Many times I hear that meal planning and cooking at home is difficult because it requires too much time. I believe it is all relative to the amount of time we choose to dedicate to the task at hand and the value we place on those tasks. Chris and I have been exploring ways to find more time and it's amazing how our subconscious choices influence what we think is a lack of time or lack of money. It's really all about choices and adapting. Here is how I plan meals for the week... Every Thursday, Chris picks up our basket from Trish and Ed's Organics CSA. This is the main staple of our meals and I plan most all of the recipes we make based on the produce we get in this basket. I like Trish and Ed's because we can choose which seasonal produce we want for the week. We also like to get mostly veggies and greens in our baskets :)
This basket we got a lot of greens! Their rainbow chard is beautiful and a favorite of ours.
It's fun trying new produce and making different recipes with it.
I put everything away as soon as I can that Thursday evening, while scoping out what we still have in the fridge and what items are in the pantry. Then we start thinking about recipes to make that include the new produce, along with anything left in the fridge and pantry. Sometimes I will start prepping the produce that evening if I feel like it, but I usually wait until the weekend :)
Veganomicon is one of our favorite cookbooks. I also like looking on Post Punk Kitchen, Oh She Glows and various other plant-based websites for recipe inspiration. I usually find a recipe and then tweak it to our tastes and what I have on hand.
Once we have some recipes in mind, which takes about 15 minutes, I get out my fun planning board from Organizher I got at Target for like 9 bucks. I'm one of those type A personalities that likes to write everything down on lists and such. If you are like me, and you know who you are, then you may get excited about this or already have something like it in place :) There is also a magnetic blank grocery list that comes with the planner for writing down anything else that needs to be picked up.
I put it on the side of our fridge so that we are all on the same page about what is for dinner and what activities we have planned for the week. I usually always plan for leftovers on the nights I go to pilates or when we won't be home until later. I do love cooking and all, but when I get home late and I'm hungry, then watch out! because I want to eat NOW.
It works really well for us. Here is an example of last week...
I try to make enough so that lunch usually consists of leftovers and we can have leftovers for dinner a few days. Sometimes Chris goes out for lunch so it works out if we don't have quite enough. On some Fridays we go out with friends for Fajita Friday. I always try to make one raw dip for veggies and one salad that we can have whenever throughout the week. Snacks consist of fruits, veggies and/or nuts. Every morning we use a good amount of the greens and some fruit for smoothies.
Chris and I have about 9 - 10 servings of veggies and fruit (mostly veggies) each day. It is recommended to get at least 5 - 9 servings each day. Because our meals are mostly plant-based, it makes it super easy. This was a slow transition :)
After we pick the recipes, I write down all the items that we need based on the layout of the store I'll be going to which takes about 15-30 minutes. Saturday or Sunday morning I head out to Trader Joe's to get these items. Once I get home and get everything unpacked then it's time for lots of prepping. The weekends is when I do the bulk of the prepping and cooking of meals that may require more time. I spend a total of about 2-5 hours prepping veggies, recipes, snacks and ferments like kefir and kombucha. To me this is small amount of time for the delicious and healthy food we get to eat and it's pretty darn fun too. It feels great when it's done and then the week goes pretty smoothly. If things don't go to plan, I can sub a different recipe or whip up something quicker if needed. Sure there are weeks when I fail at prepping everything and I had too many other things going on during the weekend, but for the most part this works for us.
Now I understand that this plan may change completely if kids were in the picture! I can see how this can be very challenging. I do think it is still possible though with the choice to make the time and get the kids involved as much as possible. To me healthy food is a very important priority no matter what is going on so I treat it as such. I don't think of it as a burden. Making the choice to utilize precious time to plan meals and cook at home opens the doors to a healthy, sustainable life. I do my best to plan and prep each week and adapt to any challenges that may arise.
I have been doing this for awhile now, but it hasn't always been so smooth and we haven't always been mostly plant-based. I liked cooking, but it always seemed difficult no matter what with work, with school, with cycling, etc. There will always be an excuse no matter what. It's about making the choice to do it and looking at it with a positive perspective. For me, it is just a part of life now. It is incredibly satisfying to make a delicious meal that I can feel good about. If you don't plan many meals now, don't try to go cold turkey because it will probably fail miserably and then you will forget the whole thing. Start SLOW. Don't buy too much produce that will go to waste if it's not used. Try to plan one or two meals at home each week. Heck, try to make one of them vegetarian or vegan too. Explore. Try new things. Try new vegetables. Try a CSA or Farmer's Market in your area. Don't get in a rut. Don't keep doing the same things as before because that will only get the same results.
Do you plan meals each week? What is your strategy?