I’m bringing back Menu Monday and adding a new series of posts with it. A big part of my goal over the next ten weeks is to get a good handle on food, especially coming out of the holidays and some stressful times. I LOVE planning, routine, and process, but I know not everyone else does. I thought if I can share some of what I do to make healthy eating work for me I’ll both keep my self accountable to my goals and help friends and family as well. I frequently get questions about what I eat and how I manage cooking, so here’s the beginning of a look into my meal planning and prepping OCD.
I’m starting with Meal Planning 101. Keep in mind, this is what works for me and I change things up when I find it’s not working. Take what you want from it but make it fit your life.
1. Figure out how your week works. In my family, there are two adults and a puppy who doesn’t eat people food. My husband travels frequently during the week and we often have social plans on the weekend. We both organize our weeks Monday through Sunday, but I’ve learned that doesn’t work for me for menu planning and instead I use Saturday though Friday. I find that I waste less food because I usually know our weekend plans better if I’m planning just a few days before, not the weekend before.
2. Plan early. I try to plan my menu on Wednesday or Thursday. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does it gives me ample time to get shopping done before the menu kicks in. ANY planning is better than no planning, so work with what you have on any given week.
3. Think about the individual week. This is what my menu plan looks like when I start (I recently switched from paper to a GoogleDoc – we’ll see how it goes). I highlight the nights it’s just me eating in blue (this is made up for this example, I’m smart enough not to post that I’ll be home alone on the internet) and the nights we’re going out in yellow. Normally I wouldn’t do the yellow, but since my current goal is to eat dinner out no more than twice a week, it makes it easier. For this week I also added that I want to make brunch on my birthday and try something fun. Include social events or make note when you might need to feed extra people.
4. Know what you have on hand. I have an inventory of meat in my chest freezer so I know what’s available. I also start with adding the veggies that I have on hand. I add both ones leftover from the previous week and what I know will be delivered in my CSA on Friday morning.
5. Be reasonable. As you start to add meals, be reasonable. This is the number one thing that will make you successful or not. I will cook longer, fun meals on the weekend, but if I’m cooking on a weeknight I have a twenty, maybe thirty minute max. If I get home and find I have 45 minutes of prep with another 30 minutes of cook time, I’m totally calling for Indian.
6. Mix it up. Try to add a little variety, without going crazy. I try to make sure I’m using different meats as well as mixing the leftovers throughout the week so I don’t end up eating the same thing for lunch and dinner one day. Also include a mix of new recipes and tried and true ones. I generally plug in my breakfasts first as they are the easiest – something on the weekend then I eat the same meal all week at work. Next I do my big meals on the weekend, then fill in leftovers for lunch and weeknight dinners. Last I include easy meals to fill in any empty lunches or dinners. I delete the veggies as I add them to meals. Ideally I use them all, but if I don’t I leave the heartiest ones (beets, yams, onions) until the next week.
7. Set yourself up for prepping. Once I’m done with my plan (I suppose you could do it as you go, I just don’t), I set myself up to be successful. First, I write down the cookbook and page number of every recipe or save a link in my bookmark bar if it’s online. Then I list out what days any items needing to defrost should be moved from the freezer to the fridge (another reason you want to start a few days earlier than your plan starts if you can). Last I make a prep list. I do as much as I possibly can over the weekend.
8. Make a shopping list and keep it with you. Now that I’ve gotten in the habit of mid-week meal planning, I have a few options for when I can go grocery shopping. As I’m adding each recipe to my list, I add the ingredients I don’t have to the Groceries Reminders list on my computer. This syncs with my phone, so if I find myself with a few extra minutes I can go do my shopping. Typically I do it Friday after work, but sometimes I manage to get it done earlier since I have the list on me.
And that’s how someone who loves to plan creates a weekly menu. I’ll be posting mine again on Mondays, so feel free to just steal it if you’d rather. This might seem overwhelming, but on a week where I don’t have much time to deal with this, it takes maybe 15 minutes. On a week where I have a lot of time, I love to sit with a cup of coffee and browse recipes for as long as I can.
Coming up over the next several Mondays:
- How I prep food for the week
- Crockpot meals
- Easy weeknight meals
- Meals that freeze well
- Portable breakfast and lunch ideas
Recipes listed above that are available online (for the rest, get yourself a copy of Well Fed and Well Fed 2):