I get asked a lot about what kind of things we eat in our house. I spend a bit of time each week (about 20-30 minutes) thinking about it because I feel it’s very important. Meal planning is interesting process and one I’ve grown to enjoy. I find much fulfillment in the time I spend filling and fueling my family with good, nutritious food. Am I always perfect? Heavens no. My kids eat McDonalds. We have candy around the house. I get a bag of chips every couple of weeks. But for the majority of what we eat, I follow what I detail below.
I’ll step you through how I plan our meals for the week! Again. I’m not telling you this will work for everyone but I pray that you can pick up some helpful tips!
First thing I do is sit down and look at our calendar for the week. Out of 7 days a week, I usually cook a full meal 4-5. The other days are leftovers, going out to eat, or “fend for yourself” days. I take note of any evenings where we will be gone or maybe we’ll be rushed at home. For example, I teach pilates on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I don’t want to be slaving in the kitchen nor want to return home to a mess so I typically do a soup in the crockpot on Tuesdays (which gives my hubby leftovers for lunch the rest of the week) and do a left-over/fend for yourself night on Thursdays. If I know we will be attending a church meeting or sporting event, I plan accordingly. This really helps because then I’m not lost staring at a cupboard at 5pm trying to put together food. I HATE thawing meat in the microwave so this also prevents that. When my husband walks in, I typically have food on the table within 20-30 minutes. Does this take some time and discipline? Absolutely. But I feel it is 110% worth it. It really cuts down on the stress for me and my husband is totally thrilled every night. (He LOVES to eat!)
Next, I pull out my grocery flyer. Because I am very budget conscious, I also take into consideration the sales of the week. I try to stock my pantry with foods that have been on sale that follow my basic guidelines here, and then fill in from there. I am really into variety. I get bored cooking the same things plus I want to make sure my kids are getting a chance to try different foods. So I glance at my freezer to see what proteins I have in stock and do the same with the pantry. Then I glance at the grocery flyer and go from there.
Now it’s the fun part. I piece together meals! I try a new recipe at least once a week. Most of them I get from friends who have recommended them on facebook, but I also choose some from watching Food Network, from my friend Janelle at Comfy In The Kitchen, or actually *gasp* pulling out a cookbook! (How many of us have awesome cookbooks that sit on our shelves and collect dust?!) I am big into variety. Who would want to eat red meat 4 out of 7 days a week? (Not to mention it’s not very healthy) Because I try and space things out, I don’t get too worried if I have an “unhealthy” meal in the mix. I really go for balance and moderation. I find it’s too hard to live in the extremes. Another way I get ideas for meals is thinking through different styles or cultures of cooking. I’ll go for a Mexican dinner one night, an Italian another, and a good ol’ homestyle cooking yet another. These are ways that I keep things fresh and interesting each week.
What I’ve listed below is a basic way I think through my meals.
– Protein. I always start my meal planning with (generally) a lean meat. I rotate between red meat, chicken, pork, and seafood. I can’t miss the occasional sausage or bacon either!
– Vegetable. The veggies come next. I first try to cook off of what is in season and in sale in the store. I am very basic when it comes to veggies. I don’t do lots of creams or cheeses with them. It’s typically steamed or just microwaved if it’s from a can (gasp) or frozen. I put most of my effort into the main entree, however there are times when I have fun making a good veggie side.
– Carbohydrate. Who doesn’t love a good carbolicious meal? haha! Depending on the meat, I choose rice, couscous, pasta, or potatoes. I have lots of varieties out of these categories so I choose something different each week. Again, I try not to go heavy on the creams and cheeses here.
– Fruit. This doesn’t always get added to our dinner. Of course, my kids love fruit so if they aren’t particularly fond of a meal I have, then I will bring out the applesauce or blueberries etc. However there are days when fruit is a big part of the meal.
–Dessert. We don’t always have an official dessert. There is usually something here for us to munch on if we have a sweet tooth, but I don’t always plan for this. I’d say that I make a nice dessert about once a week and that can last us–and if it doesn’t, then that’s fine. We don’t need dessert every night!
Finally, I take out my handy dandy piece of paper and pen and actually write out “Mon, Tues, Wed etc” and then scribble the meals beside it. (I know I’m archaic using a piece of paper, but I love it!) I keep it close to me while at the grocery store so that I can refer to it in case I have a question.
