4 Tips for Better Meal Planning

standard October 13, 2017 Leave a response

Starting our journey into Baby Led Weaning has meant I’ve started to get serious about meal planning again, instead of just loosely planning out days of freezer and Hello Fresh meals. And to remind myself that it does not have to be a big weekly chore, I’m revisiting my own tips to make it easy.

Most of us like the idea of meal planning but the execution is just too daunting most weeks. After a long week of work and appointments and activities, the weekend is for house chores, more activities, and hopefully some relaxation. Not sitting down with a grocery list or trekking to the store to fight checkout lines with everyone else in town. So how can you still have a week’s worth of healthy meals for you and your family ready without sacrificing a lot of effort or precious weekend time?

1. Start simple.

You don’t have to make something different for every meal every day of the week. Start with one breakfast, one lunch, and three dinners. That gives you five meals to rotate on different days. And of course, some days you want dinner leftovers for lunch. Or breakfast for dinner. Just double up the recipe if you need to ensure you have enough.

You also don’t need to make fancy meals. Peanut butter and jelly works. So does incorporating pre-made items or convenience foods. For instance, a boxed soup that you can jazz up with a few extra veggies, rice, or a protein. Thin with a little water to balance the sodium and make it last even longer.

2. Don’t wait until the weekend.

Schedule a weeknight that is not otherwise taken with activities, sit down with a cup of tea, and make meal planning an enjoyable evening activity. Or keep a running list of ideas for next week up on the fridge. Maybe make it a communal activity, where everyone has to add something (and then help make it when the time comes!).

Also, try grocery shopping during the week. Or go in the early morning on the weekend before the stores get crowded if weekdays just don’t work for you. Having a standard grocery night that you either tackle alone or with the whole family to help out (whatever works best for you!) can make sure the weekends stay relaxing and stress free.

3. Rotate favorites.

When you find a recipe you love, especially one that may also be quick and easy to prepare, write it down. Keep a list of go-to recipes on hand, and make sure to rotate one or two in to each week. That way you there is one less new recipe to try out, and there is something to look forward to, particularly on an extra crazy night or week.

4. Prep is your best friend.

You may not want to spend time washing, chopping, and prepping everything all at once, especially after the planning and shopping. But if you take the time to at least wash and chop veggies, marinate proteins, or batch cook starches, it will make each day’s prep that much easier. And the fridge will look a little neater, so win win!

Any other tips for making meal plan easier? What are your biggest challenges when meal planning each week?

Weekly Menu: Easy Staples

standard October 9, 2017 Leave a response

Now that my sweet baby is 7 months old (where has the time gone!?), we are venturing into the world of solid foods and all the mess that comes with it. I expected the food mess. I was not ready for the scheduling mess and kitchen disaster and mental load that came with it. Do we now have to have family dinner at 5:30? How do I feasibly DO that when I work until 5 or 6 most days? What can I make that a vegan, a meat lover, and a baby can all eat without making 3 different meals? And how, logistically, do we handle cooking, eating, cleaning up, bath, and bed time all in the span of an hour and a half? Ugh. Mamas who have gone before me, wear your crown. And wear it proudly.

I feel like I JUST got into the easy routine of baby in bed, then 20-30 min prepping dinner with minimal effort or cleanup, relaxing on the couch, and bed by 10. Now dinnertime feels like a stressful scramble, and once baby is in bed, I have all these hours free. What do I do? Work? Clean? Read? Go to bed early? It’s a whole new open world of evening free time that I somehow forgot about.

ANYWAY, back to dinnertime. Most meals we eat, I can easily take part out and prep for baby, and add meat if needed for the husband. My main issue came from the fact that most of our meals I had already premade and frozen, so cooking parts separately were a little difficult. I am slowly on a quest for baby and family friendly meals, similar to what I used to make way back in the old days of the blog when I was still figuring out how to feed just the two of us and actually cooking all the time. And while I will not be going back to cooking from scratch every day, I am figuring out what meals work best in a pinch, are easily modifiable, and can keep everyone happy and full. Here are a few favorites we are enjoying this week.

