5 Tips for Weekday Meal Planning

Happy New Year!  Yes, my calendar does say September…but since I spent 31 years as a teacher and school principal, I have always considered ‘back to school’ time the start of a new year.  It’s always been the time when I’ve made resolutions and have looked to create improved habits and routines. Even now that I am beginning my second year of retirement from this rewarding work, I still look at September as the start of renewed plans and improved organization.  If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I am a big fan of spending the time to cook ahead and meal plan on the weekends so that weekdays run more smoothly and predictably.  My summer posts have been devoted to talking about summer cook ahead options, and while I’m still on that plan because the warm weather isn’t over yet, I know that many people are into fall cooking and meal planning.  You can find tons of information on meal planning on blogs, websites, Instagram and home / lifestyle shows. Sometimes the plans are so involved and try to impress with the variety and gourmet nature of the food that it can overwhelm anyone who wants to start into meal planning. Meal planning is not rocket science, but you do have to spend some time thinking and preparing. But keeping it simple is the key to success.  So, I thought I would write a post with some tips for those who want to begin delving into planning simple, nutritious meals for the busy work week. It’s important to reiterate that I am not a chef or a home economist, or a trained food expert. Preparing food for myself, my family and friends has always been a passion for me and I have learned from many people and also by trial and error. So, please remember that what you read on this blog are things from my own experiences in cooking and eating, and not the claim of a trained expert!

If you do want to begin some weekly meal planning, pick a starting point that you think you can manage.  Don’t expect to have a detailed plan for three meals a day, five days a week when you start out. Try planning ahead for two or three dinners in the week and see how you do with that.  Like all new habits we want to create, we have to be realistic about what we can manage and maintain so that we feel successful. Make it do-able for you and you’ll be able to build on your success!

Here are 5 tips that have worked for me:

  1. Keep a running list in a prominent spot in your kitchen where you and others can add items that you use up and need to buy again.  If you do this throughout the week, it will take much less time to make up a grocery list and you won’t risk forgetting important items
  2. Take inventory of your refrigerator before you go to the grocery store.  Get rid of any spoiled or expired food, and make a list of the things you need.  Your list will help you only buy the things you need and will speed up the time it takes for you to complete the task of buying groceries. Some grocery stores also allow you to order online and have your groceries bagged and ready for you to pick up in the store.  We tried it out this summer and found the food to be excellent quality and it was definitely a time saver. Your order can also be delivered to your house if you are really short on time
  3. Keep your lists varied, but predictable.  We eat a variety of fresh foods throughout the week, and mostly buy the same twenty or thirty items each week.  This helps us to be organized in our meal planning, minimize waste and eat healthy on most days
  4. Choose a bunch of fresh foods you and your family enjoy and make sure you have them on hand each week.  If you know what you have in your fridge all the time, you will find it easier to come up with meal plans.  Of course, you can always have a unique ingredient or two if you are making a special dish, but as long as you have a large, predictable variety of fresh foods, you will make better use of your food and your time.  Decide which type of food and flavours you enjoy most and stock your fridge and pantry accordingly. My go-to meals are almost always Mediterranean based because it’s what I am used to and prefer and this type of eating offers great variety.  So my fridge and pantry items reflect that
  5. Spend a few hours on Sunday making one dinner that will generate another night of leftovers and cook another one-pot meal that you cook at the same time to eat later in the week (Stews, chili, chicken cacciatore or pasta casseroles are great choices for this).  A slow cooker is a helpful tool for this

 

Here are the things we almost always have on hand and purchase weekly:

  • Milk, bread, Greek yogurt, eggs, butter
  • Lettuce or spinach for salads and sandwiches (we vary the kind of lettuce we buy each week)
  • Grape tomatoes and one or two beefsteak tomatoes
  • Green pepper
  • Red pepper (or orange or yellow)
  • Baby carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Green beans
  • Avocados
  • Sweet onion
  • Red onion
  • Garlic bulb
  • Potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Oranges
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries

Here are some things we buy every couple of weeks and alternate in with our regular stock:

  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Corn on the cob (in season)
  • Asparagus (in season)
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Other in-season fruits (plums, peaches, pomegranate, etc.)
  • Various fresh herbs (mostly basil, Italian parsley, cilantro)
  • Various olives
  • Lemons / limes

These are some common items we always have in the pantry to add to our meals:

  • Brown Rice
  • Wild Rice
  • Basmati Rice
  • Couscous
  • Various types of pasta
  • High quality, low salt boxed chicken broth and beef broth (avoid the cubes or powder broth at all costs…read the ingredient list and you’ll find out why!)
  • Quality canned tomatoes without salt
  • Can tomato juice
  • Tomato paste
  • Plain breadcrumbs (I add in seasonings later)
  • Chickpeas
  • Black beans
  • Sliced sun dried tomatoes in oil
  • Artichoke quarters packed in water
  • White tuna packed in water
  • Canned salmon
  • Olive oil
  • Wine Vinegar (red and white)
  • Soy sauce
  • Worcestershire
  • Regular and Dijon mustard
  • Lemon and lime juice

As far as the freezer is concerned, we buy a variety of meat, fish, chicken when it’s on sale and package it manageable servings for later use.  Another time saver for us is to marinate some of the items before we freeze them. It’s amazing how that saves time during the week.  It’s great to take out those pieces of salmon that already have our favourite Maple BBQ marinade on them. That, along with rice or potatoes you may have made a day ahead makes for a delicious home-cooked meal in a jiffy.  We also keep frozen corn, and peas to add to our meals. I like adding the corn to my chili and the peas are great for adding to some plain cooked rice or pasta.

So, if you’d like to get started on planning weekday meals ahead, start with something you can manage…perhaps you make a plan for two dinners in the week…or perhaps you divide up fruits and vegetables in individual packages for everyone to take for lunch for a few days.  Whatever it is, be sure it’s something you can manage and build on your feelings of success to increase the plan when you can. Putting in a few hours on the weekend for food prep will make your weeks run more smoothly, you’ll be eating healthier, and you may even have gained some time on those busy nights!

Hopefully, you find these tips to be helpful…and, if you are already full on into weekday meal prep, please leave a comment to share your favourite tips!

Happy New (school) Year and Happy cooking!

 

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