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. 

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