or Connect
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Natural Living › Nutrition and Good Eating › Meal Planning › How do you figure out how to meal plan?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

How do you figure out how to meal plan?

post #1 of 191
Thread Starter 
This seems like such an obvious thing - decide what to cook and eat, and then do it. But I've not been successful at doing this - well - ever. I don't know if I lack a certain gene or something.

But I'd like to plan better since the pasta and sauce one night, chicken with some kind of sauce the next night, and back to pasta, is getting old old old old old. I've been resorting to canned cream of mushroom soup.

A problem I have is cooking something the people in my house will all eat. Also, determining portion sizes. Also, determining how often to cook. Plans like savingdinner.com are just waaaaaaaaaay too much in terms of how much and how often and how expensive. Plus, new recipes every night, too much new stuff.

I feel like I should be able to cook things that are healthy, rather fast (I have 2 yrs 8 mos old twins so fast is important ) and that the suspicious-of-green-stuff people in my house will eat. I HATE cooking something and then ending up eating it all because no one else will even sniff it. It's really a self-esteem drainer, ya know? And I'm not THAT bad of a cook, they just don't like it.

When it was just DH and I, we just each fixed our own food. He will still fix his and also fix/share with the girls, as will I, but this just feels unsatisfactory - I am finding we are eating too many carbs, too many chips, too much cake, too much soy ice cream - and justifying it by saying it's from the HFS so it's not so bad.

I really feel inadequate in the meal planning area, but it is about to become urgent as I add to my micro-part-time work schedule and DH keeps his rather full already work schedule.

Help! Thanks!
post #2 of 191
:

i would likesome tips too
post #3 of 191
I need help with this too!
post #4 of 191
Okay, I've said this before, so sorry to the mama's who've heard it all. First, get yourself a couple of really good cookbooks. No, you don't have to learn a new recipe every day, but the ones I'm going to suggest will help you, over time, to take what you learn and apply it to the stuff that you already make so that, just maybe, people won't turn their noses up anymore.

Get yourself a book called "The New Best Recipe" by the editors of Cooks illustrated. Last time I checked, you could get it off of Amazon for $14.95, and it included a free copy of the magazine, too (and the magazine is as awesome as the cook book...). The editors of cooks illustrated take great pains to honestly figure out what makes a recipe great, and then they tell you exactly how they came to that particular recipe and WHY certain things work the way they do...so this is the part you can bring to your other cooking.

They also have a book called "The Quick Recipe" with the same concepts, only the recipes are generally quicker than your average four course meal ( ) to make. It's a good one to try something from once a week.

There are a bunch of others I can recommend, too, if you want, but I'll move on unless you let me know you'd like more of those suggestions.

Then, I get a calendar (I have a great one right on my computer) and look at six weeks.

I assign a TYPE of meal to every day. For us, Mondays are roasts (in the oven, on the grill, or in the crock pot...crock pot roasts are great for work days) with corresponding sides. This one type of meal allows many options...turkey (I buy many on sale at Christmas), chicken (watch the loss leaders for roaster chickens about every six weeks), ham (lots of sales at easter), pork loin (best price I've found is at costco), lamb, you name it! And within those options are many variations...different prep styles, marinades, sides, herbs...all fairly easy!

Tuesdays are soup or stew, salad, and bread...I usually take the remaining roast/bones from the day before to make this soup. If we're already sick of said roast, I'll freeze this soup/stew and pull another "flavor" out of the freezer. I often put the bread in the bread maker and the soup in the crock pot, and this is also a "gonna be gone all day" "quick" meal. There are so many possibilities with soup...noodles, rice, dumplings, stews, cream base, veggie soups, you name it.

Wednesdays are international days. So pasta is a possibility, but only every six weeks! Otherwise, we do thai, chinese, mexican, other italian...we're irish, so good irish meals, french...this allows for some spice and "mixing it up." Within those "nationalities" are so many options that we rarely have the same thing on wednesdays for a minimum of 8-12 weeks, rather than the usual six.

