Did you check our guide to meal planning for beginners? It's chock-full of the tips and techniques that help make the practice of planning and prepping for dinner far easier, but for some, the idea of meal planning for even a whole week is still not the best fit. But that doesn't mean meal planning isn't for you — if you're cooking for one, change your mind often about what you want to eat, or simply hate to haul all those groceries at once, then maybe micro meal planning is a better option. Micro meal planning is the simpler, lower-commitment alternative to the week-long option, and might just be what you're looking for. Here's what it is and how to do it.
What Is Micro Meal Planning?
Like traditional meal planning, micro meal planning asks and answers the question of what's for dinner, but on a much smaller scale. Forget about choosing recipes, shopping, and prepping for a full week's worth of dinners. Micro meal planning is the low-commitment process that cuts the lead time for planning. It commits to a single night of cooking per week, and definitely no more than three.
Micro Meal Planning: What Still Matters
Compared to its traditional counterpart, micro meal planning takes a slightly different approach in the way it helps you get dinner on the table. It doesn't ask you to plan a week's worth of meals or shop for a week's worth of groceries on Saturday afternoon. Even though micro meal planning nixes the commitment and takes a lot of the work away, the underlying tenants of meal planning hold true. Here are the things you'll still need to do.
Identify when to make dinner at home: For starters, take a look at the week ahead and find the day (or days!) when cooking at home is the best option for you. Maybe you figure this out ahead of time, or maybe it's not until the day of — either way is fine.
Find recipes that fit: You'll still want to look for recipes that fit your needs and take your dinner goals into account. This includes looking through the fridge and pantry to see if there's anything that needs to be used up.
Meal prep: Lastly, consider meal prep. Meal prep never set anyone back in the kitchen. It's certainly helpful if you have the time, but if not, no sweat.
Why Micro Meal Planning Is Right for You
1. You're a couple or cooking for one.
Whether you're single or cooking for yourself and a partner, the more minimalist approach of micro meal planning could make a lot more sense for you. You still reap the benefit of cooking once or twice a week, without getting stuck with a mountain of leftovers.
Get more tips: 10 of Our Best Tips for Meal Planning for One
2. You want to cook no more than three nights a week.
Micro meal planning is for those who value low commitment. Planning to cook even one night a week is a success. This process focuses on planning for no more than three days a week, which leaves room for having a fluctuating schedule, going out to dinner, getting takeout, or eating leftovers.
3. You change your mind often about what you want to eat.
Micro meal planning lets you listen to the whims of your stomach. Stir-fry sounds good now, but tomorrow it could be tacos, curry, or even a frittata. The beauty of micro meal planning is not having to plan too far in advance. Even if you take a few minutes to plan dinner over your lunch break, it's still meal planning. The key is showing up in the kitchen with a plan of action. When you decide what that is — be it two days or two hours in advance — is up to you.
4. You want to focus on what you already have on hand.
If you prefer to eat what you already have on hand, like leftovers, pantry staples, and freezer foods, micro meal planning could be a good fit for you. Even if you're making a plan to cook what you have on hand, whether that's repurposing a leftover chicken breast or scrambling eggs for dinner, you're still meal planning.
5. You don't mind grocery shopping twice a week.
Do you feel totally intimidated by hitting the grocery store over the weekend for one giant shopping trip to stock up for the whole week? This is one more reason micro meal planning could be right for you. Since you're working on a shorter time frame, it's okay to run to the grocery store twice a week. And if you're focused on using what's already on hand, it can meaning only picking up a couple items.
We want to hear from you! Are you a micro meal planner? What are your best strategies for making it work?