Meal Planning > Meal Prepping

Every week, Bon Appetit associate editor Christina Chaey writes about what she’s cooking right now. Pro tip: If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll get the scoop before everyone else.

Dear Healthyish readers,

This week, Amanda Shapiro and I took over the Bon Appétit Foodcast to talk about solo-cooking, a subject I wrote about a few weeks back. Relistening to our conversation (live from our brand-new home podcast studios, a.k.a. our closets—or, in my case, my roommate’s closet) got me thinking about the difference between “meal prepping” and “meal planning.”

I realized that my dislike of the term “meal prep” goes beyond the fact that it conjures up the staid image of five identical containers of neatly-packed chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, and kale. I don’t like the idea that once the prep is over, your meals are no longer something you have get to think about for the rest of the week. Some people find this one-and-done strategy empowering (and more power to them), but that’s just not what leaves me feeling excited to eat every day.

Meal planning, on the other hand, is defined by a sense of limitless possibility. It’s about prepping some things ahead of time (like your herbs and greens), maybe flagging a couple of recipes that sound really good, but ultimately letting the finer details of your meals come into focus day by day, rather than trying to predetermine your whims and cravings. It’s about planning just enough that you’re not concerned about wasting food, but leaving enough flexibility and room for your real life, imperfect and fickle and not always in the mood for chicken breasts.

Here are a few of the (loose!) rules I follow as a planner, not a prepper.

What a week of dinners looks like in the Karten household.

Do: Write It Down

I generally know what I have to use up first in the fridge, but I might start taking a literal page out of associate social media director Rachel Karten’s meal-planning notebook, pictured above. She’s a recent meal-planning convert who, at the beginning of each week, jots down a rough menu plan (with pen and paper) based on what’s in her pantry and what she bought on her weekly grocery trip, which usually includes lots of fresh vegetables and herbs. I really love the key sub-sections she uses to specify what she needs to defrost ahead of time (meats and fish), what she needs to freeze (leftover sandwich bread) and what she can make ahead to cut down on prep time (sauces and yeasted doughs).