Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A lesson in menu planning.

So - a conversation with Natalie over at Follow My Fitsteps the other day while lifting has had me mulling over writing a blog entry about menu planning.  A lot of people have asked me about it and I've helped quite a few people get started (I hope they're still going!).  So, here's what I do.  It works for us and we've been menu planning for 2 years now.  I can't remember how we managed before we did this, but I imagine it was annoying and that I wasted money on food and had far too much unused in my pantry. 

So, I plan for a 2 week stretch.  I always plan on a saturday or sunday so that I'd make my 1st meal of a 2 week stretch on that same sunday.  A few things to note. 

1. There ARE times I have to return to the grocery store for fresh produce, but I've found that most things will last and keep well if stored properly.
2. Buy yourself a decent small sized notebook.  I use a spiral bound hard cover notebook that closes with an elastic band.   It works nice b/c I can leave the band on the current week's menus. 
3. The rubbermaid produce saver containers will keep most fresh veggies for the length of time you need.  (I leave one bag of spinach unopened and put 1 in the container.  by the time the container is empty week 1 is over.  the 2nd bag is opened then and put into the container.
4. Don't plan for days.  So, don't write "meatloaf on monday, lemon chicken on tuesday."  that way - you can really eat what you feel like eating, within those menus. 
5. If you want to deviate from the menu, do it.  AS LONG AS you have the ingredients.  When I do that, I simply transfer the uneaten meal to the next week. 
6. I plan 10 menus for 2 weeks, so, roughly 5 each week.  If you're not a leftovers person, this probably won't work for you, as I plan in 2 leftover days.  I've found that doing 7 leaves me with too much food and really, who wants to cook every single day?
7. If you don't want to shop every 2 weeks, you can easily do this for one.  I started shopping/planning each week, but eventually moved to 2 and like it much better.
8. Spices are important.  I shop at Penzey's Spices in Kansas City.  I think it's really important, particularly if we're talking about a fundamental change in what/how you eat that you consider how you season things.  One of the first things people say about eating better is "it doesn't taste as good."  Well - I'd argue it's BETTER, but, you've just got to get your brain away from fat = flavor.  So, spices (for me) are were it's at in that regard. 
9. Keep a magnetic white board on your fridge.  Make a note immediately when you run out of a staple item.
10. find a place for your menu book to "live."  We keep ours in the kitchen, tucked in behind our knife block!

So - beyond that, it's really about what you eat.  Here's a list of some staples in my house. (I also shop at costco, so some of the things I don't buy often b/c of that)  If you need a "staple" item, then you simply add it to your bi-weekly grocery list. 

Krista's staple items (by no means is this comprehensive, obviously):

hummus, olive oil, onions (dried or not), oatmeal, turkey sausage/turkey bacon, ground beef, chicken, apples, greek yogurt (plain), frozen strawberries and blueberries, lemon and lime juice, cheese stick and/or cheese "bites" (from Kraft, I love 'em), turkey pepperoni, low carb tortillas.  When I'm not in "no carb" mode I keep high fiber or flax (whole wheat) english muffins, oatmeal bread or wheat berry earthgrains bread, tomato sauce (find your favorite with the lowest sugar), splenda (good lord don't send me anywhere without splenda! hah), eggs, deli ham/chicken/turkey (find the low sodium stuff), laughing cow cheese, sugar free popsicles, frozen (steam in bag) vegetables, sun dried tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers.

That's a long list, and I'm sure there's more, but - obviously it will vary depending on what you and your family eat.  Some of these are recipes from books (I use many of the biggest loser cookbooks as well as family recipes that I've altered.  I also get a few magazines and get things out of there too.

So here's what this week and next menu's are:

  • Pumpkin Polenta with turkey sausage and tomatoes
  • lasagna
  • easy "gyros" (flank steak)
  • White (chicken) chili
  • Lemon chicken
  • chicken cheesesteaks (a FAB BL recipe)
  • hungry girl "sloppy janes"
  • Turkey burgers
  • steak w/sweet potato fries
  • taco skillet 
So, typically, I omit the carbs in dinner.  If it's something that has some sort of carb (like the gyros, which were *supposed* to be served in pita bread) I sometimes skip it all together or, make that for hubby and have mine "naked," as it were.  Just depends on where I am food/weight wise (and right now, I'm off the carbs! lol).

As for "sides" with dinner - we keep a total hoarders amount of frozen vegetables.  I never plan for what will go with what.  I simply keep a stock.  (we can easily eat 2 regular bags of frozen veg. in a meal between the two of us (depending on what it is), so just buy what your family would need for the 2 weeks based on your vegetable eating habits.).  So then, after I prepare say, lemon chicken, I'll send dear husband out to the freezer to pick vegetables.  Into the microwave they go and then my "meal" is complete.  :)

Lastly, here's how I divide my grocery list, so that shopping sucks less.  On the right page of the notebook I put all 10 meals.  on the left side (so the BACK of the previous page) I divide the page into 6 categories. 
Here are my categories:  Meats, Veg/Fruit, Dairy, Frozen, Canned/Dry and, my catchall, "other." 

So - that's what I do.  I make no claims as to if it will work (or not) for you and I certainly welcome tips or advice from others who menu plan too!  If you've got questions, feel free to ask - I hope it all makes some sense!



BOCA said...

Great Advice!!!

Natalie said...

This is great! I still can't believe you can do two weeks at a time...for me one week is hard enough :) We recently got a whiteboard for the fridge and it does help a lot! Awesome post.