Thursday, June 9, 2011

What's For Dinner: My Thoughts on Meal Planning

We only eat meat once, maybe twice a week. When people find this out, I often get asked what we eat for dinner. Several people have told me that they wouldn't know what to fix for dinner if meat wasn't on the menu. I thought I'd give you my menu plans for the last two weeks to give you an idea of what we usually eat.

Since the baby's arrival, our menu plans have been pretty simple. One night we usually enjoy a bean or vegetable-based soup or a pasta dish, one night we usually do something with eggs (omelets or a scramble or casserole), and one night we usually do some sort of main-dish salad. The rest varies depending on our schedule and time-constraints. I write out these dinner ideas on a sheet that is kept on the fridge, so that when anyone asks (and I get this question a lot), "What's for dinner?" I just tell them to go look on the fridge! This list is handy to have out. I often check what is for dinner the night before so I know if I need to defrost anything or soak anything or put something in the crock pot overnight, etc.

One thing I have realized with raising a family on a budget, and trying to eat healthy, is it is absolutely essential to plan out the weekly menu. If I don't plan, we inevitably end up eating out or eating something quick and less nutritious. I plan all of our menus on Thursday and do all my grocery shopping on Friday (pay day!). I plan 6 complete dinners, leaving Thursday night as a leftover night (it's my favorite night because there is no prep- we eat whatever is left in the fridge so we can fill it up again the next day!).

I have recently started planning out breakfasts, and I also keep the breakfast list on the fridge. Many of our breakfasts we prep the night before (simple stuff like putting the steel cut oats in the crock pot, or soaking grains for muesli or putting together parfait, etc.). This has helped tremendously with my need to get a little extra shut eye with the baby in the morning. The older kids can get up and breakfast is practically ready! No more grumpy, hungry kids waking me up after I just fell back asleep for the fourth time!

Lunch is a free-for-all. It is usually leftovers from the night before, salads or hummus and veggies, maybe a green smoothie or a pb & j. My three older kids make their own lunches most of the time, so I don't sweat it at all.

The other trick that has helped meal-planning go smoothly is to a have a food prep day. Savanna and I usually tackle this together on Saturday. It takes us a couple hours, but we will do our batches of granola, batches of whole wheat pancakes or homemade yogurt for breakfasts, a big pot of soup, a large salad, homemade bread or muffins, any treats or snacks for the upcoming days, etc. Then the rest of the week we just go by the lists and it's easy peasy!

So as you can see, the menu planning can be quite the project each week. It takes me a good amount of time, but I love looking through my cook books or websites and finding new, fun recipes to try. I love that I can type "main-dish vegetarian salad" (or any other specific dish) into the search box and get a TON of new recipes! There are always our "fall-back" dishes. When I just don't have time or need a quick meal idea, we have our family's "tried and true" go-to recipes.

Okay, FINALLY, here are our menus for the last two weeks (It's Thursday, so I'm swapping the old for the new):

Dinner For Last Week:

Friday- Vegan Pesto Pasta with Steamed Broccoli and Salad

Saturday- Turkey Sandwiches and Soup

Sunday- Veggie Omelets, Fruit Salad, and Toast

Monday- Bruschetta on Whole Wheat Baguettes and Salad

Tuesday- Vegan Taco Soup and Caesar Salad

Wednesday- Garden 3 Bean Salad with Homemade French Dressing
and Whole Grain Crackers

Thursday- Leftovers!

Dinner For This Week:

Friday: Veggie Melts on Whole Grain English Muffins with a Side of Fruit

Saturday: We'll Be Out of Town

Sunday: Egg-in-the Hole (An egg fried into a piece of buttered toast) and Fruit Salad

Monday: Vegan Taco Salad with Mexican Rice and Homemade Guacamole

Tuesday: Hawaiian Steak Kabobs and Salad

Wednesday: Vegan Macaroni and Cheese with Steamed Broccoli and Fresh Snap Peas

Thursday: Leftovers!

(I usually keep the same breakfast menu for several weeks)

Friday: Parfait (layers of homemade yogurt, granola, and mixed berries)

Saturday: Muesli (Soaked oats, raisins, cinnamon, a dash of vanilla extract, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, ground flax, etc- it varies based on what we have in the house) topped with chopped bananas and almond milk

Sunday: Whole Wheat Pancakes topped with blueberries, slivered almonds, maple syrup and a side of fruit

Monday: Steel Cut Oats mixed with berries, ground flax and a side a fruit

Tuesday: Carrot/Apple Breakfast Muffins, a handful of trail mix, and a side of fruit

Wednesday: Granola, almond milk, and a side of fruit

Thursday: Same as Monday

And there you have it! I will try to post some of these great recipes but if there is one that you would like beforehand, let me know and I'll get it to ya!

Happy Meal Planning!