I plan meals just for two of use, but as you know we frequently have visitors, I would love to have a meal planning thread. I think it would make my kinda throw together meal times more efficient. Any suggestions in this area?
Mondays~ I usually cook extra over the weekend so I often have left over rice, so Mondays could be rice and veg day, healthier fried rice, something like that.
Or we could do meal planning 101. I mostly just cook dinners, and a big breakfast on Sundays. We do fruit and veg smoothies or oatmeal during the week for breakfast and sammies or something for lunch.
Anyone up for meal planning 101?
I would love to participate! I am probably one of the least structured people you will ever meet, so this sort of thing does not come naturally to me. I do enjoy making meals ahead on weekends, to be reheated for dinners during the week. But I rarely get around to a whole week's worth. And shopping every. damned. evening is getting me down.
We are pretty omnivorous, but BigGirl, 18, doesn't eat pork, eggs, or fish. YoungSon, 17, doesn't care for beans or soups too much, or anything with the consistency of mashed potatoes (sensory issues). Within these limits, we eat mainly fresh, minimally processed, but rarely can I afford organic. I would like to plan for dinner every night, and plenty of lunch choices. BigGirl and I would both like to bring lunches with us to work/school. We both need things that don't need refrigeration or heating. YoungSon might do the same if it was available; I am not sure. He could eat school lunch, but only eats fruit there for some reason. No one around here regularly eats breakfast, but YoungSon's favorite meal is bacon and eggs. We would need to plan on plenty of snacks, as we all like grazing. I also like making my own meat or vegetable stock, and canning whatever is in season. Haven't done much for the past couple years, but hope to get back into it this year. I just got a dehydrator and hope to find many uses for it.
One time, I planned about 2 weeks worth of meals, and did the shopping all at once. I was amazed how much money I saved with this kind of planning, and would love to make it a habit. I work out of the home full-time, and would like to have fewer shopping trips and last minute impulse purchases.
How do we get started?
Rhu - mother,grandmother,daughter,sister,friend-foster,adoptive,and biological;not necessarily in that order. Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic, but I had a good life all the way (Jimmy Buffet)
My meal planning is heavily influenced by my philosophies regarding food (local, seasonal, ethical, organic, whole foods as much as possible) and my life circumstances (DH works at Costco, we are on food stamps, I am home full time with the kids and do most of the cooking). We get our food stamps monthly and use them mostly for stocking up on non-perishable items. In addition to that we buy fresh foods (fruit & veg, dairy, meat sometimes) from the farmers market/CSA/grocery store weekly.
So when I plan for the month I usually choose things that are thematically related in their ingredients. I look at what's in season locally, what's on sale, and what we still have in the pantry/freezer from the previous month. I also take requests from DH and DD, if there is something they particularly want or are tired of. And I check the calendar to see if we're having company or signed up to deliver a meal to a friend, thankfully we don't get unexpected company much.
For breakfast we have oatmeal or homemade granola (both with nuts & dried fruit) most days. Once a week or so I make something more complex like pancakes and bacon. So those things we just keep in the house, not much detailed planning.
Lunches are usually either sandwiches or leftovers from dinner. I often make a big batch of something once a week that can be used for sandwiches/wraps or snacks (tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, etc). So we keep sandwich fixings in the house, lunchmeat/pb&j, and the other stuff depends on what I've planned for dinner. If I roast chicken for dinner I'll cook some extra and turn it into chicken salad.
Snacks are mostly fruit (dried or fresh depending on the season), popcorn, or sometimes I make a big batch of muffins for easy grabbing during the week.
Dinner is where things get more complicated. We have pizza every Friday and watch a movie, and one night (usually Saturday) we eat up whatever is leftover from the previous week. So I only plan 5 meals, and often we repeat a dish once or twice. Some weeks I only cook 3 nights, besides pizza. Most weeks we have soup at least once, often a bean based soup but I'll do chicken and rice if I've roasted a bird. Most weeks we eat vegetarian 1-3 nights. I don't usually serve dessert, but sometimes I do make cookies or something for DH and I to have after the kids are in bed.
To choose each menu I start with the protein, then add a minimum of two different colored vegetables and usually a starch (rice, bread, potatoes, etc). I'll show you this weeks menu as an example.