  1. Back Pocket Stir Fry with Noodles // My go-to pantry staple from Pinch of Yum
  2. Butternut Spice Risotto // A fall favorite.
  3. Roasted Root Vegetable Rice Bowl // Add peas and tofu for extra protein and a little color.
  4. Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce over Sweet Potatoes and Rice // A hearty easy dish from Cookie + Kate
  5. Braised Coconut Spinach & Chickpeas with Lemon // One of my best recipe discoveries from pregnancy. This dish also freezes beautifully.

More family meal adventures ahead! And probably some plant-based Baby Led Weaning recipes as I start getting more adventurous on the baby food front.

Have a delicious week!

 

Weekly Menu: Freezer Favorites Round 2

standard September 11, 2017 1 response

Before having my first baby earlier this year, I spent a few weekends stocking up my freezer with breakfasts, entrees, snacks, and smoothies to get me through the 4th trimester with as little cooking as I could. And I am back to report that it was the BEST. DECISION. EVER. If you’re pregnant and reading this, carve out a weekend and cook and freeze all the things you can! Especially things other people can heat up for you. No cooking. No dishes. And no greasy takeout. (YES, takeout has a much-needed place in this season, but especially with breastfeeding, all the nutritious, filling foods you can get are so needed to keep everyone healthy and happy).

Now that my freezer is empty again, I am back to share how I’ve gotten even more efficient at this process, with prep instructions to help anyone tackle this seemingly daunting task in just one weekend. I got almost 2 months of meals made in under 8 hours and for less than $150. And now I’m ready to get through a super busy work and holiday season.

Recipes

Pick 2 breakfast dishes. Add 2 smoothies. Throw in a sweet treat. And then 7-8 entrees that work for lunches, dinners, singles, or a crowd. The more versatile the better. Here is what I made this past weekend:

  1. Blueberry Buckwheat Muffins
  2. Baked Oatmeal Cups (whip up your favorite oatmeal recipe and bake in muffin tins vs the stove for easy single servings to reheat)
  3. Pumpkin Berry Smoothie Bowl
  4. Autumn Glow Milkshake
  5. Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
  6. Vegan Enchiladas Verde
  7. Spanish Quinoa & Chickpeas
  8. Cannellini Bean & Broccoli Rabe Meatballs
  9. Peanutty Stewed Blackeyed Peas & Collard Greens
  10. Back Pocket Stir Fry with Noodles
  11. Cauliflower Walnut Taco Meat
  12. 1 Pot Lentil Dal
  13. Tofu & Broccoli Curry

Prep 

  1. Make a grocery list. Take stock of what you already have in the pantry and fridge. Shop for all the ingredients you need.
  2. Divide the list in half.  Set aside 3 hours over 2 days or one giant 6 hour day to cook.
  3. Read all the instructions. Soak beans, chop veggies, marinate, freeze, thaw, etc according to recipes. You don’t want to be stuck with dried beans that need soaking overnight when you’re about to cook the recipe.

Plan

If you’re tackling everything in one day, write out an order of operations sheet. Which things get dumped into a pot and left to simmer, allowing you to work on something else in a similar time frame? Which items can cook at same temperature and go in the oven together? What takes the longest and should be started first? What gets put in the slow cooker first thing in the day? If you write out a list and make things one by one, it will make everything go faster and run more smoothly.

Make sure you have freezer containers ready to go. I like to store everything in single serve containers, because most recipes I eat alone when the husband is traveling. Or he wants a separate meat dish, and we can just thaw what we both want without having a whole casserole dish of something sitting in the fridge going to waste. These containers stack great, fit in tight spaces to maximize your freezer, and are super cheap, so if they break or get lost or stained, you don’t feel bad about tossing them. Freezer bags are also a great option for smoothies, baked goods, breakfast burritos, etc.

Most of the dishes I made work well served over a grain, so I also cooked up giant batches of rice and quinoa and froze in single servings. Quinoa cooks rather quickly, but the last thing I want to deal with on a busy night is 45 minutes of brown rice simmering on the stove. You can buy precooked frozen rice, but a bag of dried rice is so cheap, I just add it to my batch cooking list and make my own.

Follow Up

You can either label each dish or make a list of what you’ve made and keep it near the freezer so you can check items off as you eat them. I find this makes it easier to always know whats left without digging through everything.

Now you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your evenings again!

 

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