The no-plan meal planning method has been developed over years out of the necessity to combine planning meals with using what grows in our garden.
After struggling with meal planning, I realized that common meal planning does not work for gardeners. And it does not have to. There is a better and as I find a much simpler way. In order to be able to grow what we eat and eating what we grow, we had to rethink the meal planning and recipes, too.
Gardens do not grow according to meal plans
Getting food from the edible garden is very different from a grocery store. Whether you grow your own garden or are part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) you will notice that gardens do not grow according to our meal plan, they grow in compliance with weather conditions.
As a new food gardener, you might find it very difficult to plan meals around what is ready to harvest. However, making meals from homegrown vegetables is the ultimate goal.
If we don’t eat what we grow, there is no point in growing it.
No-Plan Meal planning is great for using what you have
Gardeners, homesteaders, and people who like to shop in bulk, often have a well-stocked food pantry. There are always foods that need to be used up. There can often be an overflow of one product (like zucchini), that needs to be dealt with regardless of whether you have planned it or not.
Stephanie Hafferty writes in her great book No Dig Organic Home & Garden:
“There is a sense of achievement, a connection with the past, sharing the pleasure of your homegrown abundance with a good meal. Far from being limited, seasonal cooking is liberating and inspirational. Deciding what to make with that week’s harvest is fun.”
She continues on to tell how she plans the menu for the course days at Homeacres in the morning of the day after harvesting what is available. She says: “It is exciting deciding what we will eat, a flexible decision which also reflects the weather and other considerations.” If Stephanie thinks it is fun to do a no-plan menu for a large group in order to use what is available, how much more so is it when preparing food for a family.
Meal planning is overrated
Growing up I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a meal plan. We often had beans on Saturday and noodles on Monday. And maybe my mom had other tricks to get us all fed. But I do not recall her ever sitting down and writing up a plan. For the matter, I don’t even recall her using a recipe book or grocery list. We ate what we grew and what was in season. In the winter we used what was stored away in the pantry and root cellar. You can read more about how people lived simple yesterday here.
Fast-forward to modern grocery-dependent life and the flow of information on the internet. It seems like if you don’t plan meals and make a proper shopping list you waste money and will never feed a family properly.
This is just not true. People have lived without meal planning for generations, simple from the garden to the table. It can also be done today.
I was very encouraged by a young, enthusiastic blogger who also uses the no-plan approach to meal planning. If you need more encouragement to No-plan meal planning after reading this, head over and read her post. Well worth it.
My meal planning story
I started my homemaking life in Germany. We did not have a garden or grow any of our own food. In Germany, it is very common to shop for the day. Small corner stores are everywhere, easy to reach, and get your daily needs met. Since I had no example of meal planning passed down to me from my mom, I simply did not plan meals.
Even after moving to Canada, I continued my small shopping trips for a few days at a time. Our meals were more dependent on sales than on a plan. Read more about how to feed a family on a tight budget.
Then we started growing more of our own food and store it for winter which made common meal planning practices with a grocery list not applicable.
The book Plan It, Don’t Panic: A Complete Meal Planning Resource didn’t turn me into a planner either.
My creative daughter made me a beautiful handmade menu planner. You can read more about it here. Over the years I have used this piece of art in my kitchen in many ways.
First, we used paper slips with all our favorite recipes including such as Dine Out, Wild Card, and Specials. Then I just wrote meal ideas into each day categorizing them a bit.
This finally resulted in daily meal themes which I call the No-Plan Meal Planning Method. It seems to work best for us gardeners.
No-Plan Meal planning daily meal theme
As I have already mentioned, having daily themes seemed to be the method my mother already used. Back in the day cooks often had less variety of products to work with, and would make the same meals over and over again. Today we sure don’t have a shortage of variety nor recipes to encourage variety, but we can still theme those recipes. We can have a great plan for the No-plan approach to meal planning.
Our meal themes are changing, depending on what our schedule is like and what we love to eat. It’s a very flexible, but still helpful method of meal planning that isn’t one.
Here some ideas to theme your favorite meals:
Soups and stews on Sunday, grains in yummy pilaf or topped with veggies on Monday, leftover stews and grains on Tuesday, wraps on Wednesday, pasta (including noodles, zoodles, and spaghetti squash) on Thursday, stir-fry or roasted veggies on Friday, and something special on Saturday, since we often do something special this day anyway. We do not follow it to the T, not at all actually. It’s just there as a help to be inspired.
You get the idea.
Combine it with freestyle cooking and you are all set for using your garden bounty.
The no-plan meal planning method for gardeners is a great approach to meal planning in order to use what grows in the garden and is in season.
If you are a gardener we would love to hear about your method to use what you grow in your garden.
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Kathryn Hutton says
Look in the fridge what do I need to use up? That’s dinner! Nothing there. Look in the the little freezer (where I store bits and pieces) is there enough to make soup? Yes, then soup it is. No, then off to the big freezer. I have a system… Top shelf beef, 2nd chicken, 3 pork, 4 wild game, 5 fish. If I pulled out chicken last time then it’s pork tonight. Then pair it with salad, veggies and pickled or fermented stuff. That’s dinner. Super easy!
Agree, meal preparation does not have to be complicated. Glad you found a simple way for yourself.