Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Meal Planning

I think we have covered me the topic of me being a greed monster before, so I am going to work with the assumption that this is common knowledge. I can't imagine coming home without knowing what we're having for dinner. I'm too hungry for that nonsense. I started meal planning just after college when I was working two jobs and had no time to spare. Cooking my family a good meal is pretty high on my list of priorities. Meal planning streamlined my kitchen and helped me make smarter decisions about food. When you cook your own meal you know exactly what you are eating. No hidden chemicals and fillers – unless of course you’re into that sort of thing. Recently I have noticed a lot of friends on facebook commenting that they have begun or are having trouble meal planning so I thought I'd share some tips that I have found useful over the years. Most of this stuff is obvious as hell, but hopefully you will find a few things that make the process easier.

1.       Identify how many days a week you want to cook and be realistic. Some people hate leftovers, some people love them. My husband enjoys leftovers more than any person I have ever met (EVER). My father, on the other hand, will not eat a meal more than once. So, figure out where you stand on the issue. I only cook three times during the week, two if I am doing it correctly. Sunday and Wednesdays are usually my cooking days. My mom thinks I'm disgusting for eating the same meal day after day, but it works for us. It may not work for you.  
2.       Once you have decided on which days you want to cook, pick out your meals. I have a ton of cook books that I flip through but usually I end up finding something awesome on Pinterest. I am also addicted to food blogs. It's my porn. I email pictures of meals to B when he as at work and we vote on which foods we would like to bathe in. I pick two meals for dinner and one for my lunch. I eat oatmeal every day for breakfast so I don’t need to make a plan for that. I suggest you plan your breakfasts and snacks the same as your dinners.
3.       This is something that probably doesn't apply to everyone but it's a really big deal to me. I know it sounds like I will shovel almost anything in my mouth (gross), but I actually really care about having a well-balanced meal. I try to eat a low carb and low sodium diet. I also try to maximize my vegetable intake and minimize my sugars. When I decided to make more conscious food choices I had no idea what exactly I should eat. I read that I should have x servings of grains and so many of diary, blah blah blah. I found a website called Calorie Count and it changed everything! It takes a while setting everything up, but it's totally worth it. First you plug in your weight, your dietary goals, and your goal weight if you have one. The site will automatically populate your daily intake goals in various categories like carbs, proteins, fats, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, etc. You will have to enter your meals onto the website and it will track the nutrient levels. This really helped me to reach my daily targets for carbs, proteins, and the big vitamins. The website also taught me accurate portion sizes. I learned that calories aren’t the end of the conversation, but it’s rather the ratio of carbs to EVERYTHING ELSE. I don't use it all the time but when I do it’s telling me to put my second helping of mashed potatoes back. The website also taught me that yogurt is full of shit. It's all sugar. Check it out. So tip 3 ultimately is double check that the meals you choose fit into your health goals.
4.       Make a list of all ingredients - for all the meals. Make sure that you check your pantry so that you don't buy duplicates. I don't think you really need too much explanation on this step so we'll move right along. If you do need further explanation of this step please refer to step #12.
5.       Go shop. I get really excited at the grocery store. Never go hungry or you will buy everything. I try to limit myself to the perimeter of the store and away from the aisles as much as possible. When I have my meals planned I don't have to worry about buying snack food or things to "hold me over." It also cuts down on my grocery bill because I'm not buying random things. Seriously, how did I make it before meal planning?? Oh that's right; I ate ramen noodles and hot dogs.
6.       Get a food processor. Seriously. More time is spent at my house chopping onions than is spent actually cooking the meals. A food processor cuts down on the prep work and let's be honest the prep work discourages a lot of people.
7.      Be realistic about your meals. Don’t go selecting a meal that will take 45 pots and 6 hours if you know you don’t get home from work until 8 at night. Set yourself up for success not failure.
8.      Spend a day getting your shit together. Unfortunately it’s going to take much longer than a day to get all my shit together but that’s for another day. Seriously, spend a couple of hours of your weekend to prep for the week. I suggest making your more complex meal on your off day and the easier meal during the week. Pretty simple. I don’t like to commit to anything on Sunday afternoons because it’s my prep day and I like to lay around the house with my lovies afterwards. I also make Howie’s baby food on Sunday’s.
9.      Go cook something already and stop wasting your money on crap. There is no step #12.

Here are a few of my favorite food blogs: