Once upon a time, I had an organized life. It was awesome. I recall my home and kitchen were always spotless. I dined out often. When I cooked at home, I took my time perusing the open markets in the city and enjoyed every minute. My fridge was clean and easy to navigate. Dinner parties and brunches were the highlight of my week. I’d spend all morning cooking, friends would arrive and everything was served fashionably. I finished each day with every dish clean and put away and the house smelling of lavender counter spray and rosemary. Life was simple and at mealtimes, it was celebratory.
Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?
Life is a little bit different now. Today, I’m a wife, a mother and the owner of a business that kicks my butt week in and week out and I can tell you that a few years into that routine, my house was smelling nothing like lavender and rosemary. Trips to the grocery store in the suburbs were no longer enjoyable. I was buying way too much food and only cooking what was convenient. Although my husband and I were still foodies through and through, our new parenting lifestyle left us so exhausted we could barely lift a fork to our mouths let alone carefully concoct a well-though-out meal. Yet, having a child made it ever-important for me to begin making smart choices about how we ate, but I just couldn’t find the time to do it all. After 3 years of letting my passion for food get swept under the rug, I decided it was time to take control of the way we were eating. I made a commitment to bring balance and wholesome meals back into our lives and started to carve time out to plan our meals a week in advance – sometimes 2 weeks – to ensure that we were managing a efficient kitchen, saving money and eating better than we ever had before. If any of this sounds familiar to you, let me be the first to tell you that you can totally do the same AND enjoy cooking again!
Putting together a meal plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It only takes a little forethought. By becoming intimately familiar with your pantry stock and keeping your fridge properlystocked (not overstocked) you can easily identify the ingredients you have to put a meal together for the next 7 days and what you need to pick up at the store along the way (if you are an iPad or tablet user, an app I absolutely love is Any List. I can input all of my recipes and create grocery lists straight from the ingredients). We cook double batches of foods we love so that we have a few nights a week where dinner comes straight from the freezer, perfectly portioned and allows us a few nights a week to skip cooking and spend more time together as a family. Knowing your family’s schedule helps to choose which days you have a little extra time to indulge in a multi-step meal and which nights need a quick-prep recipe. By knowing what your menu is for the week, you take the guesswork out of the evenings and spend a lot less time spinning your wheels on what to cook and how to get it on the table.
CHOOSING YOUR MEALS
When it comes to choosing what exactly you’re going to put on your meal plan, keep it simple. For the most part, I choose my menu based on what is readily available to me seasonally. This is the best way make shopping easier and keep your costs down. What is most plentiful will always be among the most affordable. If you live in a climate or geography where you have a Farmer’s Market all year round – meal planning will help you take advantage of all the market has to offer and enjoy it all week long. Additionally, Joining a CSA is the #1 way to take advantage of local, seasonal items and keep your family eating the freshest possible produce – while saving time.When fruits and veggies are in season and purchased locally, they’ll give you the best flavor and bang for your buck. Get creative with ingredients to stretch them further and diversify the flavors!
COOKING IN STAGES
Meal planning doesn’t necessarily mean choosing recipes that are 30-minutes or less to prepare. You can still indulge in complex dishes as long as you plan ahead. For instance, I make bread from scratch every week (sometimes twice!) because it’s cheaper than buying the fancy loaves I like to eat and, well, let’s be honest; what’s better than fresh bread from your own oven? The point is, you can do it if you manage your time properly. You’re not going to decide at 4:00PM Wednesday afternoon that you want a fresh loaf of bread or a slow smoked pulled pork sandwich for dinner on Wednesday night. You’re going to make that decision Sunday so when it comes time to enjoy it, you’ve done the prep work to be able to sit back and simply dig in!
SAVING YOUR PENNIES
If nothing else, meal planning is going to save your family money. That is a fact. By utilizing everything in your fridge, you won’t be throwing spoiled, uneaten food away. By cutting down on your trips to the grocer, you’re less prone to impulse buys (I am a compulsive impulse buyer. Olive bar for $8.99/lb? Yes, please! Fresh store-made salsa for $6.99? Don’t mind if I do!). And by cooking at least one meal a week in bulk and working more recipes from scratch into your repertoire, you’re going to eliminate the premium priced items from your cart without denying yourself the pleasure of enjoying them!
My hope is that by following my weekly meal plans, you’ll become excited about creating your own. Each week I’ll share what’s happening in my kitchen and my shopping list, but you can use my templates to help inspire your unique menu to fit your family’s needs. The idea is to rediscover your love of food – and source your shopping list locally for the highest quality good available to you. Feel free to email me with questions or ideas – and as the blog grows, hopefully you will be able to find lots of solutions for your kitchen right here!
Since we have just launched, this section is currently growing. Soon, however, we’ll be able to say, “Here is a link to take you to all posts marked under the category ‘Meal Planning’. Enjoy!” Until then – feel free to email with thoughts, questions or anything else – and I’m happy to share what’s happening in my kitchen!