Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Meal Planning: A Love-Hate Relationship

I kind of hate planning meals for my family. I love feeding them nutritious, homemade, satisfying meals, but putting together a decent hot meal (or even a cold one sometimes) with a walking/running one-year-old boy who likes to fling his books and wooden blocks clear across the house is a challenge. After almost a whole year of being a stay-at-home-mom, I've finally sucked it up and conquered the task. Here's what works for me:

turkey burgers and roasted sweet potatoes from Monday night
1. Find your middle ground. If you're a type A+ like me, you may dream of Iron Chef worthy dinners each night. When I was working and I only cooked one meal a week, I could spend the effort and money on some pretty amazing food. That is not my reality right now. My compromise is that I can't spend hours (or even an hour) cooking, but I'm not willing to use non-food or processed ingredients more often than once in a blue moon. Sorry, Velveeta. My priority is to feed my family whole grains, produce, lean protein, and plant-based fats at each meal.

2. Make a list and stick to it. I used to scoff at this common recommendation, but that was before I planned our meals. I would make a list of all of the ingredients for the meals I might possibly make during the week, but even when I stuck to my list, I was spending too much and food was going unused and eventually landing in the trash can. Make a list of only the ingredients you need to complete the meals you're making for the week, and stick to it. This takes some discipline, but it's a valuable skill.

3. Come up with some reliable standby meals, something that you always have on hand and know you can whip up in a hurry if you're too exhausted or busy to make a new meal. We usually have whole wheat pizza dough in the freezer, so a veggie pizza requires almost no effort from me and is tasty and nutritious. I keep a bag of frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp in the freezer, and can quickly thaw two servings under cold running water. I throw the shrimp, some olive oil, salt, pepper, basil or oregano, and cherry tomatoes into a roasting pan, roast for 10 minutes or so, and serve it over brown rice. If you add some butter and freshly grated Parmesan to the roasting pan after the shrimp has cooked, you will have some very happy eaters.

4. Break it up! We're having chicken enchiladas tonight, and I needed to roast the whole chicken today. I put the chicken in the oven at 8 am, so that I could have this main task completed way before it's time to make dinner. There's no way I'm willing to roast a chicken once it's 100 degrees outside. If I'm making tacos, I'll prepare the meat in advance and then I only have to assemble the toppings in the evening. You get the idea.

Food we've eaten this week (there are only a couple of pics because it's only Wednesday):

Homemade pizza with fresh mozzarella, herbs, bell peppers, and kalamata olives. Not my favorite combination, but not every meal has to be perfect. I used what we had on hand.

Homemade Cinnamon Sugar Popcorn. Not healthy or nutritious, but freaking delicious. 

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