2.25.2015

Meal Planning: Implementing Your Plan

Now that you've organized your recipes and chosen a method it's time to put it to use!

I'm going to give you an example of what I did with my recipes and method of choice, hopefully this will give you a good idea of what you want to do with yours.

I gathered my recipes and stored them in Paprika. Then I chose to do a Seasonally/Similar Ingredients method to create my meal plan.



Categorize Recipes By Season

I made a list of produce that is available for our area for each season of the year. Then I went through our favorite recipes and placed them in the most appropriate season based on their ingredients. If they didn't fit somewhere I tried to put the recipes somewhere that made the most sense: I saved meat-based recipes for winter, lighter meals for spring and summer, and recipes that need high temperature cooking, like pizza or pita bread, I saved for winter.

These are some of our recipes that fit well in the seasons:

Spring

Strawberry Spinach Salad
Broiled Tilapia
Pesto Honey Salmon
Falafels

Summer

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta
Fish Tacos
Gazpacho
Mango and Avocado Salad
Chicken Ranch Kebabs
Sauteed Zucchini and Corn
Thai Chicken and Pineapple Fried Rice

Fall

Butternut Squash Chowder
Chicken, Apple, Pecan Salad
Roasted Butternut Squash and Quinoa
Vegetable Bean and Tamale Pie
Minestrone Soup
Curry

Winter

Beef Chili with Cornbread
French Onion Soup
Lentil Soup
Perogies with Applesauce
Swedish Meatballs
Black Bean Soup
Stuff Cabbage


I had so many recipes I wanted to use and it was REALLY hard for me to narrow it down to only 20 per season. I went back to the original reason I wanted to meal plan: healthy and cheap.
  • I had pot roast, sole florentine, and steak fajitas on my menu. But I took them off because the meat cost too much money. Instead, I put them in a "Special Occasion" file for times that we don't mind spending a little more money for a meal.
  • I had a Swedish salmon dish on the menu, but it had a butter sauce that cost too much money and wouldn't have been healthy to eat on a regular basis. Cue the "Special Occasion" file.
  • I went even further and took out the recipes that took too much time to prepare or wasn't freezer compatible.

Organize Recipes Into Weekly Plans

Once I had found 20 dinner recipes for each season I organized them 5 per week. 

While organizing recipes by week take these things into consideration:
  • Plan freezer meals or leftovers on the busiest days of your week.
  • Plan recipes that use perishable produce at the beginning of the week to avoid spoilage.
  • Group recipes by week based on ingredients. For example, most recipes only use a little bit of cilantro so I try to find 2 or 3 recipes that use cilantro and put them in the same week.

Meatballs are a great food for freezing

Shopping and Preparing

The beauty of organizing your recipes in this way is how easy it is to do shopping and meal prep!
Because the meal plan is seasonal (every 3 months) I do the bulk of my shopping and meal prep every 3 months instead of monthly or weekly.

Since I know that I will be making a recipe 3 times in the next 3 months I can buy in bulk for the items that can be stored in the freezer or pantry. I don't have to take a wild guess at how many pounds of black beans I should buy because I know exactly how many pounds I'll be using in the next 3 months (or even 6 months!).*

The other cool thing is that most food items can be frozen up to 3 months. So a lot of the recipes I only have to make once in triple amounts and then freeze them. For example, chicken tagine, beef chili, vegetable bean and tamale pie, quiche, pizza crust, pie crust (for quiche) and most of the soups. The first month is really the only month I have to spend time cooking meals. The other two months we use frozen meals and add a fresh side dish.


It may seem labor intensive, but I promise it really isn't! I spent my free time organizing recipes and creating meal plans over a few months. I did take some time, but in the end it has saved us a lot more time and money in the long run.

*As a side note, meal planning is AWESOME for food storage. You can plan your meals around foods that you have stored. The other great thing is that you can buy the amount of beans, grains, and canned goods etc. that you know you'll be using in the next 3, 6, or 12 months. 

2.20.2015

Meal Planning: What is Healthy?


