Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meal Planning Basics

Planning meals on a weekly basis can feel daunting, but it is guaranteed to save you time and money, reduce stress, and result in more nutritious and delicious food for your family. It has taken me a lot of practice to figure out just how to plan most of our meals for the week, and I have learned the hard way how lack of planning can make life much more challenging.  Before I had a family, meal planning didn't seem as necessary, however these days, I want to maximize time with my family and minimize time shopping and cooking while still creating nourishing, healthy meals.
Here are some basic lessons I have learned about how to efficiently plan your meals for the week, followed by a sample 5-day meal plan:

  1. Start with a protein for every meal, even breakfast! 
  2. Clean out your freezer: make room for doubling recipes to freeze for meals later in the week
  3. Stay organized: keep track of recipes that your family loves -- make a family cookbook. When you are planning meals for the week, start with the favorites, then add some new recipes for evenings when you have a little extra time
  4. Add food prep tasks to your daily ToDo List. If a meal requires prep like soaking or marinating, add it to your to do list.
  5. Double or even triple those recipes that freeze well. Eat some later in the week, and then you’ll have a meal for the following week!
  6. Consider ingredients for the next day. If you are chopping tomatoes for a dinner salad, chop extra for your morning eggs. 
  7. Be thoughtful about your grocery list. Go through each meal and make sure to get everything on your list. This probably takes the most amount of time and focus, but really saves time during the week. 
Here is a sample five-day meal plan from an average week in my house:

Day 1 (Sunday - big cooking day)
  1. Breakfast: coconut pancakes, sliced banana, bacon. Note: make extra bacon for BLT's the next day
  2. Lunch: big salad with canned salmon, veggies, nuts, seeds, homemade dressing
  3. Dinner: Roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables. Note: make chicken stock that night and freeze half. Also on Sunday evening while the stock is simmering, I will often bake some sort of treat for the week like gluten-free cookies or coconut muffins. Strain stock and store before heading to bed. 
Day 2 (Monday)
  1. Breakfast: eggs, shredded chicken, salsa wrapped up in some lettuce leaves or whole grain wrap
  2. Lunch: BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado), plus a piece of seasonal fruit
  3. Dinner: Cottage pie, side of steamed kale with lemon tahini dressing. Note: saute extra ground beef for next day. Make 2 cottage pies and freeze one for later in the week or the following week.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
  1. Breakfast: smoothie (whey or hemp protein powder, green powder, coconut milk, berries, flax oil, chia seeds)
  2. Snack: apple with almond butter
  3. Lunch: Lettuce boats with leftover ground beef, sauteed mushrooms, salsa, avocado. 
  4. Dinner: Root vegetable cod casserole (make extra for breakfast next day), side salad
  5. Dessert: Maple teff cookies or coconut muffin from Sunday night. Note: after dinner, put 1 cup of brown rice and 1 cup of lentils in water to soak overnight 
Day 4 (Wednesday)
  1. Breakfast: Leftover casserole (fish for breakfast is delicious!). Note: if you can't handle the casserole, switch the breakfast with lunch here)
  2. Snack: Larabar
  3. Lunch: smoked salmon, goat cheese or humus, tomato, capers, on 2 rice cakes, piece of fruit, carrots
  4. Dinner: brown rice (simmered in chicken broth), lentils with carrots, onion, ginger, garlic (simmered in chicken broth), sauteed collard greens in ghee or grass-fed bacon fat, sausage. Note: I add all this in a big bowl and sprinkle nutritional yeast on top. The rice and lentils will not take as long to cook because they have been soaking. Make an extra package of sausage for the next morning. 
Day 5 (Thursday)
  1. Breakfast: 2 coconut muffins, leftover sausage, piece of fruit
  2. Lunch: Leftover rice and lentils, plus turkey cheese roll-ups in lettuce leaves
  3. Snack: Mary's Gone Crackers and hummus, carrots
  4. Dinner: Lamb burgers, salad. Note: make extra lamb burgers for lunch the next day
From this plan I would look at every recipe and make my shopping list. My son won't always eat everything I plan for our meals so I also keep a list of staples he will eat in case he isn't interested in what we are having. I try to avoid having to make something separate for him although it isn't always possible. I keep things like sliced turkey, broccoli, whole grain bread, and cheese on hand at all times. When you are finished with your shopping list, go through and add any staples you need as well. It is a good idea to keep a list of all your staples on the refrigerator, inside your pantry or inside a cabinet door. When you notice you’re running low on any item, add it to the list so that you’ll cover it all when you get to the store. 

