This is a conversation that I’ve had many times with my friends and family. It goes something like this: “I don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner tonight, I have food in the freezer but I forgot to defrost it. I’m so tired of cooking, I never know what to make and I spend so much money on food. How do you get your kids to eat well and try new foods?”
“We sit down together, pull out some cookbooks and magazines and create a meal plan for the week. Then I know exactly what to shop for and I’m not scrambling at the last minute. They eat it because they helped to choose it.”
Why this works:
1) Everyone that wishes to participate is on board with what you’ve planned to eat that week (and those who chose not to participate cannot complain).
2) You’re not just catering to your own taste, but also to those of your family. They appreciate having a voice and being included.
3) You save money because you’re shopping for what you need and not what you think you might need. No more wondering what to do with that bunch of kale, slowly wilting at the back of the vegetable drawer. If it’s not an ingredient that you need this week, you don’t buy it.
4) If ingredients need to be defrosted, you can plan ahead of time and not be caught with a freezer full of steak (or tofu) and nothing to eat.
5) It’s fun! I spend some real quality time with my kids as we scour our cookbooks. We talk about what’s in season, how to create balanced meals, what we might try growing in our garden this spring, and we reminisce about trips to the farm and meals that we’ve had in the past. It actually turns into a little culinary adventure.
6) The more you do it, the easier it gets. Just like anything else it takes practice to make meal planning easy. Saving recipes that you come across online or in magazines becomes second nature after a while.
7) Your family takes part in selecting what to eat that week, but you control the recipes and can substitute healthy ingredients for not-so-healthy ones.
8) Did I mention how much money you can save? By creating meal plans around what’s in season – I tend to save about $100 per week (as opposed to the weeks that I run to the store almost every day and always come out with more than I need).
Some helpful ideas:
One of the things Sam and I love to do is plan meals based on different cuisines from around the world. This is a great way to introduce new foods and flavours. When we remember, we set the mood with some music from that country and pretend we’re travelling to an exotic place.
Don’t overplan. It’s a good idea to leave one or two blank spots on your meal planning list, just in case. You might have enough leftovers to cover that meal, want to eat out once in a while, or just be spontaneous. For many people (like me), if the plan is too rigid then it’s hard to stick to – there needs to be a little room for the unexpected.
If you have karate classes on Tuesday evenings and ukulele lessons on Fridays, then plan accordingly. A quick, hassle free meal (like a stir fry or an omelette) will nourish the family but not slow you down with a lot of cooking time. And it sure beats takeout.
What my menu plan looks like this week:
This was a collaborative effort between the four of us (but mostly Sam and I, because Sophia got side-tracked with a banana bread recipe and Rick mainly asks for hunks of meat). The “?” gaps are there so we can live on the edge just a little (actually, we just couldn’t think of anything at the time).
|Breakfast||Snack 1||Lunch||Snack 2||Dinner||Dessert|
|Monday||Yogurt parfaits (blueberry, mandarin, coconut) and whole grain toast with almond butter||Home made banana bread||Leftover chili, applesauce, baked nachos.||Grapes||Lentil/split pea/veggie soup, home made/whole grain buns, apple/brussel sprout/walnut salad||Home made cookies|
|Tuesday||Eggeritos (whole grain wraps stuffed with scrambled eggs and cheese), papaya||Toasted seaweed||Tuna wrap, cherry tomatoes/cucumbers, raspberries||Home made banana bread||Shrimp and veggie stir fry with rice noodles||Yogurt|
|Wednesday||Oatmeal topped with apple puree and walnuts||Smoothie||The big sandwich (turkey, cheese, cucumber, tomato, avocado on a home made bun), an apple||?||Home made mini meat pies with squash soup and salad||Pineapple|
|Thursday||French toast with bananas and kiwi fruit||Grapes||School pizza lunch||Home made berry muffins||Rice bowl with steamed vegetables, toasted seeds and tahini sauce.||Home made pumpkin ice cream|
|Friday||Frittata and mixed berries||Toasted seaweed||?||Banana||Salmon bites (fish cakes) with yogurt dipping sauce and greek salad.||Fruit or muffins|
Please share your own meal plans, either here or on my Facebook page, even if it’s just a days’ worth. It would be wonderful to borrow ideas from each other!
More recent conversations on this topic, with the same folks that were frustrated in the past, have gone more like this: “‘Things are so much easier since we started planning our meals. I haven’t gone shopping in over a week. My husband just sent me an email with a recipe that he wants us to try”.