This was a question that was made when I asked for what people wanted to know about meal planning. Recently, this term seems to mean different things to different people.
As most of you know, I am LDS (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  In our church we believe in taking care of our bodies because they are a gift from a loving Heavenly Father. In our scriptures*, we refer to it as the Word of Wisdom, that outlines what we should do to best care for our bodies.

Some of the principles are to eat meat sparingly, eat seasonal fruits, vegetables, and that grains are the "staff of life." Now, there is always some debate about grains, whether or not they are good for you. There are people that cannot physically tolerate grains, and I do believe that since some grains have been genetically modified and most crops have pesticides and herbicides it can really affect how our bodies digest and react to them. That being said, we use organic whole grains in our house and I feel that they are an important part of our diet. 

I truly believe in the Word of Wisdom and I have adapted the way I cook to fit the principles outlined in the scripture.

Here is what I believe to be truly healthy, and meal planning has helped immensely in making it easier to reach these goals:

  • Everything in moderation. It seems that most fad diets advocate eating one food group, which is not healthy. I believe that our bodies need a good balance of fruits, vegetables, and meat/dairy. 
  • Eat seasonally. I've done some research on nutrients in fruits and vegetables and I was surprised to find that fresh produce loses almost HALF of all it's nutrients in the first few days after being picked. (source) If your produce is picked green in Mexico and shipped to your local grocery store it has lost most of it's nutrients. One solution is to simply eat seasonally and locally. I've found that the farms around us offer "pick your own" that is cheaper than the grocery store. If you buy local and seasonal you are getting fresher, healthier food that is actually less expensive than the store.
  • Eat less meat and dairy. I tried to eat vegetarian and even vegan for a while, but soon I started to have pretty bad joint pain in my fingers. I did some research and found that I was missing certain proteins that repair your joint lining. I started making homemade bone broths and my joints came back to normal. I realized that my body needs meat and dairy, especially during child-bearing years. However, I believe that the cheap meat and dairy at the store are not nearly as healthy as pastured, organic meat and dairy. Instead of buying and eating lots of cheap meat and dairy we buy small amounts of high quality meat/dairy from local farmers. This keeps us eating meat in moderation (2-3 times per week) and our dairy and eggs  so much richer in flavor and nutrients because the cows (and chickens) are grazing on grass all day and are kept healthy, so we end up needing less because we get more "bang for our buck."
  • If you can't make it at home, don't eat it. This helps you avoid eating overly-processed foods that your body shouldn't be consuming. For example, you can make olive oil, honey, and cheese in your own home. It would take a lot of work and I wouldn't recommend it, but it has been done for hundreds of years without the need for industrialization. Foods that you can't make in your own home are certain vegetable oils, hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils, homogenized milk, soy lecithin, aspartame, etc. So just don't eat them. I know it may be unavoidable at times, especially if you're at a restaurant, but for the foods you eat at home on a regular basis stick to the rule that if you can't make it at home (or your ancestors couldn't have made it) don't eat it.
  • Enjoy eating! This isn't really scientific, but personal experience. Part of eating healthy is enjoying the food you eat. I have tried eating extremely healthy (salads with little or no dressing, raw fruits and vegetables all day, 100% whole wheat baked goods) and found that I just didn't enjoy food. I would try and think about other things while I ate to distract me from the unpleasant taste/texture.
    I realized that it's okay to spice up your veggies with some olive oil or butter and its okay to use a little all-purpose flour to add some lightness to your baked goods. It's important to be healthy, but I also believe its important to have a healthy relationship with that food.
    I try to stick to the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of our food is healthy, whole, and unadulterated. The other 20% is there to make life enjoyable :)

There are so many different ideas of what healthy is, and this is just my personal opinion based on what I've researched and experienced. Meal planning has made it so much easier to eat the way we want to!

What are your thoughts on what healthy is? Have you tried to eat healthy in the past and gave up? Do you think that meal planning will make a difference?


*You can read the Word of Wisdom here, starting at verse 4.