One additional thought. Another big reason I meal plan is because it gives me a guideline for that day’s food. When I used to work outside of the home and I’d go out to lunch with my girlfriends, they would always make fun of me because I’d say, “Hmm. What am I making for dinner?” then make my lunch selection off of that. Again. I am trying to balance things out. I try to remember the trusty Food Pyramid and make sure I don’t get that out of whack. It just keeps me aware and I find that’s a very important thing when you are trying to live a life of balance. You have to know where you’ve been and where you are going to stay on track!
Please share. How do you meal plan for your family?
We actually menu plan for a month at a time with our girls school lunch menu. Then I grocery shop for the first half of the month (we only get paid twice a month). Of course I buy milk or bread when needed but not only does planning this way save me time but also money. I always keep a list of my “staples” in my purse with the regular prices from the 4 grocery stores in my area so when I see a sale I can look to see if it really is a good deal.
Thank you for your sweet comment on my blog. We pretty much do the same thing you do except I plan for the entire month. Mostly so I don’t have to wrangle 2 highly energetic girls and 1 baby at the grocery store every week. But yeah, pretty much the same way. Oh I do like to pre-make a bunch of meals to have on hand in the freezer. That way I can just pull it out, thaw, and cook. Saves me from making a trip to pick up something “fast”. We try and save eating out for rare occasions simply because it gets really expensive for a family of 5.
Wendy and Sarah: Great idea on the monthly planning! I’ve also heard that that is a very efficient, cost-effective way of meal planning! Maybe I need to try it–or at least in 2 week increments!
I like your idea of variety! Unfortunately, I am not very good at this….my husband has high cholesterol–diagnosed at age 27!–genetic factors in here!, so I stick to chicken or ground turkey (but watch out–I try to buy extra-lean because that can have a lot of fat to drain off, too). And sometimes salmon or tilapia (my 3 children haven’t developed a taste for that yet!)
My mother-in-law ingrained in me VF (do you have “Vanity Fair” shops where you are? She used to cut out the VF symbol for me to post around as a reminder to eat Veggies and Fruit!) We do eat a Veggie and Fruit at every meal–except only fruit at b-fast! And veggies are mostly raw or steamed. Although in winter, I have sometimes use frozen because in the time it takes for the FRESH ones to be shipped to my grocery store from some warmer climate, i figure that most of the nutrition content is gone! (I am so blessed to have a large WONDERFUL store 4 miles away with a FABULOUS produce section and great fresh meats, too—people from other STATES actually come to shop there!)
There must have been something to Daniel’s diet of water, fruits and veggies in the Bible! God has given us a variety of healthy foods–let’s not eat “food substitutes!”
I SHOULD try to avoid cheese more than I do. (Actually, dairy in general should be used in moderation. I’ve read a lot about cutting out dairy–especially cheese, if you are trying to lose weight.) We drink skim milk. And fortunately we don’t have gluten allergies, so all the flour I use is 100% whole wheat.
I do favor the whole idea of “healthy eating as a lifestyle” rather than short-term dieting.
Thanks for this helpful post! Keep writing and sharing!
Hi Kim! My hubby has high cholesterol due to genetics too! I have never heard of VF stores!
I love your ideas–thanks for stopping by!
Clare, I love your post on meal planning. Frankly, you and I do much of the exact same thing…. sitting down with the calendar each week, looking through the flyers, aiming for most meals to be home-cooked. Thinking/planning ahead depending on your schedule each day. Great post! Your web site is AWESOME!!
Meal planning is huge for me b/c I somehow seem to have ADD and short term memory loss and cant seem to remember what I wanted to get and then dont have the right ingrediants to make anything when I get home! PLus I have a few distractions while Im there..like my kids (and the bakery lol). I meal plan similar to Courtney on womenlivingwell. I have it setup on excel spreadsheet and just pop in the popular meals (I have a list of about 30 or more on a tab on my spreadsheet) some days and then I like to stick in a few new ones every once in a while. I like variety as well and definately try to plan for that..however as you know we eat a lot of chicken and rice!lol I only meal plan for a week but I am considering doing it for two weeks as I feel I may end up spending less if I do since I get sucked into the “deals” too often at the grocery store. I love to hear how others meal plan!
I have found that it’s easy for life to get the best of you and create some bad habits. I am a busy mother of four boys, my husband is a Youth Pastor and I’m a teacher. I find that we often get in trouble on days that I don’t plan. I feel like I cook the same things over and over. What do you suggest for some quick and easy winter meals. Since we are getting to that time of the year, it seems like we eat more comfort foods and I don’t wan to gain the weight that I’ve lost. Also, any suggestions on some quick, easy and healthy breakfasts?