Disclaimer: I am not a photographer AND I am not a chef.
Here’s what I AM: I am a mom of 3 boys (soon to be 4 in a few weeks), a wife, a person who likes to eat yummy food, a person who doesn’t LOVE cooking, AND a person who wants to eat healthy food that is family friendly, budget friendly and time friendly. Let’s face it, I don’t have all day and night to be in the kitchen nor do I want to! So, that is how I base my choices. I am always looking for how I can give my family health benefits from what I cook, not despise cooking, and not spend an arm and a leg on expensive organic everything. That’s a whole other topic that I am willing to discuss later, but I need to get on to sharing my system. Take what works, leave what doesn’t. The key to any system (or plan) is consistency and simplicity. Hope this helps you find more of those two things for you and those that eat with you!
STEP 1: The first thing I always do is check the calendar for what week ahead looks like. I only menu plan one week at a time. For one thing, I don’t have a huge pantry nor a huge refrigerator so storing large quantities of everything isn’t possible. Secondly, with 5-6 people in a family, things change from week to week and it’s likely I will have to go to the store again anyway if I planned 2 or more weeks in advance. I try to go to the grocery store 1x/week and doing week by week menu planning seems to be reasonable. So, once I see our activities schedule which include nights we are busy, days we are on snack duty or events I am bringing food for, I can choose my recipes and plan appropriately. Based on our calendar, I add ingredients/items for the “out of the ordinary” things first. (Ie: Halloween parties and football at a friend’s house.)
STEP 2: The next thing I do is I go shopping in my pantry, fridge and freezer. I look for 2 things: my staple items (which I have a staples item list below if you’d like to see it.) I always make sure I have my staples or things that we use every week. I keep my grocery list pad on my refrigerator and try to keep up with what we run out of during the week so this step is easy. This step also includes what items we frequently eat for breakfasts and lunches. My husband and I eat leftovers for lunch and we pack lunches for the kids. The second thing I look for is my “base” items which are meat, veggies and grains. That way, I can base my meals off of what I have and not double buy, let veggies go rotten, run out of room to store the food and stay on budget.
STEP 3: This isn’t as much of a “step” as a part of the system I use. I shop at the same grocery store every time so I know the layout. (I hate wandering grocery stores. Time waster :) I write down my ingredients/items that I need in the layout of the store so I am efficient when I shop. I follow the same “path” that I write my list so I am quick AND I rarely forget anything! I don’t want to spend any extra time in the store if I don’t have to!
STEP 4: Then I sit down at my computer with my list and pull up one (maybe 2) of my go to websites that post new recipes each week. Now, some of the recipes I tailor to suit my family OR our health goals. I have learned over time how to adapt a recipe to be healthier (lower sugar, lower carb, higher protein, less fat, more nutritious). So, when I look at the recipes, I also am determining health benefits. Here are 2 things I keep in mind for sanity and for variety.
1) I plan 5 dinners each week knowing we’ll either eat leftovers, snacky dinner or eat out the 2 other nights.
2) I usually plan one dinner with a Mexican flair (LOVE Mexican food), one with an Italian taste, at least 2 crockpot meals and 1 super quick and easy stand-by (one my family loves and eats regularly). Of those 5 dinners, usually 3-4 of them are new or a new version of something I’ve made before. It’s not hard to cook new if there aren’t a bazillion steps to it. We like the variety and it keeps me from getting bored. I label my meals with “CP” if it is made in the Crockpot and “Q” if it’s a quick dinner. That way, when I look at what I’m making for that night or the next day, I can choose the meal that makes sense.
I don’t usually plan my meals out for each night unless I know we have a busy night or something specific I am making for a specific reason. I leave a little leeway in there so that I can be flexible. That’s something you have to learn the more kids you have :) Plus, when you’re pregnant, sometimes you just don’t feel like sticking to the plan :) If you prefer to plan them out for each night, I have another free download for you. It’s my my weekly menu planner. This can help you stay on track with your health goals and keep you away from convenience foods or the temptation to just grab fast food.
STEP5: Again, this isn’t as much of a step as it is a part of my system. When I sit at my computer to make my meal plan and list, I write the meals on the backside of my grocery list by flipping up from the bottom (see pic). This is just for ease. I can pick my meal and then write down the ingredients I don’t have on the other side without flipping the paper or ripping it off of the very cute writing pad quite yet. That way if I get interrupted, it is still attached in the magnetic pad I keep on my fridge and I won’t lose a loose paper. It also helps to have the meals on the back of my list because when I am at the store and see something on sale or am questioning why I wrote 15 ounces of something, I can refer to my meals to see if I need to adjust the list or if I can.
SIDE NOTES in meal choices and bringing balance and health benefits: I keep fruit on my counter stocked and I try and plan meals that include veggies IN the main dish. My kids eat them better this way. I only do 1 side dish (if necessary) and it is chosen based on what is needed to balance it out. If the main dish is mostly meat, the side dish is veggies/grain. If the main dish includes grains, meats and veggies (like tacos), I look for another complementary food that will increase health benefit in some way. We often have cilantro lime black beans on taco night or in the summer I make a black bean salad.
There you have it! Let me know if this helps you. Some of you may all ready have a great system that works for you. What are your tricks? Share share share!
I have a menu plan with grocery list and recipes that is under “plans” on this webpage. If you want it all done for you including breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner AND portions, balance of carbs/fats/proteins all fixed for weight loss, you can go that route too. It’s there to help if this is all too overwhelming or a hassle in this busy season of your life.