Sunday - ham, rice, sautéed cabbage & apples (apples are counted as veg here )
Monday - white bean stew (made with leftover ham, kale, carrots & onions), biscuits
Tuesday - roast chicken, roasted root vegetables, sautéed kale
Wednesday - veggie fritters (with potato, sweet potato & leeks), fried eggs, steamed broccoli
Thursday - warm lentil salad (with kale, sweet potato and leeks) & leftover veggie fritters or white bean stew again
Friday - pizza
Saturday - leftovers
The repeated ingredients or "themes" this week are ham (Sunday, Monday, maybe Thursday), kale (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday), carrots (monday, Tuesday, maybe Thursday), potato (Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe Thursday), sweet potato (Wednesday, maybe Thursday) and leeks (wednesday, maybe thursday). The extra chicken will be made into chicken salad for lunches, which will also include cabbage and leeks. Doing it this way we can save money by buying large volumes of the things we use frequently (10 lb bags of potatoes for instance), and making sure the fresh items get used up before they go bad (kale, leeks, etc). This month we bought a large ham, then cut it up and froze some so we will have ham a couple more times this month. Last month it was 6 lbs of ground beef that got divvied up.
I have a fairly large repertoire of recipes, and I enjoy making up my own. If I need inspiration or a reference I browse Smitten Kitchen or Jamie Oliver or sometimes I just google things. I've never actually written out the process I use for all this, it was an interesting exercise. I just hope it makes sense!
I scale recipes usually for 6-8 people, even though there's only 3 of us (well 4, but DS is still pretty much EBF) so that we are sure to have leftovers. Ian'smom, this technique might work well for you - scale the recipe up then you'll have leftovers, or enough to feed those last minute guests.
When we have more than 6-8 servings (usually of soup) I freeze enough for one 3 person meal. That's about a quart of a hearty soup. Then on days when something comes up we have a nutritious meal on hand without having to cook, just thaw and eat. I also keep some pasta in the pantry for last minute meals. You can toss just about anything in with pasta and have a one dish dinner.
I have worked really hard to limit my trips to the grocery store, now it's usually one large trip on the weekend and a small follow up trip later in the week for more fruit, milk and half and half. We're on a tight budget, and food prices are rising so I was determined to make this work and so far, so good.
My kids are 7.5 and 4, so we eat a pretty predictable menu. I only plan dinners, I keep breakfasts, lunches, and snacks simple and easy, dh usually eats leftovers for lunch. We have certain things that everybody likes and I do variations on them. I save the easier, faster meals for nights where we have an after school activity.
For dinner, I start with a protein, add at least two vegetables, a side, and the kids always have fruit too:
meat, sweet and red potatoes, veggies
tacos or tostadas (fish, steak, ground beef), beans, salad
stir fry meat and veggies, rice
pasta dish like cacciatore or spaghetti and meatballs with veggies in the sauce
rice dish like chicken and rice with veggies
waffles, sausages, eggs, fruit (once a week for kids)
sandwiches (burgers, salmon, chicken), oven fries, salad
pizza and movie on Fridays
We used to eat more bread and pasta but took my ds off gluten a few months ago and have adjusted all of our diets accordingly, we are a low grain house. Because of that, I don't make soup often anymore. He does not like beans, or broth, so the way he ate soup was with lots of noodles cooked in it and bread and cheese on the side. Other than soup, the transition hasn't been too bad and not expensive. I bought gf baking/pancake mix in bulk on Amazon (waffles, pancakes, muffins, cookies) and at Trader Joe's I buy brown rice pasta and udi's whole grain gf hamburger buns (and keep them in the freezer) for him to have once or twice a week. I think if these things were a daily occurrence it would get pricey.
Before I make my grocery list, I inventory meats and fish, rice, pasta, bread, beans, produce, condiments and oils, dairy, and lunch and breakfast items. We try to get to Costco once a month to buy organic chicken legs, turkey breast, frozen wild fish, breakfast sausage, sparkling water, eggs, sandwich thins, some dairy and some produce. We get an order of frozen grass fed beef delivered once every couple months. I used to get an organic produce box delivered every other week, but prices went up and finances got tight so I had to put a hold on it.
I see what we have left, and write out the proposed meals for the week, then make my list. And I just go from there. I go to Trader Joe's once a week and get what I need to fill out the meals, I don't mind their chicken and fish, and deal with their produce. If I have the cash and time I go to Farmer's Market, I have to be careful though because I get sucked in and want to buy everything!
I really think the key to meal planning and sticking with it is to make realistic menu plans. Don't plan all elaborate, time intensive meals. Include simple things sandwich, taco or waffle night, get a small rice cooker, quickly grill some fish and steam some broccoli and you're good, dinner doesn't have to be complicated. And if you like to eat out occasionally, plan what night that will be so you know you have a night off coming your way, dh and I often get take out on the kids' waffle night or pizza Friday (as I'm not a big pizza fan).
I love to cook, and love to sometimes go all out, but it gives me so much peace of mind to know I have what I need for the week to make realistic, healthy meals for my family.
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