Thursday is breakfast day. Pancakes, waffles, blintzes, crepes, french toast, and within those types lots of variations (we have five variations of pancakes alone). Also, we vary the protein (sausage, ham, eggs (and TYPES of eggs)). We will often have fruit, berries, and orange juice with breakfast night.

Friday is Pizza night. Pizza, believe it or not, has lots of possibilities. Thin crust, thick crust, normal crust, calzone, barbeque, alfredo, all meat, all veggie, a little bit of everything...depending on how much vegetable matter is on the pizza we may or may not include salad that night.

Saturday is leftover night. If there aren't leftovers, we'll have sandwiches (egg salad, tuna salad, grilled cheese, tuna melts, grilled peanut butter, cold cuts if there are some left that need to be eaten) and raw veggies.

Sunday we often go to either my in-laws or one of my parents' houses for dinner, just because we like to spend time with family. We usually bring a dish to pass. If by some chance we're home that night, its a vegetarian meal night.

So, in planning, I do all the mondays first. I make a rule that I am not allowed any repeats in that six week block of Mondays. Then the Tuesdays, and so on and so on.

So, these are meals I KNOW how to make, even if they're not something I've made in a while. Often I WILL try one new recipe a week, on a night I know my husband will be there to help out, to hopefully add to the repretoire. Because they're stuff I know how to make, I dont always have to think about serving sizes, 'cause I know how much of it we eat. However, the rule is that leftover night in our house is most often sandwich night...we are pinching pennies, so if there are leftovers, dh often brings them to lunch, and if there is STILL some leftover, the kids and/or I will have them for lunch as well. We really try to keep waste down to a minimum.

EVERYTHING I make is from scratch, whole foods based, and just about everything I make I can make double of and freeze for a crazy day, and often do. DH occaisionally travels, so knowing when he'll be gone, I'll make sure I have a meal frozen for just about every day he's out of town...and all I have to do is reheat it. This means that we can be out and about (keeping busy keeps the kids from missing daddy QUITE so much), and still have a low cost, yet quick, meal on the table at dinner time!

Eight month old twins aren't going to eat that much for dinner. Even if they are eating table food, remember that the rule is to give them as much as the size of their fist, as that is the size of their tummy. And that is the total quantity! So a half dollar sized piece of meat, a table spoon of veggies, a table spoon of starch...

Hope some of that helps. If you really need good recipes, ask friends and family members for their best and favorite dinner recipes. Give them a try, one a week. Get THE NEW BEST RECIPE, give some of the roast and other dinner recipes a try. There's a great crock pot book called something like"Not youre mother's crock pot recipe book" that has really REALLY yummy not boiled recipes in it. Think of it as a challenge...try to mix it up and save money while you're at it.

Plan on an hour or so for planning when you start...I've got it down to about 45 min. now, sometimes a half hour.

It just plain makes life easier, especially with kids and a husband who is at work all day!
post #5 of 191
Oh, and one more thing. The rule is that if a meal is made for you and you're an adult, you EAT it. We don't want picky kids (and have picky eaters on BOTH sides of adult family), so we model non picky behaviour, even if we can barely swallow the stuff. That's just the rule. And the kids have to eat at least half of what they're served the first three times they try it, and at least two bites for the next several times...to be sure that it won't grow on them, and it often DOES...

Turns out that maybe because of this, maybe not, I have the least picky kids (even though they have TONS of allergies) in either family. Just a thought.
post #6 of 191
I will go through my cabinets, fridge & freezer to see wht I have already. Then I get a pen & paper to write down any ideas I get just from whats around & also to make a grocery list for whatever I may need to pick up for those meals. Then if I need more ideas I scour my cookbooks for something that sounds good. I don't always know when I need to cook either, so I will make a list of about 7 meal ideas & that usually last about 1.5 to 2 weeks here. Sometimes I assign meals a certin day, other times I just note what things need to be made first due to fresh ingreadients.

