AGGH!!!! I'm back to teaching this week, and I'm so not ready for this. I'm thrilled to see all my kiddos in class, but I'm not back in teaching mode after Christmas break. Did the last two weeks fly by for you? Cuz I feel like I need another week off to recover...
So anyway, one thing that makes me feel like I have my life a teensy bit under control is menu planning for the week. Having a plan for your meals is beneficial in so many ways- healthier meals, more streamlined and inexpensive grocery shopping, plus less food waste, which is a major issue in so many households. Now, I've read a lot about menu planning, and honestly it freaked me the eff out (except nutritional menu planning for others- that's no problemo). These people with their three squares a day planned, for 2-3 months at a time? In a binder? With color codes?! EEK! *Runs for the hills*
Ok actually I totally love the organizational aspect, however the thought of planning my food out for months at a time makes me claustrophobic. Like, what if I feel like pasta and it's taco night!? What if I want to order pizza but it's Monday and we only planned take-out nights on every other Friday!? Don't even get me started on plans that repeat meals. Maybe I don't want pork chops 4 times in a month!!! AHH!! My head is literally spinning (... ok not literally. You get it though). I just like to be creative with food and not feel tied down to a stringent plan for months on end, is that so wrong?
So for me, the whole uber-intense form of menu-planning doesn't work. BUT, I've worked out a more relaxed menu planning system that helps us save money on food, eat healthfully, be less wasteful, and still lets me be a peacock who needs to fly (I quote The Other Guys waaayyy too much, but it's so fitting). Here is my highly scientific and researched process.
1) Inventory Shtuff
I do this first. If there are things in the fridge that never got used and need to be, I can plan meals around that. Or, if we're low on a staple item, I know to put it on my grocery list. This way, I don't buy things we already have/ forget important stuff.
2) Pick 3... Maybe 4
Decide on 3 (maybe 4 if you're feelin it) recipes you want to make that week. They could be old favorites or something brand new, but if you are trying to eat well (#Jumpstart January!) focus on fruits and veggies, lean proteins, low fat dairy and whole grains. Keep in mind any perishables that need to be used up (hello, giant bag of celery hearts I bought for one recipe! They were a steal, what can ya do). 3 planned meals per week seems best for us because it's only Kris and I usually, and I like to leave some flexibility in our plan for randomness or late nights or eating out (Peacocks need to fly, remember). Using what you know you already have from #1, write your grocery list using the recipes + anything you need for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
***I do NOT plan breakfast or lunch like some people do. Instead, I keep staple items in stock that we eat for those meals such as smoothie stuff, sandwich fixin's, chocolate rice cakes and almond butter (it's insanely good). Also, see 4... one of my fave things for lunches.
3) Coordinated Overlap
Doesn't this sound like business terminology? This is my way of saying that whenever possible, try to group meals for the week that have at least some overlapping ingredients. Like, make a chicken pasta dish and use some extra chicken and veggies in a stir fry, or make a classic steak dinner and use leftover steak on a salad. Fewer ingredients to shop for + less waste + cheaper= grocery shopping wins.
4) The Joy of leftovers
I tend to overcook. Meaning, I make stuff that can feed a crowd of 10 when it's just 2 of us. This is actually not such a bad thing, cuz LEFTOVERS! Not everyone is big on leftovers, but thankfully Kris and I are fans. So make a big casserole, lasagna, roast, soup, or whatever, and eat off it for a couple days. When you're bored, wrap it up and keep it in the freezer for another time.
This is one of my faves. Have you seen Chopped? The chefs get a basket of strange ingredients, and must make a dish using them plus whatever is available in the pantry and fridge. Towards the end of the week, I like to have a night or two with zero plan, except that we must use up things in the fridge that need using. It helps cut down on wasted food and therefore saves moolah. Many of these Chopped meals have turned into our new favorite dinners, and creating random dishes that turn out delicious makes you feel like an iron chef (just me? ok).
***One more thing... don't forget to WRITE YOUR MENU PLAN DOWN. Somewhere. Anywhere that you will see it. You might think you'll just remember your plan, it's just 7 days right? But oh my friends, let's not kid ourselves. So write it down. It doesn't even have to be pretty, see? That's a mini whiteboard that I write the plan on. On the fridge. In my hideous handwriting. Sorrynotsorry.
There are so many more tips and tricks that go into making a meal plan work for you, like how to grocery shop smart or stock your pantry well, but I'll save those for another post- this is plenty for one day! What about you- are all about menu planning, not even a bit, or in between?