How many people out there actually plan their meals in advance? I find that it is so much easier to eat healthy when my meals are planned ahead of time, instead of throwing things together at the last minute. Notice I said healthy, not clean. Since I don't keep any prepared foods in the house (with my few exceptions, of course) I can't make a box of Stove Top Stuffing if it's not there. But I do find myself offering up veggie-free meals more often that I would like, since I never got to the farmers market. I shamefully admit to serving protein only plates every now and then.
I got to thinking about how I could do better, and was reminded of when I first went back to work full-time. My kids were young, they were in before and after school care, and my hubby was working far away. By the time we got home, I cooked, we dealt with any home work not done, we were all exhausted. I ended up home sick a couple days and got this wonderful idea to plan out my meals a month ahead of time. I printed out a free calendar I found online, inventoried my pantry & freezer, chose the sides that went with each meat, and even stuck little round stickers on each item as it got chosen for a meal with the date on it! Yeah, I went a bit overboard but it guaranteed that something I was planning on using did not get used by the hubby for a snack or something.
I listed out our favorite meals, scoured my cookbooks for others, and ended up with 30 days of pre-planned meals that I repeated every month. Some favorites were served twice in a month, but otherwise there were no complaints of eating the same thing again, as there was a month between servings. I was able to put together a shopping list for each week of the month, which made my life so easy!! It sounds like a LOT of work, and yes it was, but I had an entire day to myself and once I put my mind to it, it was worth all the trouble setting it up.
The biggest plus to this: I hung the meal calendar on the wall in the kitchen and never had to answer the "what's for dinner?" question!!! I was able to keep this up for a whole year, then my hours changed, I stopped bringing as much work home with me, and I had more time to plan on the weekends as my son stopped playing football, so I stopped planning that far and just took it one week at a time. We also found that with my extra income we were going out a bit more...maybe the fact my kids were older and better behaved in restaurants a factor too.
So now I need to use that concept and translate it into our current lifestyle. I found a set of the calendars and could not believe how much processed stuff was on them, YUCK!! We also have our new set of health issues to deal with too. This is what I came up with:
5 week rotation (will skip week 5 if not needed but necessary for January)
each meal contains a protein, carb & veggie
Sun: pasta meal with salad & either meatballs or sausage for the pre-diabetic hubby
Mon: poultry meal with side of carb & veggie
Tues: beef meal with side of carb & veggie
Wed: pork meal with side of carb & veggie
Thurs: combo meal (ex: soups, stews, casseroles, ravioli, tacos - meals that put all 3 groups together)
Fri: pizza (had to give into the kids plus I need a day off)
Sat: protein repeat with side of carb & veggie (repeat pattern: chicken, beef, pork, chicken, beef)
or leftover night.
I am planning out my meals mid-way thru the week before. I buy a lot of my meats from Costco, so I will take my calendar with me when I make my monthly trip there as well. I find that if I just buy meats, then deal with what to do with them later, I am uninspired later on. Soooooo...if this works out as planned, I can plan at least the protein portion of the month very easily!!!
To start myself out, I am using up what is in the freezer. I made an inventory, and plotted in what I have. Which was not a lot, just enough for another 9 meals, so next week I will head to Costco, take my time & my lists, and be creative! I am reading about more and more "clean" products being found in their aisles. I am hoping to offer as much variety as I can with what I do with each protein. I am using chicken the most, since it is lowest in fat, easiest to buy natural, pretty decently priced, AND is the most versatile!! I'll keep you updated as we go along.
I am guessing, my family will not even notice every Monday they are having chicken. :)
Happy planning!! Kathy