Are you tired of thinking up something new to cook for dinner every night? Are you dismayed at the amount of food you throw away? Do you intend to cook a healthy meal but find yourself pounding Taco Bell crunch wraps when your willpower is shot at the end of a long workday?
Well then I have the meal plan for you. I too suffered from all of these issues until I learned the secret to effective meal planning. You must always ask yourself: what would your elementary school lunch lady do?
Behold the rules to rockin’ it Lunch Lady Style:
Lunch Lady Rule #1: Go Big Or Go Home
This is the most critical rule and the foundation of the Lunch Lady Style system. A lunch lady would never open a can of Campbell’s and heat up a single bowl of chicken noodle soup. From now on, neither do you. Never expend effort to produce only a single meal.
You buy some chicken stock, noodles, and carrots and make a vat of soup big enough to feed a kindergarten class.
Boom! You’ve got dinner covered for the next week or three.
Lunch Lady Rule #2: Keep It Simple
Unless Jamie Oliver is trying to revolutionize her kitchen, you won’t find a lunch lady grilling pan-seared tilapia with apricot compote or a buffalo burger with mushroom aioli. Would any first grader you know eat that?
Hell no. What we’re talking about here is tomato soup, beef stroganoff, salad, mashed potatoes, and fruit. It doesn’t have to be as gross as the stuff you were forced to eat in your middle school cafeteria, but it does have to be simple.
You’re going to be cooking institutional quantities of food and eating it for days on end. You need items that refrigerate and freeze well, and get better with age.
And nothing is simpler than breakfast—get yourself a ten pound box of oatmeal from Sam’s Club and you’re good to go for three months.
Lunch Lady Rule #3: Wear a Hair Net
What, you think your hair doesn’t fall out too?
Lunch Lady Rule #4: Every Food Has Its Place
Remember how your school lunch tray had indentations perfect for each part of the meal? There was a spot for your chicken sandwich, an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes, apple sauce, and even a place for your milk.
When you’re cooking Lunch Lady Style, every meal needs to be individually portioned and packaged accordingly. No more baking three casserole dishes filled with chicken and rice and doling out leftovers willy-nilly. Instead, you immediately separate the casserole into five single serving Tupperware dishes. In the morning, you grab one and throw it in your lunch bag as you head out the door for work.
And if you make more than a week’s worth of food and have to freeze the leftovers, you want individual homemade frozen dinners ready to thaw and microwave at a moment’s notice.
Lunch Lady Rule #5: Be Tough
Lunch ladies don’t take any guff from the kids, and you can’t take any from yourself. Critics point out that you cook one huge meal and then eat it for the rest of the week. How can you eat the same thing again and again, they ask?
Hey, this plan isn’t for the faint of heart. You’ve gotta be tough.
When you get to Friday and the lettuce is wilted or you can’t stand the thought of another bite of mashed potato, remember that you didn’t have to decide what to cook, actually cook, or eat Taco Bell for the entire week. And no more wasted food.
Variety may be the spice of life, but it sure doesn’t make cooking easy. Learn to love the leftovers and open your eyes to a whole new world of nightly freedom!