Hi guys and happy Tuesday! Keep those entries coming for the Chobani giveaway until midnight EST tonight and I’ll announce the winners in tomorrow morning’s post.
I have a little favor to ask of my readers. If you love me (or just like me), will you please nominate Beth’s Journey for the Women’s Health Mag Blogroll? As you may or may not know, this is my favorite magazine of all time, and I would be beyond honored to be on their blogroll! I can be entered as a weight loss or health blogger, which ever you like, and I would be so appreciative!
To address some of the questions from the giveaway, I’m going to do a Reader’s Request Mini-Series on the blog, addressing Weekly Menu Planning, Staying Motivated, Navigating Social Situations, Getting Back on Track, Tips for Other Bloggers, and any other topics that come up/I feel like deserve their own post. Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email if there’s any other ideas you guys would like me to address in the series.
I’m going to kick it off with Weekly Menu Planning, because that’s one of the things I get asked about the most.
- How do I go about approaching my week in terms of eating/meal planning?
- Do I plan out all my meals and then go shopping?
- Where do I come up with meal ideas?
- Does it take a lot of time to plan?
Because my approach is pretty simple/straight forward as it applies to menu planning, it doesn’t take up a lot of time for me at all. I have enough else going on in my life that I don’t want it to add too much to my to-do list and make it feel like a chore. I don’t really do things “right” per say because what you should probably do is plan and then shop, and I do it the other way. It works for me though!
I only started doing any meal planning at all over the last couple months, and its made a huge difference in staying on track, keeping my food budget low, and cooking at home more. When I make a list of dinners for the week that I’m actually excited about, I have less of a desire to go out to eat and feel a lot less stressed when I get home and am hungry since I have a semi-plan in place. Some people are much better than I am at meal/menu planning because what I do is very, very basic, but the strategy I use helps me to get the benefits of meal planning without adding any stress to my plate. Here are ten key things for me:
- I take a look at my week and what I have going on and plan accordingly. This week, for example, I have stuff going on every single night after work, so I only need to plan 1-2 dinners for the week. Because I’ll be out to dinner a lot of nights, I also pulled out a few frozen calzones to bring for lunches (these ones are artichoke and spinach stuffed, but same recipe). Since I’m not cooking too much, I also am going to try to only go to the store to pick up some fruits and veggies for snacks, since I already have tofu and tempeh in my fridge and that should cover protein for the week’s meals. Most weeks I have a lot less going on though, so I am looking at 4-5 meals at home rather than 1-2.
- I go grocery shopping at least once a week. I always check my fridge before I go to see what I already have/what I need to use so it doesn’t go bad before I get to it. At the store, I try to focus on the perimeter, usually spending most of my time in the produce section finding the best deals. I also try to pick up 2-3 sources of protein – tofu, tempeh, beans, shrimp, or other fish that’s on sale. Besides protein and produce, I also pick up some staples like CHEESE (always), greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and skim milk. You can see my Food Staples that I recently updated if you’re looking for specifics.
- I keep a draft in my gmail inbox with the subject Menu Ideas/Meal Planning, so that I can go in there and update it and its a living document. Some people would do better with an excel spreadsheet, but I have my blog to reference back if I’m looking for ideas or want to reintroduce things I’ve recently tried. At the top of this draft, I list a few ideas for both dinner and sides that I’m interested in trying that week based on what I’ve purchased at the grocery store and/or have in my freezer/pantry. Below the dinner ideas, I have each day of the week listed with breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner slots to fill in. At the beginning of the week I just clear the day plans out as well as the meals I’ve made from the top section, and start again. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that I don’t put into action, so I’ll just leave that on the list. This week I have soba noodles with peanut flour sauce that carried over from last week’s “plan”. (If you’re looking for a sample of this super sophisticated document, you can click here to see the one I’m currently working with).
- I don’t plan exactly what I’m going to have for dinner each night – I usually just have a three-four dinner ideas mapped out and then make whatever one I feel like that night when I get home.
- Dinner ideas come mostly from my head/what I’m craving/what I buy at the grocery store (which is 99% what I can find cheap/on sale). I normally sway towards Asian or Mexican themed dishes because those are what I like the best. I also read a lot of healthy living blogs and will get ideas from those and add those to my list of meal ideas. I am really bad at following recipes, so I don’t write them down in my gmail draft, I just put an idea and then bring it to life in my kitchen. For others, it might be helpful to print out recipes you see that you want to make if you’re better at following them than I am.
- I pack my breakfasts, lunches, and snacks the night before so that it’s one less thing to do in the morning. Lunches are almost always leftovers from dinner the night before, and I plan accordingly when I make dinner. A lot of times I’ll portion out lunch along with dinner so that I make sure to have lunch ready to go/don’t go back for seconds.
- For breakfasts – I’m pretty boring. I usually have the same thing for most of the week. Currently, I switch weeks back and forth between doing Heat n Eat Steel Cut Oats with peanut flour and a banana or frozen fruit, or this week I’ve been doing greek yogurt with wheat berries and frozen berries. I measure out the wheat berries and greek yogurt the night before as well as add the frozen fruit to the container so it thaws out overnight and I can just grab the food bag in the morning. If it ain’t broke…
- Lunches, as I said above, are almost always leftovers from dinner the night before. If I’m not going to be making dinner, I try to plan ahead and pull something out of the freezer, or make sure I have a few staples on hand for a simple lunch like a mashed bean sandwich (so good!) with veggies and fruit or a sweet potato with black beans and salsa, and a salad on the side.
- I usually use Sundays as a day to make some things that will last all week. I love making a batch of black beans that will change your life (they really will), freezing half, and then keeping half in the fridge for a quick protein kick during the week. I also like to make a few servings of a grain – like quinoa, wheat berries, or bulgur – and keep a tub of that in my fridge for a quick option. Finally, I try to chop up some fruit and veggies on Sundays so that I can just grab them anytime and they don’t require any prep.
- I always have ingredients on hand for a few quick and healthy meals that I love that I can have ready in 10-15 minutes or less. This way if something comes up and I have to stay late at work/am starving by the time I get home, I can be eating very shortly after walking in the door. Besides the sweet potato black bean combo mentioned above, I always have ingredients on hand for quesadillas (corn tortillas + cheese + black or pinto beans and veggies with salsa on the side), linguini with white clam sauce (whole wheat pasta, canned clams, parmesan, red pepper flakes, evoo), or an open-faced banana, peanut butter, and chocolate chip sandwich (love this any moment of the day).
Whew! Sorry for the super wordy post – guess I had more to say on the topic than I thought!
So what about you? Do you do menu planning or what is your approach to eating? Do you shop and then plan, plan and then shop, or just shop without a plan?