Planning your weekly meals can be an effective way to ensure that you are keeping yourself and your family on track with healthy nutrition, as well as saving you on money and time. Taking the guesswork out of ‘What’s for lunch/dinner’ each day will free your mind space and prevent you from ordering expensive and mediocre take-out for the third time that week. Not only is it wasteful and stressful, eating this way has you compromising your health and vitality.
Meal planning does not have to be boring or limiting – on the contrary! A little forethought and a general framework to work from can be a great way to experiment with new recipes as you come across them. You can also encourage yourself to use whatever is local and in-season. Chances are, you’ll be faced with a vegetable that you’ve never used before, which will encourage you to research a delicious way to eat it!
There are varying degrees of planning, from couponing to sticking to the ‘safe’ foods that you and your family enjoy.
Take a look at these easy steps to creative meal planning, and experience a more organized, nutritious and relaxed approach to eating.
1. Design a Basic Meal Framework
Having an idea of what you may eat for lunch and dinner each day, from week to week, will lay the groundwork for delicious meals. For example, in my own family we do something like this:
- Monday: Vegetables and beans
- Tuesday: Fish and Soup
- Wednesday: Pasta
- Thursday: Eggs
- Friday: Homemade pizza and vegetables
- Saturday: Fresh meat from the market and fresh food picnic (dips, veggies, hearty bread, olives, artisan cheese, etc).
- Sunday: Fish, rice and vegetables
Seem way too simple? It is! And that’s the beauty of it. It gives me lots of freedom to cook with the seasons, try some new recipes and keep meals different enough to appeal to all our tastebuds. Monday’s vegetables and beans may be a huge fresh salad with all the produce I collected from the Saturday farmer’s market with baked beans fresh from the slow cooker. In the fall/winter, this combo may be a curry, chilli or stir fry.
Tuesday’s Fish and Soup could be grilled haddock on the BBQ with a cold Gazpacho in the summer, or baked mackerel with a warming squash soup in the cooler months. I always keep frozen soup stock on hand, which makes this process super easy. Wednesday’s pasta is ever changing – I use kamut linguine, spelt rigatoni, brown rice penne, udon noodles or even kelp or fresh zucchini noodles in the summer! The sauce can be pad Thai inspired, Asian miso with a flare, freshly made pesto or a classic tomato. I pump up the noodle dish with whatever veggies I have on hand, maybe even toss the veggies on the BBQ and sometimes I throw in the leftover fish or beans from the first of the week.
Thursday I love making dinner with eggs, it can be a hearty frittata or an elegant quiche – in a pinch it’s scrambled with cheese and salsa. The side dish is usually a fresh salad or roasted root vegetables, maybe some hearty homemade bread rolls (that I’ve made in a large batch and frozen for such occasions). Everybody enjoys pizza, so Friday pizza night is a fabulous way to use up whatever leftovers I have in the fridge before market day and I just take a frozen dough out of the freezer (also made ahead of time…of course!).
Saturday and Sunday are pretty easy since we are swimming in fresh food again (yay!) and we may also be having potlucks or meals out of the house with friends, picnics and beach food.
Lunches are always a variation of some dinner leftovers, breakfast usually include yogurt and homemade granola or warming cooked oats with fruit.
Do you see how much flexibility there is in this type of planning? Yet it is structured enough to allow you to shop once a week (saving time), vary the flavours and eat according to your budget, with the seasons and locally as much as possible. Win-Win.
2. Keep the Basics Stocked
While it’s great to experiment with new flavors and recipes from time to time, eventually you will have a really good idea of what you need to create variety in your meal planning. Keep the basics on hand: coconut milk, nut butters, braggs liquid aminos, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, whole grains, pastas, nuts and seeds, oats, dried beans, maple syrup, honey, herbs and spices, etc). Being stocked up in this way will allow you to flow easily into your meals.
3. Freeze Large Batches of Your Staples
From time to time you’ll need to invest a little time in preparation. If granola gets eaten in your house on a daily basis, it’s wise to make a batch big enough to last you at least 2 weeks. Make a large chicken soup stock and freeze it in containers for your soup days, have lots of individualized frozen pizza doughs on hand as well as healthy muffins or cookies. Sauces and dips such as pesto and hummus freeze beautifully, always make more than you need for easy meal creations.
4. Keep Your Fruit and Vegetables as Local as Possible
And keep it simple. Having an automatic way to limit choices forces you to use what is available. Also, food that is locally grown and picked while ripe is rich in the vitamins and minerals the most all imported foods are lacking.
5. Consider Canning or Growing Some of Your Own
It can be really fun to make your own pickles and jam, and really easy too! The best way is to gather a few friends together and have a canning party – split the cost and the finished product. This preserves the season’s bounty at it’s most nutritious and saves you on time and money throughout the colder months.
All it takes is a little patience and dedication to get rolling, but once you are on-track to planning your meals you will experience all the great benefits of being organised, healthy and well fed. Happy planning!