Just keep in mind what your family likes & dislikes while you are doing this. Also when you do find soemthing your family really enjoys you can usually depending on what it is, make extra & freeze it for a really quick meal next time. Things like cooking several chicken breasts at once & keeping them handy in the fridge to add to other things is helpfull too. We don't eat meat, but I always have a supply beans in the freezer & usually have some rice or other grain already cooked in the fridge ready to go. Hope that helps!


ETA: A crock pot can be very handy for 'quick' meals too since there is little hands on time.
post #7 of 191
Thread Starter 
Thanks for these helpful tips and book recommendations too. My girls are 2 yrs 8 mos by the way. Not sure they actually eat much more solids than they did at 8 mos, though, sigh... not for lack of offering, I gotta say!:

I also checked out the crock pot thread and Cindy's Porch and I'm thinking I can make this work. A long term plan makes a lot of sense, then just implement it as you go. I like the idea of different themes for different days, we already often do a pizza night on Friday or Saturday and I'd been thinking of ways to vary that so I may keep that. I do think we are a very pasta loving family and we might make one night pasta night - ww pasta and some different sauces/veggies/etc.

I'm wondering as a follow-up question if anyone has started meal planning AND begun to make the switch to vegetarian at the same time. I've tried going "cold turkey" so to speak and found it's just too drastic, so I'm thinking maybe I'll plan some nights vegetarian and some nights not, and then when we get used to that expand and see how little meat we can use over the course of a week. Already I find that when I cook meat it doesn't get all eaten, so I think that's a sign we're ready to move into more vegetarian options.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE the idea of an international night where you can try different things different weeks. I am DEFINITELY going to incorporate this.

I got the printouts from Cindy's Porch on looking through your freezer/fridge/pantry and shopping from home first, then meal planning (she has a month calendar not six weeks but close enough for me for now) and then finally a grocery shopping list.

Here's the link to Cindy's Porch: http://www.cindysporch.net/

Glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with this, too.

Here's what I made myself for lunch, shopping from home!
Brown rice, cooked leftover in the fridge
One farmer's market tomato, chopped (fridge)
One quarter farmer's market zucchini, diced(fridge)
Two slices sharp organic cheddar cheese (fridge)
EVOO (Pantry)
Balsamic vinegar (Pantry)

Um, yep it was as yummy as it sounds!!!!!!!!!!!

Oh - I made the girls this:
WW tortilla
combo of organic white cheddar and nonorganic orange cheddar
apple slices
Heated tortilla in cast iron skillet, topped with cheese and apple slices, folded tortilla over in half, heated/turned it over a couple of times until all the cheese melted. They ate about half of it, which is pretty darn good for them when mama's been sneakin' fruits and veggies into their meal.
post #8 of 191
Amy, there's also a "Pantry Challenge" thread around here somewhere that'll help use up what you have. We have fun with that one!

And, oops, missed the "2yrs" part of their age. I understand, though. Sometimes I think my ds (just about the same age) has the same eating habit. But...then the next day he eats all day long.

Have fun with this. I know that our life is just soooo much easier since we meal plan. We spend at least half as much on our meal budget (good thing, 'cause we're scrimping)...mainly 'cause we don't end up getting carryout or whatever's on the endcap at the last minute when we talk as dh is on his way home from work! It's nice, too, to be calm about dinner, instead of dreading it all day, 'cause I don't want to have to figure out again what to make for dinner. It's already figured out and on the menu that's stuck to the fridge. And as we shop for essentials once a week, the ingredients are already in the pantry and fridge, too, so he doesn't have to stop on the way home when he's beat, and I don't have to load the kids up when we're ALL knackered from a long day. It is a gift I have given myself!

