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?