It seems like you guys have really been interested in meal planning, health and wellness lately so I asked my good friend Pamela Salzman to write a special blog post to talk about meal planning. She taught me how to be organized with cooking for my family, I even talk about it in my book, Everyday Chic and how much it’s changed my life. I’ll let Pamela dive into how she creates weekly meal plans.
I am committed to cooking most of my family’s meals from scratch because eating whole, unrefined food is one of the most important pillars of a healthy life. Even though I enjoy cooking, it still takes a certain level of organization to make it happen. I have been writing a weekly dinner planner on Sunday mornings for at least 20 years and it is the reason my kids don’t eat cereal three times a day. Beyond that, knowing on Sunday what I am cooking for the week allows me to go through my days able to focus on other things (like work) without the “dinner cloud” over my head. You know the one that is always nagging, “what are you going to make for dinner tonight?” “Should you start defrosting that chicken?” “Hurry and run to the market before after-school pick-up!” That is all way too stressful.
After I started posting my weekly dinner plan on my blog, I was flooded with emails and conversations in my classes from people who said it changed their lives. They were cooking more and stressing less. They were saving money because they approached grocery shopping with a list and only bought what would be used. Their families were thrilled! That’s the idea.
Here’s how I do it:
Set up the calendar: I check my calendar for the week and look to see who is home for dinner each night and how busy I am each day. For example, if my husband and I are out and the kids are home, I will choose one of the kids’ favorite dinners that I don’t love as much. Or I might see that I am teaching an evening class and I need a slow cooker meal that night or something that can be prepared ahead, like a casserole, that my family can easily pop in the oven. Write down the days on which you would like to cook at home and if you’re accommodating more or less than the normal crew.
Check the current inventory: Make a note of anything in the refrigerator that needs to get used up so that it doesn’t go to waste. (Unless you have teenagers in the house, in which case “there’s no food in the fridge!”) These items should be incorporated into the week’s meals. Scan the freezer and pantry as well to see what can be used in order to limit your grocery spending.
Create your own cookbook: I love having all my favorite recipes in one place, that way I can peruse the repertoire quickly and make decisions as to what goes onto the meal plan. I photocopy my go-to recipes from cookbooks or print them from blogs and file them in a binder by category (e.g. meatless mains, soups, etc.) I use Pinterest to save recipes that I would like to make or that are inspiring to me. If I make something new that I’d like to make again, it goes into the binder.
Be democratic: Ask your family for suggestions for meals. Or don’t!
Be strategic: The most perishable items should be placed on the meal plan earlier in the week. For example, if you buy fresh fish, it doesn’t last more than a day in the refrigerator. So fish should go on the menu on Day 1 or 2. You can also make double of a dish to have leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day. Or leftovers can be used in a different way. For example, leftover chili can be used to top baked potatoes the next night.
Find a balance: If I cook 6 nights in a week, I like to prepare 2-3 vegetarian meals, 1-2 fish, 2 poultry and 1 or no beef. I see where I can incorporate leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables into several meals. And I try to provide a wide variety of different whole grains and starches (otherwise I might slot brown rice into every meal.)
Learn what is in season: Planning your meals around what is in season has its benefits, namely more flavorful, more nutritious food (which hasn’t lost as many nutrients as food that has traveled far;) lower cost due to greater supply; following the cycle of eating as nature intended, by consuming a diverse set of nutrients appropriate to the season (e.g. melons are quite cooling to the body and should be consumed in the summer when the body may be experiencing excess heat, but not in the winter.)
Spring: peas, asparagus, leeks, artichokes, strawberries, mango, spinach, avocado, chard, beets, radishes, cherries
Summer: stone fruit, grapes, berries, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, sweet corn, eggplant, zucchini, melons, figs
Fall: apples, pears, pomegranate, persimmons, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, fennel
Winter: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, citrus, rutabaga, turnips,
All year: Cabbage, Lettuces, Carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, celery and celery root
If you write down, it’s more likely to happen! Start by committing to even one more meal this week than you normally do. Check out my weekly dinner planner for inspiration. And if you need help become a more confident cook, take one of my online cooking classes!
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Let me know if you liked this contributed blog post and I’ll have Pamela back for more! If you have any questions or topics that you’d like her to touch on, please comment below!
Author of Kitchen Matters. Culinary Goddess.