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Meal Planning 101: The Basics

La Petite Maison Verte: Meal Planning 101: The Basics

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Meal Planning 101: The Basics

[Warning:  I'm about to make the understatement of the century]

Weeknights can be hectic and most people don't have enough time to plan out and execute a detailed, healthy, delicious dinner once they get home in the evening.  Frozen pizzas, take-out and processed 'meal-in-a-box' type dinners are weeknight staples for lots of families, maybe even yours.  

I stay away from as many processed and artificial foods as I can.  I avoid items that are high in sodium, refined carbohydrates (i.e. white flour), ingredients I can't pronounce and added sugar - which describes most frozen prepared foods and shelf-stable pantry meals.  I try to stay away from foods with a lot of added butter and oil, and fatty cuts of meat - that describes a lot of restaurant take-out food.  So, what do we eat then?  How do we manage to cook dinner at home every night of the week and NOT resort to prepared foods?  And NOT take until 9:30 pm to get dinner on the table?  

Well, first off I plan out our meals ahead of time so that takes all the guesswork out the question "what's for dinner?"  Before I do my weekly grocery shopping trip, I come up with usually about 5-6 different dinners for the coming week - that leaves us with 1 or 2 free nights to either eat leftovers (usually) or go out to a restaurant (rarely, on the weekend).  Our meals are typically the same format but obviously can be very different depending on which foods I use.  And when I make a meatless meal, the formula will vary from this one.  Our typical "omnivore dinner" consists of:
  • lean protein (i.e. salmon OR chicken breast OR pork tenderloin, etc.)
  • green vegetable (i.e. sauteed kale OR oven-roasted broccoli OR steamed green beans, etc.) 
  • complex carbohydrate (i.e. sweet potato OR brown rice OR quinoa, etc.)
  • salad (lettuce + veggies with a drizzle of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper)
So here's a real example of a typical dinner that would include meat:

Broiled rosemary and thyme buttermilk chicken breast with kale and brown rice pilaf (recipe coming later this week) with a romaine hearts salad.  In fact, that's what we had for dinner last night :-)

Since there's just the two of us, one package of chicken or one pork tenderloin usually feeds us for more than one dinner.  That means I have three options:  a) cook all of it the same way at the same time and eat it again later in the week, b) cook all of it at once and freeze what we don't eat for a quick meal some time in the future, or c) DON'T cook all of it at once:  cook up what we need for dinner, then wrap up the uncooked portion and keep it in the fridge or freezer for another meal later (either that week or sometime in the future).  What option I choose depends on my Weekly Menu (see why it's so important to KNOW what you're making all week long?!)  

Part of making a Weekly Menu and being able to stick to it is knowing serving sizes and how much you (and other members of your family) are likely to eat at any given meal- that way you know how much to buy that week, how much to cook for dinner and how much you'll have for leftovers (enough for dinner another night?).  I know that Brian likes to eat a whole chicken breast (typically the ones we buy are about 8 oz each) whereas I eat about a 4-5 oz portion (half or just slightly more than half a chicken breast).  So I know that if I want to plan on having enough leftover chicken for another dinner, I have to cook up about 3 whole chicken breasts for Brian and I to get two dinners out of it.  

Another important part of efficient Meal Planning and execution is doing some of the prep-work ahead of time.  I've posted about how I like to cook up a whole pound of beans on Sunday for use during the coming week and to freeze for future meals.  I also cook up a big pot of brown rice or another grain (barley, quinoa, farro, etc.) when I have time, usually Sunday afternoon, and keep it in the refrigerator to use during the week.  Cooked grains also freeze really well too! 

I also like to wash and dry a TON of lettuce all at once, then store it in a produce/veggie keeper container in my refrigerator.  And while I'm washing veggies, I'll also wash and dry a couple cucumbers, I'll wash and de-seed/de-stem a red bell pepper (for topping salads), and I'll wash, peel and cut up a bunch of carrots and celery (we eat carrot sticks and celery for snacks during the week).  These things take a little extra effort up-front BUT save me LOTS of time and frustration during the busy week.  Plus I get to save money by purchasing dried beans, rice that takes an hour to cook (it's way cheaper than the 10-minute rice) and regular carrots vs. pre-washed baby carrots.  And another benefit of washing all of my veggies ahead of time:  the vegetables are readily accessible, which means we'll eat MORE of them and be LESS tempted to snack on bad or unhealthy foods.  

I know it sounds like a LOT of work.  It sounds like I'm going to A TON of trouble.  It seems like so much planning and effort.   And honestly at first it was all of those things!  But the good thing is - it gets WAY easier after a while.  It becomes part of your routine.  And the best part is that the rest of your week is going to be easier AND you're not going to have to rely on "convenience" foods that are filled with processed ingredients and added fats and sugars.

I think I've preached enough for one day (it's my blog, so I guess that's allowed - HA!) but I'll be sharing more of my Meal Planning tips with you in the future.  So stay tuned for some sample Weekly Menus and helpful hints to get really healthy and delicious dinners on the table in less time during the week!


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1 Comments:

At November 14, 2011 at 8:30 AM , Anonymous HeidiRob said...

I love this kind of post because I'm usually not organized enough about this kind of thing, and it's great to use someone else's heuristics!

 

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