Welcome, I’m glad you’re here!

Meal Plan Maniac was born out of my frustration with the 5pm dinner dilemma – the eternal question of “What’s for dinner?” If you’re curious about my journey, you can learn more about it here.

Even when I knew what to cook, I hated the pressure of racing against the clock to get dinner ready before it’s too late. (Is 8:30pm considered too late for dinner? Because that’s how it always ended up for me.)

In comes the meal plans to eliminate that kind of stress. But a plan is only one part of the equation! Knowing how to use it effectively is what makes the preparation process effortless when dinnertime approaches.

So, without further ado, let’s dive into it!

How to use mPM’s meal plans

Step 1

Within each plan, check out the Meal Plan Menu for the week. If you primarily use your phone, also check out this video on how to navigate through the plan.

Notice that some meals have more than 1 recipe, like Meal 2

Step 2

Go shopping for ingredients! Review the Shopping List. Check your fridge and pantry and cross off anything you already have.

Do this 1-2 days before you decide to start the meal plan.

screenshot of a sample shopping list from MPM's meal plan

You can find the shopping list at the end of the plan

Step 3

Choose a day where you can set aside 1-2 hours to bulk prep whatever you can for the week in advance.

You can find a high-level summary of all the preparation needed in the Prep Summary.

I’ve broken down the summary into 2 views. The first (below) consolidates all prep into a single view. This is really helpful for getting everything ready at the same time, especially when some ingredients are used in multiple meals.

The “All” tab displays all the ingredients that need to be prepped for all the meals in the plan

Pro Tip 1: Do this step on a day you’re not in charge of making lunch or dinner. Most people get overambitious and try to prep and cook on the same day, and often find themselves exhausted after. This isn’t the goal! Give yourself grace and opt for take out that day.

screenshot of a plan summary section by meal from a sample meal plan within the website

The “Meal” tabs show all the ingredients that need to be prepared for all the recipes within that specific meal

The other view (above) is broken down by meal. It shows how the consolidated view breaks down for each one.

Pro Tip 2: The day before you cook each meal, always check the summary to see if there is anything you’d need to prepare the day or night before. For example, you can prepare the hard-boiled eggs in advance, or take your butter out of the fridge in the morning before heading to work.

This step is key because it significantly cuts down the time and stress you’ll experience in the kitchen when cooking on the actual day.

Think about it this way, if it takes you 15 minutes everyday to prep garlic (e.g. peeling the garlic, mincing it, washing up the knives and cutting board), that’s 1 hour and 15 minutes you’ll spend a week on garlic alone.

The amount of time it takes to mince an extra ingredient or two is negligible, but the time spent to wash up and disinfect everyday compounds.

POV: You’re ready for the week!

Step 4

Cook! Before you start, take some time to understand the workflow. Read the recipe (including the notes) from top to bottom. Have your prepped ingredients ready and whip up any sauces or cornstarch slurries. 

In most Asian cooking, once the fire gets rolling, everything happens very quickly (sometimes in less than 5 minutes). So be ready!

Step 5

Enjoy your delicious homemade meal!

A note about rice

The main carb to supplement the recipes/meals is steamed rice. No surprise there!

In most cases, they pair best with steamed white rice. I use long-grain Jasmine rice as my main carb when cooking Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, or Vietnamese cuisines, and short or medium-grain rice for Japanese and Korean cuisines.

Because rice is so fundamental to Asian cuisine, I do not include them in the shopping list or recipes most times, unless the rice itself is part of the main dish (e.g. fried rice). In cases where the carb itself is obviously part of the main dish, like Chili Oil Noodles, you won’t need to make rice.

Before starting on any of the recipes, make sure you cooked up a batch of rice!

Pro tip: Make rice in large batches ahead and freeze them once they’ve cooled. You can reheat them in the microwave with a splash of water as needed.

Why blanching is a good idea

Blanching vegetables serves 2 purposes:

  1. It prevents loss of flavor, color, and texture—extending the “life” of the vegetable throughout the week.
  2. It gives us a head start in the cooking process for stir-fries. Since stir-frying only takes 5 minutes. If you start from raw, some pieces won’t cook as evenly as others (especially hardy vegetables like broccoli). Blanching pre-cooks each piece of veggie so you will have a consistent tasting stir-fry every time. This is a well-known technique used in many Chinese restaurants!

Here’s how:

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil (about 6 cups) and add 1.5 Tbsp kosher salt. Prepare a large bowl of cold/cool water on the side.
  2. Blanch vegetables for the time indicated on the recipe/prep summary. The countdown starts when the water comes back to a boil, so don’t overcrowd! Once done, immediately transfer the vegetables with a sieve to the cold water for a few minutes to stop the cooking process.
  3. When vegetables have cooled, drain well and transfer to a storage container or Ziploc bag. Use a salad spinner to remove excess water for leafy greens or use clean hands to squeeze out remaining water.
  4. You can repeat this process with all the vegetables using the same pot of water. Bring water back to a rolling boil before starting a new batch. Replace cold water if it gets too warm.