And, yes, I can easily see it happening that you simply continue to add another day of vegetarian meals into the menu...and still be able to keep the themes. With TVP and all the rice and bean, etc. combos, you will be surprised how little missed the meat is. I was a vegetarian for sixteen years before I got preggo w/dd and (argh) started craving, of all things, beef. DH thought there was something seriously wrong with me. The midwife set him straight, though. Point is, yes, it can be done gradually. Enjoy!
post #9 of 191
I'm not nearly as organized as courtenay_e. What I normally do is on Wednsday (pay day is Thursday), I sit down and I have a month calendar that I make our notes on. I don't have a pattern, I just stick in a leftover night in the middle, and add in any social things that will effect dinners (like if we will be out, a crockpot dinner, things like that), then I check the weather. I am really weird about eating heavy foods when I am hot, so I learned last summer that I never stuck to my plan if it was heavy foods and hot weather, so I try to plan around that now. We have a picky 10 year old, a piggy 2 year old and all of them are anti veggie, so it is intersting. We have a rule that all new foods require eating a small serving of them. And I respect that dh and I have much spicier taste, so if making something hot, will often just plan extra sides so the boys can have a balanced meal, but with out me cooking twice. Doing this, we have found a lot of new foods that they like now. Of course, still not veggies lol. The problem we have is repeating food to often, I am just gun shy trying new things very often, we had a couple bad ones in a row. But we have been slowly expanding our choices. I will see if our library has those books recommended to check them out. I did get a lot of new ones from the crockpot thread on here, and we've liked a few so far.

I think we will try a more structured menu. I can't use the same each week, my work schedule varies, and dad's nights in charge need easy meals, he doesn't cook, but I can adjust that each week still.
post #10 of 191

Meal Planning

I am so impressed with those of you planning meals weeks and months in advance... I thought I was organized planning 7-10 days in advance. My strategy is to plan until the next day I intend to go to the grocery store. This day changes based on our schedule so usually my planning goes from Tuesday to Wednesday or Thursday of the next week, etc.

I just write a list of main dishes for dinner and a corresponding list of ingredients that I need to buy and store both lists on the fridge. Sometimes I associate the meals with particular nights, (for instance, I am making something that will have a lot leftover and I want to make it early in the week so that my husband can get a lot of lunches out of it.) but mostly I like to keep it more flexible so that if I have a bad day I can revert to the simplest dish to make (aka boil pasta, add sauce).

I would like to also point out that I don't use a recipe every time I cook. You can make a very satisfying, simple meal by cooking the meat or entree properly with some seasoning, the adding a steamed vegetable and a baked potato or other simple starch.

One thing I didn't see mentioned before is fish; I try to serve fish once a week. I buy wild caught, but I buy it frozen and only exactly enough to serve one portion each to 2 year old DS as well as DH. (Leftover fish is not my favorite anyway) I bake it or broil it usually, and whether it actually gets some sort of sauce or other 'recipe' preparation is highly variable. I just like properly cooked fish seasoned with salt/pepper/thyme, drizzled with a little olive oil, etc. To add vegetable power, I wilt baby spinach leaves in a little butter and serve the fish serving on a little bed of spinach. (I make up the plates at the stove and bring them to the table, which is supposed to help you eat less vs serving family style, also makes less dishes to clean.) I will usually serve this with a Vitamin A vegetable (steamed carrots or baked sweet potato chunks) and maybe rice or other grain, or even another steamed green vegetable. (we eat a lot of grains at other meals, so I focus on protein and vegetables at dinnertime, starch is optional.)

I plan other meats for other evenings, such as chicken, beef, ground meat for a casserole, etc. and especially since it is summer, we marinate and grill out a lot. I have a recipe for marinated flank steak that is so easy; you whip up 6 ingredients in the marinade (I usually do this the day before we eat the meat) refrigerate, then put it on the grill 7 min per side, slice in thin strips, and serve with brown rice pilaf (boil brown rice in vegetable stock until absorbed; simple and great flavor) and steamed vegetables. Make a variation by serving the steak as fajitas with tortillas and fajita style vegs and fixings.

We also marinate chicken thighs in a molasses sauce and some other things... I can bake boneless skinless chicken in 20 minutes by putting the pieces in the pan (I usually cut boneless breasts in half b/c they are so big) then heat in a saucepan 1/2 c honey, 2 T mustard, 1 t tamari, and 1 T Herbes de Provence. Stir 'til heated through and mixed, pour over chicken, bake in preheated oven until finished (varies depending on bone in or out). Quick and tasty AND has a sauce built right in. For variation, serve chicken on nice sandwich rolls as chicken sandwiches.

