Really Awesome Meal-Planning Tips (Otherwise Known As a Post I Did Not Write)

When it comes to meal-planning and cooking healthfully, I am a complete novice. You all know my sad tale of woe.

I want to change the way my family eats.

And I want to change it now.

I'm giving this online meal-planning service a try (look for a review when my one-month trial is up), and I've also made it a point to start using the weekends to create menus and to cook healthy meals and snacks. In addition to the zucchini muffins, I've made granola bars from this book, which I've owned for years, but never used past the time when my kids moved past purees-thanks for the recommendation, Stephanie!), and soon I plan on returning to my bread-baking roots and making my own wheat bread.

These are all great things, but I also needed advice on exactly how to meal-plan, how to make sure my kids' nutritional needs are being met, and how to stretch a limited budget to accommodate organics when we can afford them. I was chatting with Sasha about some great tips I had received from a friend, and she suggested I ask her to guest post here, since it seems so many of you are interested in these things too. Fortunately, my long-time friend Kellie, a fellow mom of twins, and the meal-planning and cooking queen of the free world, agreed to share her tips.

This is Kellie.

And these are her super-cute four-year-old twins.

I hope her tips help you as much as they're helping me. Thanks again, Kellie!

When Kristi asked me to do a guest post on meal planning and feeding a family, my first instinct was to scream NO! I am not a writer; I am a teacher and a biologist. My father (who made a career as a technical writer) would be the first to tell you that I am not a writer. So you will have to excuse me, I am no Kristi!!

My first confession is that I like to cook. This is definitely harder if you don’t enjoy cooking. The second is that my husband and I have always planned our weekly meals, even before kids. The only bump in that was when I was on bedrest for 6 weeks at the end of my pregnancy, then we had take-out, a lot of it. Now I work full time and have preschoolers so I NEED a meal plan or my head would fly from my body.

Meal Planning 101:

1. Get yourself a couple great cookbooks and flip through them for ideas. I use the library to try out cookbooks before buying them. OR find some good websites to browse. You may not make meals from these sources all the time but it will help you to get new ideas. I really enjoy My Recipes and Crockpot 365. These sites help me to be inspired. I also heavily use Rachael Ray and Cooking Light magazine.

2. Include your family. My kids each plan one meal a week. This started when they turned 3. If they each pick the same meal I ask one of them to think of something else. Most often they choose spaghetti (so exciting). My husband always has some useful input too like “Let’s grill this week”, or “I like steak”.

3. Consider your lifestyle. I work at night 2 nights per week but it is important to me that my family still has homecooked wholesome meals on those nights. So I choose something from my slow-cooker book for those nights, I make dinner before I leave for work, and then my husband has only to make noodles or cous cous, and steam veggies and plate!

4. Try something new every week. This will increase your repertoire.

5. I try to plan a couple vegetarian meals each week. My husband doesn’t love this…

6. Think about the recipes before you follow them. If health is important to you, you may need to make some substitutions to recipes. Kristi’s zucchini muffins are a great example. I don’t use prepared pie crusts because they contain partially hydrogenated fat (SCARY!), and I reduce sugar or substitute honey or maple syrup where I can. These are still simple sugars and are metabolized like white sugar BUT you are getting lots of extra vitamins and minerals, a compromise of sorts!

7. Find a local source of food, a farmer’s market is a great place to start, and some cities have them open year round. You can make connections this way and often find a healthier and cheaper source of food! Consider a CSA as well, it may force you to become more creative with those veggies. This website is a decent resource for finding some local food .

8. Make big batches and freeze leftovers. This may save you a night of take-out. I roast chicken in the crockpot and freeze it, then I always have cooked chicken to throw into meals.

9. Give yourself permission to order out sometimes. Sometimes ya gotta.

10. Share your meal plans with friends. This is the best way to get better at it. I did this with an online community at first and it was very helpful. Your friends will share their best ideas and you’ll get new recipes.