I can already hear you thinking, “but do I really have to?” Well, no. You don’t really have to do anything you don’t want to. If it doesn’t fit into your routine or preferences, that’s perfectly fine.

Still, I highly encourage you to try it at least once or twice before you shoot down blanching altogether. This is the one tip I always turn to when I have a bunch of vegetable stir-fries planned for the week. Once you’ve experienced the difference it can make, you might just find it to be the magical touch that elevates your dishes and takes your meal prep to the next level.

How to Preserve Shelf-life of Prepped Food

In Step 3 of How to Use MPM’s Meal Plans, I mentioned prepping the ingredients a day or two before you start your meal plan. So, how do you store them until needed?

Chopped Aromatics

These refer to scallions, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, lemongrass etc. Once prepared, store in an air-tight container in the fridge to keep maximum freshness. Use them within 7-10 days. If you suspect it has gone bad – the color has changed (e.g. turns brown), there is visible mold, the texture is mushy – toss them. Always err on the side of caution to avoid food poisoning.

Chopped Veggies

Store in meal prep containers or in the bags they come with in the crisper drawer. If a vegetable has a high water content and tends to go limp quickly, wrap it with a paper towel before storing in the fridge. The paper towel absorbs excess liquid that will prevent it from wilting or turning mushy.

Meat and Seafood

For seafood, it’s a good practice to vacuum seal any you won’t use within 2 days of purchase. You’ll notice that I usually include seafood recipes earlier in the Meal Plan Menu. This helps maintain maximum freshness.

When it comes to meat, consider vacuum sealing if you won’t use it within 4-5 days of purchase or before the “best by” date. The key is to vacuum seal as soon as possible to lock in freshness. Generally, meat and seafood can be safely stored in this way for over a week without issues. However, if you know you won’t use them within a week, date them and store them in the freezer for later use. They can typically remain good for up to 6 months before you might notice a slight change in flavor and texture.

If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, you can still preserve fish and meat effectively. Wrap them tightly with plastic wrap, followed by aluminum foil. Place them in a Ziploc bag and try to remove as much air as possible. Don’t forget to date them before popping them in the freezer for future use.

Food Safety Tips

There are loads of food prep practices out there that can get a bit confusing, and most of them leave it up to you to figure things out. But there’s one that’s super important yet rarely talked about on most recipe websites: preventing cross-contamination between different foods.

I’ll do a whole post on this in the future, but for now, here are some top tips I picked up from my food safety course:

  1. Use separate cutting boards for your meats and veggies. And don’t forget to give your knives a good wash and disinfect when you switch from slicing meat to chopping veggies to keep those germs in check. Cleaning your produce before diving into cooking or snacking is a must.
  2. When you’re prepping, start with the stuff that cooks at the lowest temperatures first and work your way up. For instance, chop scallions first because they’re often used fresh, unlike potatoes that you’ll be cooking, so the risk is lower. The same goes for salad greens; get them ready first.
  3. The same temperature principle applies to proteins. Fish cooks at the lowest temperature, followed by beef, pork, and then chicken.
  4. Remember this rule even when you’re stashing them in the fridge! Don’t stack raw chicken on top of fish because if any chicken juice drips onto the fish, it can be a real risk. If the chicken happens to be carrying salmonella, the time and temperature you’d use to cook fish won’t be enough to kill those bacteria.

how long does it REALLY take to make these recipes?

I pondered whether to include cook time and prep times in the recipe cards for a while. The truth is, the speed of your prep depends on various factors.

Consider a few factors – your chopping skills, the tools at your disposal, the sharpness of your knife, the size of your cutting board, and potential distractions like kids or pets. Did you also prepare some ingredients in advance as instructed?

All these factors influence the actual cook and prep times. I can only share my own experience and circumstances when I test these plans myself.

If you follow all the steps I’ve recommended above, MOST (if not all) meal plans take less than an hour to have a meal ready. This is mainly due to waiting times, such as marinating the meat or waiting for the Instant Pot to build pressure, rather than active cooking time.

See also: How to Make the Quickest Stir-Fry

To offer some reassurance, I’ve included estimated prep and cook times in the recipe cards if you were to make the dish from start to finish without any prior preparation. This is for the folks who need some baseline to assess and prepare themselves before getting started.

Don’t be shocked if some of them appear to take longer than 1 hour! Most good recipes do. But this is why I structured them as a meal plan system in the first place.

Stick to it, and you’ll find yourself getting quicker as you go!

Questions?

Feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll respond as soon as I can!

Ready for Stress-Free Cooking?