7 Tips for Foolproof Meal Planning

How to Meal Plan: 7 Tips for Foolproof Meal Planning

Meal planning isn’t hard once you have a system in place, but there are a few things to keep in mind when starting out that will make the make the process easier for you and your family

1. Have a Daily Template
Rather than starting from scratch each week, I have a template of the general types of foods I cook each day of the week and the number of times I use each main food. In other words each week I cook:

    1-2 stir frys
    1 salad
    1 slow cooker/Instant Pot or soup meal
    1 fish/seafood meal
    1-2 meals from a different cuisine from around the world
    1-2 prepare-ahead oven meals

I try to use no meat more than twice so in a given week I might have 2 beef meals, 2 chicken meals, 1 fish meal and 2 pork or egg meals.

2. Focus on Core Recipes
As you find recipes your family enjoys, make them core recipes that get re-used every few weeks. Try to build up about 20 of these and you won’t ever be bored with your meals. Each week, use these core meals for 5 of your dinners and try something new for 2 dinners. If you get really motivated, build these 20 core meals for each season using seasonal produce and rotate with the seasons. This will also save money on produce.

3. Stretch Your Protein
Protein is typically the most expensive part of the meal so if you can use less expensive cuts of meat and stretch them, it might allow you to buy organic and grass-fed rather than conventional meats. If you can’t find these from a local farm, there are now ways to get quality meat shipped to your door.

Another reason I love stir frys and casseroles — you can add more veggies and stretch the meat more than if you were just serving baked chicken. The slow cooker and Instant Pot are also great ways to make tougher, cheaper cuts of meat more tender.

4. Mix It Up With Spices
A basic easy recipe (like Chicken Squash Stir Fry or Pakistani Kima) can taste completely different just by changing the spices. Add some cumin and chili powder and you have a Mexican flavor, or some curry for an Indian flavor. Basil, thyme, oregano, and garlic give an Italian flavor while, Chinese Five Spice gives an Asian flair. I try to buy all my herbs in bulk since it saves money and gives me a stash for making DIY herbal remedies.

5. Travel the World In Your Kitchen
One of my dreams is to travel the world and try the different cuisines in each country. Even if traveling isn’t on your to-do list right now, it’s fun to create a little piece of the experience in your kitchen. With a little research and some healthy adjustments, you can create recipes from around the world. You might be surprised to find that your kids enjoy the flavors of Indian or Thai food or that you have a passion for French flavors.

6. Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
Want to raise a picky eater? Let your child eat whatever he/she wants and cater to his or her food preferences.

Want to not raise a picky eater? Expose your children to healthy and diverse foods from a young age and don’t make any specific foods for them. My toddler gladly ate curries, cooked vegetables, liver, and avocado because she’d never had crackers, toast, chicken nuggets, or juice. This post has all of my best tips for winning over a picky eater (while staying sane).

We have two rules in our house:

    Kids are required to try one bite of everything cooked before they can have more of any one food (I only put one bite on their plate at first)
    If they are truly not hungry they are not required to eat BUT then can NOT complain about the food or interrupt the meal with a bad attitude.

Certainly, there are times when my kids are not happy with these rules or the foods they are served, but as with other areas of parenting, sometimes the best option for children is not always the one they enjoy most!

This may sound like tough love, but it will really be a benefit to them in the long run. Don’t believe me? Check out the book Deep Nutrition.

7. Eat Leftovers for Breakfast and Lunch
It can be tough to break the cereal and sandwich mindset but an easy, time-saving way to eat healthy is to make extra of foods and serve them again for breakfast and lunch. Most foods (except soups) can also be added to an omelet for breakfast or put with a salad for lunch. Cold meatza or leftover barbecue actually makes a delicious breakfast or lunch (together with a large pile of veggies, of course).

Another easy trick is to make salads or store leftovers in mason jars (liquid ingredients at the bottom for salads, then meat/toppings, then lettuce) and store in the fridge. Then, the meal can be re-heated easily or dumped onto a plate to serve.

I now use an online service and app to meal plan and generate my shopping lists. This lets me grocery shop in much less time and simplifies my week. If you aren’t using a meal planning service (though I’d highly recommend it), you can accomplish the same thing by organizing your shopping list before you get to the store.

I started by creating a rotating list of meal plans that use seasonal produce and corresponding shopping lists that are organized by the part of the store the food is in.

To simplify the process, I write my recipes on 3×5 index cards with the ingredients on the back. For each ingredient, I write the amount needed per person for that single recipe (not total!)

This allows me to easy adjust the recipe up or down if we are having company or if some of the kids won’t be home for a certain meal. In other words, the back of one of my recipe cards might have:

Combind or Try The One That You Loved From Other.

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