What Is Meal Planning?
Meal planning is taking the time to plan nutritious meals and snacks for a specified time period. From the meal plan you then generate your shopping list. Some people plan a one week at a time. Others plan one month in advance and freeze neatly-labeled packets of soup and stew. Choosing the length of time to meal plan is a personal preference. What works for one may not work for another. The goal is to find a process that is both enjoyable and effective.
Sure you can justify that stop at the fast food drive through because you ordered a salad and chicken breast sandwich instead of the double cheese burger and fries. Most definitely a better choice but do you really know what it has in it??
Meals aren't just solutions to the problem of needing to eat. Making a meal is also an expression of creativity. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Sometimes a good old PB&J sandwich with organic almond butter or peanut butter and pure fruit spread is all you need. Find ways to inspire yourself and to look forward to cooking.
There's no right way to plan your meals. You should just do what is effective for you. Be as messy or as elaborate as you like. Why worry? Don't spend too much time looking for the most perfect and impeccably-maintained system. The system is just the tool. The point is the meal, the people and enjoying good food, not to mention nourishment. When it comes to eating well, meal planning is one of the easiest things you can do to set yourself up for success. Remember there are no rules and you can’t really mess it up. The key is to just “start”.
Getting started basics. Situations can vary from week to week depending on work schedules, after school activities, evening commitments, travel plans… the list goes on. Here are some things to consider as you assess your eating situation.
Spend time each week looking for recipes.
Browse blogs and websites for recipes that look delicious. Get inspired!
Create a place to save recipes, keep it SIMPLE.
Do whatever works for you. Don't get caught up in a system, just use whatever works best.
Ask your partner, family, and roommates what they like to eat.
This might sound obvious, but it's easy to get caught up in our weeks and forget to ask.
Start a calendar.
Now that you're getting inspired in what to eat, start a calendar of what you'd like to cook over the next few days or few weeks. The important thing is to write it down.
Go with theme nights (soup night, pasta night, beans).
Have a theme night each week. Monday is Italian, Tuesday is seafood, and Wednesday is tacos. This doesn't work for everyone, but it may be especially helpful for those with kids. Get them involved with planning their favorite tacos one week, or suggesting soups for the next month. Keeping the focus narrow will help you make quick recipe decisions.
Most of us have at least some tolerance for leftovers. Healthy casseroles at the beginning of the week can give you week long for lunches. Make a little extra of everything, and if you don't want it right away, freeze it.
Keep a well-stocked pantry.
Meals are easier and quicker to prepare if you keep your pantry well-stocked. Have spices ready to dress up food quickly. No more running for takeout or settling for junk food and feeling the guilt.
How many meals you need to plan for?
Take a few moments to think about what you have going on next week. Taking a quick inventory of everyone’s plans will quickly give you a rough idea of how many meals you’ll need to get through the week, and how much mileage you can get from each recipe.
What do you have time for?
If you have a crazy busy week coming up, make a mental note to be on the lookout for quick, slow cooker or make-ahead meals that can served up in a hurry. Or, perhaps using one of home delivery companies such as Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. I personally used Blue Apron and loved it!!!
What is your mood food?
Things like the weather, a change in seasons, even a memory, and food cravings can impact what sounds good on any given day. Thinking ahead will make recipe selection process faster and meal times easier on everyone.
Below are a few recipes I love to make.
Mini Veggie Frittata
By: What’s Gaby Cooking
Photo: What's Gaby Cooking
These mini frittatas make for a healthy breakfast (or lunch, or dinner). Using zucchinis and peppers makes the dish feel fancy, but it’s ready in about 15 minutes. Add Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper to elevate the flavor for a weekend brunch (or a busy weeknight!).
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 cup Parmesan cheese
8-10 eggs, beaten together
2 tbsp chives
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for drizzling
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large 10 inch skillet heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Sauté the diced zucchini, onion and red and yellow bell peppers for about 5 minutes until they are slightly soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the sautéed vegetables to individual muffin molds.
