Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Healthy Meal Planning

As per request of my BFF in San Diego I am writing a short entry on meal planning. This to some is pleasant and to others a necessary evil. Really I think it's all about how deep you want to go. Meal planning is practically a MUST for living a healthy lifestyle. It doesn't need to be difficult or overwhelming. I'll share what I do and hopefully it's helpful to you. The pros to meal planning are saving money, saving time, and less waste. Also keep in mind if you know what you are going to have its more of an incentive to keep those family meals eaten together. The age of everyone eating together has kind of faded due to schedules, time, tastes, and more. Maybe family meals are mandatory in your house. For those of you with traveling spouses, are single parents, or have other issues going on in the home that may not be the case. If that busy teenager with a job and a license knows Mom is having their favorite grass fed burgers and sweet potato fries on Tuesday night they may be more inclined to have dinner at home. Just a thought :)

Break Down of Meal Planning Basics

  • Choose the plan that works for you ( you are not your best friend, Martha Stewart, or myself, you are you and must do what works for you)

  • Put food on it you like, keep favorite recipes accessible

  • Stick to it (but plan for the unexpected like meals out here and there)

There are a plethora of meal planning programs for sale and for free. You can download excellent spread sheets made just for meal planning. I suggest making your own to tailor your needs. If you don't have time for that then most definitely take advantage of what is available. If you have specific food demands, picky eaters, lots of allergies or sensitivities then using a blank form versus one with meals already plugged in may be more effective for you. Some have room for complete recipes, some having a shopping list form available, some are by day, week, or month.

Helpful Websites: 

  •  http://moneysavingmom.com/downloads/meal-menu-planners (This is my favorite)

  • foodonthetable.com 

  • 100daysofrealfood.com

  •  http://frugalliving.about.com/od/grocerysavings/tp/Free-Meal-Planners.htm

First think about what you and your family likes to eat. That's really important. Who wants a meal plan with food no one will touch?!!! I would also say to not completely cater to the family. Its good for everyone to try new healthy foods. How you handle people trying foods, finishing foods, and having different foods available for the picky people is all up to you. Moms and dads, you know what's good for you and the kids. I say this because if you decide to display the meal plan for easy access on a cork board or the fridge just know this is your tool and you put on it what is helpful to you. They don't need to know you put zucchini, carrots, and spinach in the tomato sauce. Displaying the whole recipe may not be in your best interest. We parents need our sanity after all.

Keep a binder with your go-to recipes as well as recipes you'd like to try. I suggest dividing it into sections. Your section titles will vary. You could be as vague as breakfast, lunch, snacks/desserts, and dinner. On the flip side if it works be specific like smoothies, breads, soups etc. If you are that super organized type A personality then go nuts and use sections within sections like breakfast: eggs, smoothies, and baked goods. Maybe you are a techno geek and would prefer everything stored on your device, hey go wild. This has to be conducive to what YOU will actually do. This will make the meal planning process easier.

The way I meal plan may be too boring for you. What works for me is having the same breakfast meal each day of the week because I don't usually have time for much flexibility in the morning. The kids don't have to guess and neither do I. So my week looks like this for breakfast: Monday is yogurt with fruit and something I've or the teenager has baked like muffins or zucchini bread, Tuesday is eggs, Wednesday is pancakes, Thursday is oatmeal, Friday is French toast or smoothies, Saturday is pancakes again because we just love them around here, and Sunday is eggs again. Smoothies are always acceptable substitutes if someone doesn't want what is being served.

Lunch if the Paleo bread is made may be sandwiches, or there's always leftovers from dinner. Again a smoothie for lunch in my book is also perfectly fine. Dinner is planned with room to move. For dinner I don't always have an exact recipe in mind, but I know to some degree what I'll be using for the main dish. Everything else depends on whats in the house at the time. I will explain :) Monday is grass fed beef, Tuesday is organic free range chicken, Wednesday is pasta, Thursday is fish, Friday is pizza, Saturday is either pasta or brown rice/quinoa and beans, and Sunday depending on the season is usually soup, chicken in the crock pot (crock pots make me do a happy dance), or whatever I have the energy to muster up after being at church for 5 hours.

Plan the complexity of your meals according to the type of day you will have. Use labels in your pantry or cabinets. Its easier IF you can have a regular spot for foods in the fridge and pantry/cabinets. I say IF because I know some of you live in a shoe and have so many children, well you know the rhyme, that having a regular place for anything is close to impossible. Leave yourself room, but stick to the plan for the most part. This will encourage healthy eating, help your budget, and decrease stress. If you know you need exact recipes or you won't make something, then do that. I don't need that much structure to get a meal made. I eyeball when I'm cooking and just typically throw things together. Make it yours! You know you better than I do...capisce?!!! (That's Italian for understand.)

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