This will help you to increase the number of whole foods you feed your family and save you money. There is a certain sense of satisfaction in making meals that are yummy and nutritious and meal planning really helps. And if you are looking to lose weight, planning is the best way to do so! I lost 60 lbs (twice!) by planning what I ate.

Here are a couple of my meal plans and quick recipes. HAVE FUN!

Sunday- Lasagna with garlic bread and spinach salad (chicken sausage in my lasagna)
Monday- Crockpot Salsa chicken burritos with mango
Tuesday- my son’s night BLT pasta
Wednesday- Butternut squash soup and sandwiches
Thursday- My daughters choice Paprika chicken (Pink chicken) over egg noodles with Brussels sprouts (YUM!)
Friday- make your own calzones
Saturday- chili and cornbread

Sunday- Pomegranate Beef (crockpot) with smashed potatoes and steamed green beans.
Monday- Marinated chicken (crockpot) sandwiches with cous cous and frozen veggies
Tuesday- Blue cheese and dried cherry turkey burgers with sweet potato fries and grilled peppers and onions
Wednesday- Baked ziti (crockpot) with bread (son)
Thursday- Grilled glazed salmon with spinach balls and lemon noodles (daughter)
Friday- Make your own pizza

Crockpot salsa chicken
Place in crockpot:
2 frozen chicken breasts
1 can black beans rinsed
1 jar salsa
1 can/bag corn drained
Cook on low for 6-8 hours. Stir in a block of cream cheese 30 min before done.

Roasted Chicken Breasts
Place several aluminum foil balls on the bottom of the slow cooker.
Rub a little butter under the skin of several split chicken breasts. Place in crock. Roast on High for 4 hours. The meat will fall of the bones.

BLT Pasta (adapted from Rachael Ray)
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
Half a box pasta
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
Italian seasoning to taste
Black pepper to taste
Fresh tomatoes depending on the season
½ c white wine
1 bag spinach and arugula salad
3 pieces uncured bacon cooked and chopped
Olive oil

Saute onion in olive oil til translucent. Add garlic and cook for 30 secs, add tomatoes and seasonings to taste (I hate HATE to measure, it’s why I don’t bake much). Add white wine, cook about 20 min. Meanwhile cook bacon and pasta. Dump salad into a bowl. Drain pasta and dump on the salad, add sauce to taste (this usually makes enough for 2 meals of sauce in my house). Mix and add the crumbled bacon. Add parm cheese if desired.

7 Responses to “Really Awesome Meal-Planning Tips (Otherwise Known As a Post I Did Not Write)”

  1. # Blogger Mom24

    Good luck Kristi. I think that's great.

    I know when 4:30/5:00 rolls around and the last thing I'm in the mood to do is cook it really helps me to have a plan. To know everything's there, I just have to do it. I also try to keep a couple of quick and easy "pantry meals" on hand for if I'm not in the mood to cook something I had planned or didn't defrost, or whatever.

    Hope the meal planning service works for you.  

  2. # Blogger Sasha

    this is great. And you KNOW I love the scramble!  

  3. # Blogger Stephanie

    Great post! At our local toddler co-op, one parent shared a spreadsheet that she uses to plan her meals for the month. Basically, she has the same "genre" of food on each day of the week (Monday is Italian, Tuesday is Mexican etc.) and then under each day of the week, she lists 4-5 of her favorite recipes from that genre. Although, I love Kellie's suggestion about trying one new recipe per week. That sounds fun!  

  4. # Blogger Andrew

    I'd love the pomegranate beef recipe.  

  5. # Anonymous Anonymous

    It is from the crock-pot blog which I LOVE LOVE LOVE. Even my IL's liked this recipe and they don't really like me so it is totally a success! I Found my crockpot cooks hot so I should have cooked it for a little less time.

    Thanks for letting me do a post Kristi! It was fun. I hope these are helpful to you all!  

  6. # Blogger Heather

    Thanks, this is a great post. I am all about crock pot meals. I throw everything together during nap times with the "help" of CHarlotte. That way when melt-down hour comes around, I don't need to deal with making dinner also.  

  7. # Anonymous Anonymous

    Amiable post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you seeking your information.  

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