In another bowl, whisk together 8 eggs and season with salt and pepper and add the chopped chives. Fill the remaining area in the muffin tin with the egg and stir the ingredients together. Sprinkle the top with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until the eggs are completely set. Serve warm or cold.
Spinach Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
By: Minimalist Baker
Photo: Minimalist Baker
These peppers feature a healthy spinach and quinoa combo, but they're also chock-full of southwest-style ingredients: the active prep time is minimal—and the end result is worth it.
Cook time: 65 mins
Total time: 1 hour 15 mins
Amazing Spanish-style quinoa stuffed peppers made with just 10 ingredients! Simple, flavorful, full of protein and fiber and entirely vegan and gluten free!
Author: Minimalist Baker
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Mexican, Vegan, Gluten Free
1 cup (168 g) quinoa or rice, thoroughly rinsed and drained
scant 2 cups (460 ml) vegetable stock (sub water, but it will be less flavorful)
4 large red, yellow or orange bell peppers, halved, seeds removed
1/2 cup (120 g) salsa, plus more for serving
1 Tbsp (4 g) nutritional yeast (optional)
2 tsp cumin powder
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 15-ounce (425 g) can black beans, drained (if unsalted, add 1/4 tsp sea salt)
1 cup (168 g) whole kernel corn, drained
1 ripe avocado, sliced
Fresh lime juice
Diced red onion
Creamy Cilantro Dressing
Chipotle Red Salsa (or your favorite salsa)
Add quinoa and vegetable stock to a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until all liquid is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy - about 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F and lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish or rimmed baking sheet.
Brush halved peppers with a neutral, high heat oil, such as grape seed, avocado or refined coconut.
Add cooked quinoa to a large mixing bowl and add remaining ingredients - salsa through corn. Mix to thoroughly combine then taste and adjust seasonings accordingly, adding salt, pepper, or more spices as desired.
Generously stuff halved peppers with quinoa mixture until all peppers are full, then cover the dish with foil.
Bake for 30 minutes covered, then remove foil, increase heat to 400 degrees F, and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until peppers are soft and slightly golden brown. For softer peppers, bake 5-10 minutes more.
Serve with desired toppings (listed above) or as is. Best when fresh, though leftovers keep covered in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Reheat in a 350 degree oven until warmed through - about 20 minutes.
Chicken & Sweet Potato Stew
6 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed, trimmed of fat
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into spears
½ pound white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 large shallots, peeled and halved
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup dry white wine
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary, or ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1½ tablespoons white-wine vinegar
Place chicken, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, shallots, garlic, wine, rosemary, salt and pepper in a 6-quart slow cooker; stir to combine. Put the lid on and cook on low until the potatoes are tender, about 5 hours. Before serving, remove bones from the chicken, if desired, and stir in vinegar.
Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
By: Chelsea’s Messy Apron
How can you not love a dessert recipe that calls for just four tablespoons of flour? This dessert uses vitamin-packed pumpkin for a good-for-you cookie.
Photo: Chelsea's Messy Apron
Prep Time 3 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Total Time 11 minutes
Author: Chelsea Lords
1 & 1/2 tablespoons white sugar (substitute with coconut sugar)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 large egg yolk save the whites for another recipe or discard
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon canned pumpkin puree not pumpkin pie filling, use Libby's for best results
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons white flour (substitute coconut flour)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 & 1/2 tablespoons chocolate chips I prefer milk, but you can use semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine the sugar, vanilla, oil, egg yolk, and pumpkin puree in a small bowl.
Mix together and then add the salt, cinnamon, flour, baking powder, and chocolate chips. Depending on your altitude you may need a tablespoon or 2 more of flour. The batter should still be quite wet, but not too wet that it can't be scooped onto a cookie sheet.
Using a cookie scoop or your hands make two large balls of the batter (or three smaller ones) and place on a cookie sheet.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, remove from oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool before eating.
How do you meal plan? Please share with us some of your favorite pre-planned recipes.