b prepared: menu planning

paper grocery bag overflowing with produce

Wrap your head around the idea of planning and preparing 3 meals a day for a mind boggling 1,092 meals per year. Go ahead. Groan. Let it all out.

Here’s the deal. Someone has to do the task of meal preparation and if that someone is you, you might as well refine your approach to suit your needs, preferences and wellbeing.

By investing some time in setting up your menu planning system, you can experience the freedom, empowerment, peace of mind and healthfulness inherent in the art of menu planning. With patience and organization, you will quickly reap the rewards of considering and preparing your meals ahead of time. I promise.


STEPS TO EFFECTIVE MENU PLANNING

1. Develop a grocery list template.

  • Create a list of every item you have bought or may buy at a grocery store.
  • Type the list into the computer and divide by category or according to your favorite store’s layout. Be patient. It takes awhile but the list will serve you for a lifetime.
  • Print out a copy every week and feature this weeks copy prominently for the whole family to access on the fridge or cabinet door.
  • Keep a highlighter nearby so each family member can mark which items they may want during the next weekly shop. Now everyone plays a role in getting their needs met. This process empowers everyone and minimizes complaints. No more: “Honey, we are out of this. Mommy, I want this!”

2. Consider the calendar.

  • Capture some moments during the weekend perhaps to reflect on your schedule for the week. I prefer Sunday mornings to prepare for the week ahead as I find the quiet conducive to planning. Ask yourself:
  • Are there nights where you will not be eating at home? A party? Dinner out?
  • Are there events which may impact the timing or quality of the meal such as sports games, movie, longer day at work, birthday celebrations, holidays?
  • What about next week? Will it be unusually busy and would having a freezer filled with extras ease the pace of next week?
  • Is it one of those weeks when shortcuts, take out etc are essential?
  • Consult with family members regarding schedules and commitments. Take this information into account and adjust accordingly.
  • Seasonality plays a role in accessibility to produce and cooking methods such as grilling as well as temperature of foods-warm soups in the winter or crisp salads in summer. Factor in the seasons.

3. Plan the week.

One option is to dedicate a day to a type of cuisine-Monday is Asian, Tuesday is American, Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti Day. Or Monday is Soup & Sandwich, Tuesday is Casseroles etc. You get the idea. The goals here are to reduce the overwhelming task of making 3 meals a day and to create some structure to ease decision making and preparation. Perhaps one day is Chef’s Choice or Kids night to cook. This approach applies to breakfast too and may make mornings run smoothly by assigning Monday-Friday as Smoothie mornings and Saturday and Sunday as Pancake mornings. Be playful and responsive to your family’s unique needs.

4. Select your recipes for the week by considering the following:

  • What is in the fridge and pantry? Now is a perfect time to quickly wipe down the shelves and ready the fridge for the new delivery of fresh foods when the shelves are at their emptiest. Also you want to use foods that are about to spoil so knowing what you have already should shape your recipe choices.
  • Which foods are in season?
  • Is there room to splurge in the budget or is it best to avoid extravagance?
  • Which promotions are taking place at your favorite grocery store?
  • What coupons are available which might influence shopping choices?
  • Are there any health issues that need addressing such as allergies (raw local honey) or upset stomachs (ginger) for instance?
  • Foods closest to the source should form the foundation of your meals. Whole grains such as quinoa instead of pasta for example or sweet potatoes instead of potato chips. Incorporate color and variety to ensure health and vitality. Food is designed to provide us with the energy and restoration our bodies need to live our life’s purpose. Keep this insight in mind when deciding what to serve.
  • Consider embracing one cookbook for the week. The beauty here is that you become so intimately aware of the cookbook author’s style, preferences, go to ingredients and more after a week’s immersion. This familiarity becomes playfully efficient as you begin to anticipate the next step in food preparation.
  • Pick 2 new recipes and then cushion the rest of the nights with reliable and comfortable recipes that are easy to make, nourishing and loved by all. By challenging yourself to try new recipes, you build your recipe resources and maintain creativity in the kitchen.
  • Select old time favs for the days when your time is tight. Schedule a new recipe on a day when you feel fewer time constraints.
  • Record the recipes and cookbook and page number if applicable in your calendar so you know what is being served each day. You may choose to post this weekly menu if you are frequently hounded with “what’s for dinner?” questions. Review the menu each morning in case you need to defrost something, soak grains, get crock pot going etc.
  • Write notes, comments, feedback etc. in the margins of your cookbooks. Cookbooks are living, breathing documents means to serve your life so do not be afraid to make them your own. You will quickly build a refreshing library of new favorites. If you and those you feed do not like a particular recipe, either make notes to adjust seasonings for example or mark as I do: "Do Not Repeat." I arrogantly conclude there are more than enough recipes out there for me to explore or create so unless I love the concept of the recipe or my skills were really off when I prepared the meal, I just conclude that that recipe is not worthy of my time going forward. Be discriminating!
  • Highlight the needed ingredients on your printed grocery list Bring list and coupons.

5. Shopping

  • Pick a specific day for grocery shopping without distraction. (Of course something may come up that requires a shift to another day.) Buy a cup of tea in prepared foods or bring your own, select a bouquet of delicious flowers and settle into a relaxing, strategic shop. Set the stage for a nourishing ritual. Impulsive buys will be a thing of the past as you commit to your well developed plan for the week. Keep junk off your grocery list and in doing so, you are more like to keep it out of your cart.
  • We want to be healthy. We know the connection between what we eat and how we feel yet we cram shopping for food into a crack in our schedules rather than make it the priority it deserves to be. Lean into the art of meal planning and create the space to care for yourself and family in this way.
  • Be present and undistracted while still delighting in the senses of a well stocked, thoughtfully designed grocery store.
  • If it is one of those weeks or you want to bypass shopping altogether, consider the many grocery delivery options like Whole Foods and Peapod.

6. Coming Home

  • Empty your reusable cloth bags and marvel at the abundant bounty on your counters.
  • Express gratitude.
  • Place items where they belong, starting with frozen and refrigerated items.
  • Enlist help. No need for the martyr bit. That role is so last century.
  • If time allows, wash and chop vegetables to ease meal prep.

I know it is tempting to disregard some if not all of this information on menu planning. Perhaps you have a system that works even if you would not refer to it as a system. If so, bravo! Do pause though and consider if any one suggestion might streamline the process more for you. If not, forge ahead as before.

Or maybe you are far too overwhelmed by the demands of meal prep and want to hide in the comfort of the familiar, exasperating chaos of meal time. If so, first breathe, envision yourself calmly preparing and enjoying a family meal and then commit to doing nothing but creating your family’s shopping list over time. This act alone will dramatically shift the way you approach food preparation.

Release yourself of Food Network Star comparisons and simply get in the kitchen. Leave intimidation at the door and play with the simple bounty Nature provides. Being deliberate in how you feed yourself and your family makes all the difference in
whether you are truly fed at all levels.

Some meals will be hurriedly prepared. Some nights will be take-out. That’s life. With time though, those nights are the exception, not the norm. We seek progress not perfection. The objective is building systems and skills that enhance your life, promote harmony and minimize dis-ease. My wish for you is to have enough structure to set you free and enough flexibility to allow for you to be engaged in life’s delights. bnourished.

Katie