I hope this helps. Please email me privately if you are interested in any of the recipes mentioned in the meal plan, or have any other questions about this post. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Meal Train

When our son was born, the most amazing, comforting, and supportive network of friends and neighbors got together and set up a "meal train" for us. For an entire month (or maybe more) we had dinner brought to us five to six nights per week. This was absolutely fantastic and allowed us to focus on our new family rather than what was for dinner and how we would even manage to get ourselves to a store. There are some great websites out there that offer easy-to-use formats for making the necessary arrangements such as Sign Up Genius and Keep and Share. We put a cooler on our front patio so folks could just leave the food in there in case we weren't home, or trying to catch some precious sleep. Mostly, we were excited to see our friends and looked forward to the visits. Ever since then, I have tried to quickly jump on the bandwagon of bringing food to new parents, since we appreciated it so much.

This of course led me on a search for recipes that were easy, delicious, nutrient dense, that you can make a lot of in case there are family members visiting, siblings, or just to have extra to freeze after the meal train stops coming. Recently, a family at my son's preschool had a new baby and I of course jumped on the opportunity to sign up for meal delivery. The call for meals didn't state any food aversions or preferences, but it was requested that there be enough for a family of four. While perusing my favorite sources for healthy, real food-based recipes, I came across this one from Nourished Kitchen. If you aren't familiar with this blog, you should be! Jenny's blog and website are full of amazing recipes, tips, cooking videos, courses, and food news.

I chose this recipe because it is filling, nutrient-dense, freezable, has lots of healthy fats, vitamins, protein, iron, doesn't contain any grains or gluten, and will likely appeal to a broad range of ages.

Cottage Pie with Mashed Yams

1 lb grass-fed ground beef
1 cup homemade beef stock or store bought organic beef broth
1/4 cup cream from grass-fed cows
3/4 stick good-quality butter (the higher fat content the better)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup diced carrots
2 medium sized yams or sweet potatoes
3/4 cup shredded grass-fed sharp cheddar cheese
1 T arrowroot powder
1 T finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
2 T organic tomato paste (Bionaturae as it comes in glass jars)
1 tsp organic Worcestershire sauce
real sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste

  1. Bake yams in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until soft when pricked with a fork. Peel yams, discarding the peel and mash them with 1/2 stick butter, 1/4 cup cream and a dash of salt in an electric mixer. When the yams are nicely mashed set aside.
  2. In a large cast-iron pan saute onions and carrots in 1/4 stick butter on medium heat, stirring until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly browned. Add in ground beef, breaking up meat into small pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir occasionally until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  3. Pour in beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary and thyme, stirring to incorporate and turn heat to low. Allow the liquid to reduce a bit, about 15 minutes or so. Add in the peas, and sprinkle the arrowroot on top. Briskly stir to prevent the arrowroot from clumping, then continue stirring gently until the sauce has thickened, less then 5 minutes. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat, turn oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Spread mashed yams evenly on top of the meat and veggie mixture. Sprinkle cheese over the yams. Bake for about 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

Possible variations:
Try using small pieces of broccoli instead of peas
Add a big handful of spinach


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gluten free latkes!

It is the first night of Chanukah and I am looking forward to making latkes! However, I am still trying to stick to my low-gluten goals. I feel so much better when I don't have gluten in my diet. If you would like to know more about this topic, please email me privately.

I did a quick search online for some gluten-free latke recipes and pieced this one together. I will have to let you know how it works tomorrow, since I haven't actually made it yet! If you try it yourself, please let me know how it goes:

Gluten Free Potato Latkes

Makes about 15 latkes
  • 3 huge organic russets
  • 1 organic sweet potato for sweetness
  • 1 organic yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 3 large eggs whisked
  • Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
  • Grass-fed Ghee for frying (or Red Palm Oil)
  • Organic applesauce (best option is to make your own)
  • Whole milk yogurt or sour cream from grass-fed cows
  • 1 bunch of green onions
Peel (or don't peel, I won't peel mine) potatoes, cut in half and place in cold water (to keep them from turning brown and to remove some of the starch). Let soak for about 30 minutes. Peel skin off onion and cut in half. Use grater setting on food processor and alternately push through potato and onion.

Place it all in a colander (inside a larger bowl) lined with a clean dish towel and squeeze the life out of the potato/onion mixture to get the liquid out.  It will be messy, but keep going until they are pretty dry.

Empty out the liquid.  Dump the dry potato/onion mixture into the bowl and add in the flour and eggs and seasoning.   Mix well.

Heat the oil until a tiny bit of the mixture sizzles when dropped in.  Scoop about ¼ cup for each pancake, smash into round-ish patties and fry over medium heat until nicely browned and flip – same for the other side.  If the oil is not hot enough, the potatoes will absorb the oil and just be greasy – and if the oil is too hot not only will it make the oil go rancid but the potatoes will be black on the outside and the inside will be raw. If your oil starts to smoke, throw it out and start over.

Serve with a dollop of cream and sprinkle with green onions.