supper of the week.

Same with the bread. Make a batch of muffins or biscuits that will toast up well for dinner each night for several nights in a row.

Then that leaves you space, time, and open creativity to think of different dishes for the protein each night. You aren't putting together an entire meal each night; you have already knocked out 2/3 of the building blocks, leaving you to focus just on the final 1/3 each evening.

This is basic, intuitive flow for many of us, but it helps to think through it a little more purposefully sometimes.

So, the first question is: what are your building blocks? What do you feel you need every evening for a well-rounded dinner? Tell us!

Related: Seasonal Menu Planning from Around the U.S.

(Image: Flickr member yoppy licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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2009, The Kitchn Cure

Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.