planner

Menu Planning is Easy

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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.

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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

Thursday

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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.



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10 Comments

  1. Oh how I’ve been aiming to do just this, but alas I’m still a work in progress. So glad your dad promoted your site on Facebook. I’m enjoying your articles.

  2. Jennifer, this was great! I really struggle with what to send for lunch and am currently limited to cooking on the weekends. This helps give me some ideas and was excited to read!

    • I am glad it was helpful. I am also running a weekly menu on the blog that I post on Mondays. It lists all three meals for the week, and is generally built around what is on sale at Publix so maybe that would work for you too.

  3. I really enjoy reading your blog. I keep stumbling across it! I am still working on meal planning, and am inspired by yours. My husband does not deal well with a “planned out” food schedule, but I truly think it would be a great help for me. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Jessica,
      Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad you like my blog :). I haven’t had any trouble from my hubby about the food plan because he is completely uninvolved in food shopping and preparation. Kind of a double edged sword: I can do whatever I feel like food wise without any criticisms or interference, BUT, I do it all myself without any kitchen help. To be fair, he does the dishes afterwards so he DOES help a lot just not in the preparation stages.

      Anyway, if you are looking for recipes check out my other site http://www.jensnaturalkitchen.com.

  4. I plan a tad differently. It is just hubby and I and he is a truck driver and often starts his day at 2 or 3 AM, so… we are not having breakfast together except when we have breakfast for dinner. I’m not a big breakfast person myself, so generally just have coffee until lunchtime.

    So I plan lunches and dinners for the week. Like you, I look at ads first before planning. I buy most things only when they’re on sale and have a stockpile in my freezer and pantry. So it’s usually a matter of what fresh produce is on sale and then I plan around that.

    My overall goals are that we have some protein at each meal (meat, poultry, beans, eggs or cheese), that we have several serves of fresh fruits and veggies each day, and that we have bone broth a few times a week. I cook with only healthy fats and oils, butter, lard or bacon grease, olive, avocado and coconut oils. In addition, we go through 2-3 gallons of raw milk each week, some made into yogurt, but most just drunk with meals or snacks.

    His lunch involves a sandwich (usually on a wrap so he can eat while driving) and 3 or 4 sides, so he can eat throughout the day as desired. 1 or 2 sides may be things that require eating with silverware while at a dock, but for the most part, it must be stuff he can eat one-handed. The sandwich is usually meat or cheese and loaded with veggies (guacamole, fried peppers & onions, tomatoes & banana peppers, etc.) and one or two sides are veggies as well (sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, ). One or two sides are fruit. And one side is usually a baked good, apple betty, banana nut bread, pumpkin nut bread, zucchini or coconut cake – basically a “sweet” made with some fruit or veggies, so he has homemade “junk food” to keep truck stop food from being tempting.

    My lunch is simpler – usually leftovers and fruit. If no leftovers are handy, I always have tuna, yogurt and eggs on hand, cause I stock up when they’re on sale. And if avocados or artichokes are on sale, one of those makes a lunch for me.

    My dinners are vague. I plan 6-7 dinners a week, but do not plan which days we will have them. I have chronic fatigue, and don’t know from day-to-day what I will be up for. So something which requires me to stand for a half hour right at dinner time is only made on a high-energy day, and on a low-energy day, we are having pre-cooked meals.

    I do a lot of precooking, making bone broths and ferments when I have high-energy days, cooking soups and stews in my crockpot, and just making dishes early in the day when I’m more likely to have energy. When I feel well, I am usually in the kitchen or garden.

    Here’s an example menu:

    on sale this week: avocados, large bag of apples, tomatoes, cantalope and pineapple

    hubby’s lunch:
    turkey with guacamole on wrap (pico de gallo made in advance, then avocado and lime juice added to make guacamole each day)
    pumpkin nut bread (I make 3 nut breads at a time, and freeze 2, so I have lots of baked goods on hand and don’t have to bake every week)
    melon balls or sliced apples (some apples will be used to bake an apple betty for next week’s lunches)
    sliced carrots (on sale 2 weeks ago and still good) or sliced cucumbers (from garden)

    my lunches:
    yogurt with blueberries (I got a deal on 20 lbs blueberries and will be eating them for a while!) OR
    tuna with mayo on tomatoes and lettuce (3 types of lettuce in garden now) OR
    avocado OR
    dinner leftovers

    dinners:

    2x
    risotto with Swiss chard, green beans and pinto beans
    lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrot & onion salad
    – I’m making ham broth this week from 2 ham bones in my freezer, this is the broth I’ll use – but I’ll only make risotto if it’s a good night – chard and green beans are from my garden – pinto beans are precooked (I have about 20 containers of different beans cooked in broth in my freezer)

    2x
    Italian sausage with peppers and onions
    pasta with sauce
    – peppers leftover from last week when I bought a bunch of multicolored ones on sale – this dinner will be made in advance when I feel good for reheating when I might not

    2x
    chicken curry in a hurry
    – this dish will also be made ahead for reheating, consists of chicken thighs, coconut oil, peppers, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, etc.

    1x
    pastured-egg omelet
    hash browns
    – this will be made if I have a third good night this week, as shredding, spinning and then frying the potatoes is a big job and because potatoes blacken, it has to be done all at once without a break – omelet will be made with pastured eggs, cheese and whatever random chunks of meat or veggies I have on hand/leftovers

    All dinners will be served with pineapple chunks or cantaloupe balls, and then next week, we’ll have different fruits depending on what’s on sale (looks like cherries, watermelon and strawberries).

    I shop on Friday, which usually leaves me pretty tired on Friday nights, so I’ll make sure I save either some of the Italian sausage or chicken curry dish so I definitely don’t have to cook then.

    • Wow, you sound like you are wonderfully organized! I think it is wonderful that you are able to use your meal planning so efficiently to help you get through both your good days and your bad days. Just think how hard a bad day would be if you didn’t already have a plan and a stockpile! I love hearing about people who care enough about their health to make the effort to cook from scratch, your bone broths and ferments are inspirational!

      Thanks so much for sharing with us :)

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