We eat vegetarian dishes as well and these usually involve more of a recipe-type preparation, so I add whatever ingredients needed to the list for those dishes, last night we ate a broccoli cheese quiche with twice done potatoes (aka fried , I'm 8 mos pregnant and was craving the high calories.

I take my list to the store and use it to purchase the ingredients needed for the dishes I have planned, as well as restocking whatever we are out of. I buy produce based on a) what looks good b) what is on sale c) what we are in the mood for. We eat the produce in the order which it is ripe. Fragile things like berries and lettuce are eaten before the apples, broccoli, and root vegetables. I just try to pair the vegetables with the entrees in an appealing way. So if I notice the bell peppers are getting a little aged, I will prepare that meal sooner rather than later.

So we go through phases where we eat certain dishes repeatedly over the course of a few weeks, but then we get tired of the dish or a new season of dishes comes along that we are more focused on. For instance, I make more casseroles, soups and chili dishes in the winter and marinate and grill more meats, etc in the summer. I try to save the more time consuming and elaborate meals for when we have company.

As for my kid eating what I serve, I am fortunate to have a husband who eats just about anything, so we eat whole foods that I like (and feel confident enough to cook) and just expect DS to follow along. I just make him a little plate of cut up food that is just like what the adults are eating. Sometimes he eats vegetables, other times he doesn't. He is pretty consistenly eating broccoli and carrots and he will eat any vegetable if it is mixed in a meal he likes, such as lentil rice casserole or lasagna. Recently I had to increase the amount of fish I was buying for dinner because he now wants to eat 2-3 ounces of salmon when we have fish. If the dish is unfamiliar, DH will let DS taste off of his plate, which seems to make DS more willing to try it (I can't share my food, grosses me out. I don't watch them)

We don't force him to try anything, and we don't force him to finish anything, and when he asks specifically for a food (the other day he wanted blueberry pancakes for lunch) I promise to make it at another meal. He eats 5-6 times per day so I don't worry too much about if he eats dinner or not. (He usually gets another chance to eat it as a leftover anyway--unless DH gets to it first and takes it away to work. We rarely have old leftovers in our house...)

So I guess my strategy is: be ready with a list of meals, but be flexible, serve it whether everyone will eat it or not, maybe they will catch on, try cooking more simple things without worrying about having a specific recipe for every meal... serve produce simply and when it is ready to eat.

I am always looking to expand our meal repotoire, particularly adding more bean dishes and vegetarian meals to my list (oh yeah, I keep a master list of all our favorite meals for when I 'forget' to make something for a while). If anyone has any ideas, let me know!

-dflanag2 mother to DS (22 mos) and DD expected 8-06 planning homebirth!BFing, CDing, CSing family
post #11 of 191

my strategy

(i collect cookbooks + also visit Hillbilly Housewife frequently ...)


1. think about all the foods your family likes
2. find out what veggies + fruits are in season in your area
3. think about what in #1 can be made with #2
4. think about what leftovers can be used for (like if you have meatloaf sunday you might have meatloaf sandwiches monday)
5. sketch out a basic meal plan, also keeping in mind what you already have on hand / in the pantry
6. leave room for changes (if, for example, you plan on leftovers and you don't have any... or the recipe you tried didn't make enough + you have to throw in something else at the last minute!)

for my family - i believe meals should be healthy but also filled with what we all like; each meal should try to incorporate something from most of the food groups. (example: lunch today was chicken casserole and applesauce) and if a meal comes out horribly (which sometimes happens if, like me, you love to experiement in the kitchen with new recipes / foods / techiques)... nobody is forced to eat it. that's what frozen pizza is for.

we eat some of everything so nobody gets bored. dinners for example - one night we might have meatloaf, mashed sweet potates and peas... the next night we'll have macaroni + cheese with spinach and a side dish of cherries... then roasted vegetables with steak... then burritos with spicy beans... and so on.
post #12 of 191
Just subbing so I can post ideas later
post #13 of 191
: wow! you guys have great ideas

One suggestion I didn't see posted I read in a book that is very helpful. I keep a list of all the foods we like divided by catagory. I usually have most things in the house (we have a freezer I keep stocked and a bit of pantry space) so even if it's a day I haven't planned well, I can just glance at my list and find something we haven't had in a while we all like. I am working on getting better about the planning in advance part, but I'm better at having things in the house and actually cooking.

