“How do you have the time to cook all that?”
There is more than one way to handle meal planning. Super organized people with systems can do meal planning, but so can totally spontaneous, never plan anything people. I will present both ways below:
The Organized Meal Planner
If you are not one of those people who can fly into the kitchen at 5:45pm, look at what is available and throw together an amazing meal, but you also aren’t willing to call in take-out very often and do your best to avoid packaged, processed foods, you have got to have a Plan. Stan.
Step One: Make a List of Family Favorites
Years ago, I took some time one day and typed up about 3 pages of vegetarian meals, animal meals, soups, salads, dressings, sides, and desserts which at some point in time someone at the table said “Not Bad, Mom.” I have a printed copy with my cookbooks in the kitchen and an online version in my Google Docs.
Step Two: Plan Each Week
Sit down once a week, and using your Family Favorites list, plan out what you will eat more or less for every single meal and snack. I sit with the date book in front of me so I can see which nights different family members have sports, or meetings, or classes or whatever, and I plan accordingly.
Sure, things change and I cross things out, or move them forward. But having the basic plan gives me peace of mind. I am a regular mom, wife, chief cook and bottle-washer who happens to be running her own business as well. I don’t think I have any more time or less time than anyone else. I can honestly say that I am rarely in the kitchen for more than an hour or two a day and that’s cooking 3 meals and a fresh snack each day and cleaning up as well. I don’t cook complicated things very often. We eat leftovers quite a lot. I work quickly. I’ve had a lot of practice. The kids are put to work too because I want them to know how to cook when they’re off on their own.
That said, I’m not perfect. Sometimes we still fall back on pizza or falafel. Sometimes I make things that turn out really awful and we have to eat bread and hummus. I’m just doing my best to eat healthy and feed my family healthy things. If my kids come to your house and eat nothing but potato chips,hot dogs, soda and cake, you don’t need to gleefully report that to me. They’re normal children. I know they love junk food as much as the next person. How they eat outside of the house is not for me to control. I do my best to feed them well at home, to teach them about nutrition and cooking and to not make too big a deal about “forbidden foods” or whatever.
Planning for the I hate planning crowd
If the above planning descriptions gave you an itchy rash, don’t worry, you can still “plan” and be spontaneous in your kitchen. Here’s what to do. One day each week, cook a bunch of stuff. I would recommend the following. Adjust it to your own preferences:
1.) 1 large tray of roasted non-starchy vegetables (ie: onions, peppers, cabbage, kohlrabi, Jerusalem artichokes, green beans, asparagus, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, etc) You can toss them with a little oil and/or some balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper or whatever seasoning you prefer.
2.) 1 large fresh raw salad based on green leaves of any type and whatever other veg you like to eat raw. This should keep for a few days if you leave it undressed and tightly covered. Kale salad will stay good even if you dress it. It actually gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.
3.) 1 bean dish. It can be a soup or chili or dal etc. You can put meat in it if that’s how you roll. Use your crock pot for extra ease.
4.) 1 protein dish: cook up some chicken breasts, a tofu or Seitan dish, a batch of veggie burgers, fish fillets. Whatever you can use to bring protein into your meals.
5.) 1 complex carbohydrate: bake a bunch of white or sweet potatoes, cook a pot of brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, polenta, or pre-make your breakfast oats for each day, etc.
With those basics cooked and prepared, you will now be able to assemble meals on the fly and avoid reaching for junk when you’re starvin Marvin. I know it sounds like a lot, but really keep the prep simple and don’t spend time hunting for fancy recipes. I did this challenge in my free Facebook Group one week and people reported much better eating, as well as weight loss!
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
My motto is that healthy bodies are built in the kitchen. As the main cook in this family, both my health and the health of those I love depends on the food I prepare! That is a pretty awesome and wonderful responsibility.
In the book One Peaceful World, Michio Kushi speaks of expanding peace on a larger scale beginning in kitchens and pantries and gardens where our food is grown and prepared. The energies of nature and the infinite universe are absorbed through the foods we eat and are transmuted into our thoughts and actions. From individual hearts and homes, peace radiates out to friends and neighbors, communities and nations. His philosophy suggests that brown rice, miso soup, whole grain bread, fresh vegetables and other whole unprocessed foods are our “weapons” to turn around the entire world.
Thinking about their mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen, many people might use ‘love’ as the first word to describe it. Try to approach your own kitchen, shopping and cooking in this way, with that same love, and the results will be inspired!