One of the subjects that my friends ask me about the most is mealtime. They are curious about how I manage to make three meals per day completely from scratch and still have time to do all of the other things that Moms do, in my case those things include working part time, helping my kids with homework, volunteering at their school, doing housework, working in my veggie garden, buying groceries and taking the kids to sports practices.
Menu planning is my secret weapon for making time to cook from scratch. By planning out what I am going to feed the family all week, I can buy everything I need at the grocery store on Monday and then prep as much as possible ahead of time. To cut down on prep time, I invested in a good food processor to make slicing, shredding and chopping fast and easy and a bread machine to do all of the tedious mixing and kneading for me when I bake my family’s breads. To be extra efficient, I make an effort to look forward to the next meal to see if I can get double duty out of a food item. For example leftover cornbread from dinner still tastes great for breakfast the next day and the carcass from a whole grilled chicken is perfect for soup stock later in the week. If I schedule a meal that includes plain white rice, I will make extra so I can make fried rice to go with a veggie stir fry later in the week. When I cook a grain like quinoa or farro, I make extra to add into salads or soups later. Another strategy that I use is cooking double batches of foods that freeze well so that we have a good meal on hand in the freezer for those days when I am too busy to start from scratch. When I make lasagne I always make 2 trays instead of one, I prepare chili by the gallon and I love to double up on homemade muffins and cinnamon rolls because they all freeze so well.
I am going to use this week as an example to show how I do it. The first thing I do when planning my menus on Sunday is to check out the sale flyers from the two main grocery stores in my area to see what is on special that week to build my menu around. I do not buy any processed convenience foods, but I do buy items such as; fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables, fresh or flash frozen seafood, organic chicken (occasionally), dried beans, pasta, rice and other grains such as quinoa, farro and millet, organic cheese, butter, eggs and milk, and a variety of flours for baking.
This week’s sale items include; tomatoes, honeydew, broccoli, cauliflower, wild caught salmon, grapes, cucumbers, avocados and cheese. Using these items as a springboard, I came up with the following menu which also uses fresh items that were leftover from last week as well as items from my pantry and freezer.
Breakfast – Whole grain pancakes from homemade mix / fruit salad
Lunchboxes – Homemade pizza (leftover from Saturday night dinner) / edamame / sliced apple
Dinner -Whole grilled chicken with lemon pepper rub / Bowtie pasta with lemon sauce and fresh basil / Steamed broccoli
We will not eat the whole chicken so I will save the remainder for lunchboxes on Wednesday. After dinner I will load ingredients into my bread machine for a multi grain bread loaf and chop the fruit from Monday’s grocery run into a huge fruit salad to keep in the fridge.
Breakfast – Toasted multi grain bread / homemade pear butter / fruit salad
Lunchboxes – Hard boiled eggs / cheese & crackers / fruit salad / homemade mini pumpkin muffins from my freezer stash
Dinner – Indian food night: Paneer Sag (spinach and paneer cheese), roasted curried cauliflower, crispy red lentil balls, avocado slices and basmati rice.
After dinner I will toss yesterday’s chicken carcass into the crockpot with a couple of veggies to simmer all night for stock.
Breakfast – Toasted multi grain bread / homemade pear butter / fruit salad
Lunchboxes – Leftover chicken from Monday / sliced apples / baby carrots / pretzels
Dinner – Veggie noodle soup (cooked in the chicken broth I made overnight on Tuesday) that will use up a stray zucchini, the last 2 potatoes and a remaining wedge of savoy cabbage from last week, as well as carrots, peas and green beans from my freezer stash. I will load the soup ingredients into the crockpot so it can simmer all afternoon and be ready when we are / Homemade cornbread
Breakfast – Leftover cornbread / fried eggs / fruit salad
Lunchboxes – Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on multi grain bread / edamame / baby carrots / cheese cubes
Dinner – Grilled salmon with Turkish spice rub / cucumber, avocado, tomato and mixed greens salad / farro dressed with olive oil (farro is a type of wheat that is partly pearled and can be prepared easily in the rice cooker)
After dinner I will load the bread machine with ingredients for a loaf of whole wheat bread. I will also make a double batch of mini muffins to replenish the freezer stash.
Breakfast – Whole wheat toast with homemade chocolate peanut butter / fruit
Lunchboxes – Cheese and crackers / mini muffins / sliced apples / homemade yogurt and granola parfait
Dinner – Smorgasbord night. I take all of the week’s leftovers out, warm everything up and serve it buffet style with fresh fruit and/or a green salad. Everyone serves themselves whatever they want from the buffet.
Breakfast – Scrambled eggs served ranchero style in corn tortillas with grated cheese and ranchero sauce
Lunch – Tuna salad or grilled cheese sandwiches / fruit / green salad
Dinner – Pizza night! I make sourdough pizza dough in my bread machine, I shred mozzarella cheese and slice fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, onions and other toppings with the help of my trusty food processor. I have a freezer stash of homemade pesto sauce and tomato sauce that is already portioned out into the right amount for 3 pizzas. My family will eat two pizzas and the remainder goes into the refrigerator for Monday lunchboxes. While the rest of the week varies with what is available, Saturday night Pizza Night is a tradition in my family. We love to invite people over to have pizza with us so then I make six pizzas instead of three, but I always try to save 4 slices for the kids lunchboxes.
Breakfast – Whole grain waffles / fruit salad
Lunch – We have a standing invitation to the In-Laws’ house for Sunday Lunch.
Dinner – Because my Mother In Law stuffs us so much at lunch, Sunday dinner is often tea and toast or a yogurt parfait or a bowl of cereal.
This is a sample of the planned items we will eat this week. You may have noticed that lunchboxes generally didn’t include any leftovers from dinner. There are two reasons for this, I eat my lunch at home since I work part time so I eat leftovers for lunch and we use up all of the rest of the leftovers on Friday Smorgasbord night. If I feel that there are not enough leftovers to fill out the meal on Friday, I will make a side dish like cuban style black bean soup or make a simple quiche or make the dinner salad into something more substantial by adding shredded cheese, pumpkin seeds, craisins and shredded veggies.
Aside from the planned meals, I take opportunities where I can find them to make food items that become part of our pantry or freezer stash. These types of items are jams, fruit butters, pesto sauce, tomato sauce, muffins, mini meatballs for lunchboxes, home cooked beans to add into soups and salads, homemade yogurt, chocolate peanut butter and lunchbox treats like homemade cookies, fruit juice gelatin and rice pudding. At this time of year we are not yet eating from our garden but once the veggie garden is in production, I will switch to planning meals around what I need to harvest instead of what is on sale at the grocery store.
I feel great knowing that I am giving my family the best nutrition I possibly can three times per day and because of that I don’t sweat it when they occasionally get small amounts of junk food from their friends or at school. Even though my schedule is very busy, with a bit of advance planning, the age old question of “what are we going to eat today?” is easier to answer.
What about you? Do you menu plan? I would love to hear what you have to say about how you feed your family, please feel free to comment.
This post is participating in Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.