Could we have a how to get started sticky maybe? I know I've seen Courtney's suggestions posted before and it would be nice to have a place to reference all the "how do you do this" stuff.
post #14 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by Apryl Srissa
I'm not nearly as organized as courtenay_e. What I normally do is on Wednsday (pay day is Thursday), I sit down and I have a month calendar that I make our notes on. I don't have a pattern, I just stick in a leftover night in the middle, and add in any social things that will effect dinners (like if we will be out, a crockpot dinner, things like that), then I check the weather. I am really weird about eating heavy foods when I am hot, so I learned last summer that I never stuck to my plan if it was heavy foods and hot weather, so I try to plan around that now. We have a picky 10 year old, a piggy 2 year old and all of them are anti veggie, so it is intersting. We have a rule that all new foods require eating a small serving of them. And I respect that dh and I have much spicier taste, so if making something hot, will often just plan extra sides so the boys can have a balanced meal, but with out me cooking twice. Doing this, we have found a lot of new foods that they like now. Of course, still not veggies lol. The problem we have is repeating food to often, I am just gun shy trying new things very often, we had a couple bad ones in a row. But we have been slowly expanding our choices. I will see if our library has those books recommended to check them out. I did get a lot of new ones from the crockpot thread on here, and we've liked a few so far.

I think we will try a more structured menu. I can't use the same each week, my work schedule varies, and dad's nights in charge need easy meals, he doesn't cook, but I can adjust that each week still.
What I often do for when DH has to fend for himself in the kitchen (besides teaching him a new dish as often as he's willing...), is have him pull a frozen meal out of the freezer. I double up as often as I can, then freeze a meal's worth. That way, I know that every time I'm gone at dinner time, it's not pizza or hot dogs...or corn pops...

And that way, he still doesn't have to do anything more than heat something up...just like a frozen pizza!
post #15 of 191
thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!!
post #16 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by courtenay_e
What I often do for when DH has to fend for himself in the kitchen (besides teaching him a new dish as often as he's willing...), is have him pull a frozen meal out of the freezer. I double up as often as I can, then freeze a meal's worth. That way, I know that every time I'm gone at dinner time, it's not pizza or hot dogs...or corn pops...

And that way, he still doesn't have to do anything more than heat something up...just like a frozen pizza!
So far, it is only seeming to be like once a week, so I am just using that as the night for pasta, which the boys love. And he can handle boil water, add sauce lol. But I am sure it will get old, at some point we'll run out of pasta types that are familiar, I'm sure. I do freeze a lot of dinners, but usually forget to tell him that, hadn't thought of that.
post #17 of 191
Courtenay_e

I wanted to just add something - sit down and make a list of all the meals you make, have made, would like to make, including variations. It's very likely you can come up with at least 30 different meals. Tack that to the fridge and the day before shopping day look it over and pick your meals from there based on what you already have on hand, what's on sale, what you are in the mood for, the weather etc. Get input from the family too!

When you find a recipe you'd like to try add it to the master list of meals.

Also, join us on all the "meal planning" and "pantry challenge" threads, you will get tons of great ideas. :
post #18 of 191
Oh, no, Atilla. If you could only see my house...meal planning's just about the only thing I have under control right now! I'm slowly getting out from under chaos, and this little bit of planning helps me feel like I've at least got THAT down!
post #19 of 191
I've been wanting to implement a meal plan lately. Thanks for the ideas!
post #20 of 191
Glad to help...I think it's kind of like a very challenging game to us and we're glad to help anybody who wants to play have an advantage!
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Meal Planning
Mothering › Mothering Forums › Natural Living › Nutrition and Good Eating › Meal Planning › How do you figure out how to meal plan?