Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Coming up...

Just a little FYI about what I have planned coming up on this blog.

June - Meal planning part II: a month in the life, in which I tackle those CSA chickens.
July - Play month. The importance of getting outside and having some fun.
August - Boobies. The first week in August we're celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, and I'll follow up with an assortment of women's health and nutrition topics.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Step 2: The meat of the matter

Now that you have your framework, it's time to actually plan meals for the week. I typically do my planning on Sunday morning, just because it's an easy time for me to get the shopping done. But whatever time works for you... you could even split the week in half and plan just a few days at a time. Once you have the framework though, the planning is pretty easy. Just follow your plan and write in dishes for each day of the week. I like to try a new recipe once or twice a week, but you can also stick with your old favorites. Don't stress yourself out over it, you did most of the hard work when you made your framework, you're just filling in slots here.

I typically just plan main dishes and then wing it on side dishes. Mostly I do veggies for sides, and I pick up a bunch of whatever is on sale, what sounds good to me, or in the summer, I just go with what's growing in the garden. If you get a CSA box on a regular basis, you don't have to look much farther for inspiration. But, here's one of my important shortcuts... keep a few boxes or bags of frozen veggies in your freezer. I usually have some microwavable basics, as well as some seasoned mixes (Trader Joes has some awesome veggie mixes). I know, processed food has a bad rap, but when it comes to the choice between getting some veggies on the table and not getting veggies on the table, I'd go with the microwave. I strongly believe that it's much better to get in the habit of regularly having a vegetable side dish than it is to stand on principal against processed food and end up skipping out on veggies completely. Especially if you have kids, get in the routine, set a good example, put the veggies on the table and get on with dinner.

Whoops... sorry, got on my soapbox for a minute there, back to meal planning. Feel free to plan out your side dishes if that works for you. There are times where I think it's a good idea, like if I'm making greek marinated grilled chicken, I'll make greek style green beans. Or if I'm roasting something, it's nice to do roasted root vegetables and baked potatoes as sides because then everything's in the oven and you don't have to bother with the stovetop.

Once you've got your week planned out, make your grocery list. I like to split the groceries into two trips a week, because I don't trust vegetables and meats to sit around in my fridge for 6 days. Be sure to double check your spice cabinet, buying doubles of spices gets expensive really quickly, but it's never nice to realize you're out of something in the middle of fixing dinner. And, of course, think a bit about what you're going to need for breakfasts and lunches and add that to your list. (I'll cover a bit more about how I handle lunch planning in a later post.)

And there you are, you have a plan, you have a list... get shopping. :-)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Meal planning: Where to start

Now for the basics, how to plan your meals for the week. Step 1 is to make an outline. Your outline is your framework, you go back to it week after week, month after month. It's going to help you guide your planning. What does an outline look like?

Well my current one goes like this:
Sunday: Casserole, meatloaf, chili or stew.
Monday: Chicken
Tuesday: Meatball/sausage over pasta (or sandwich)
Wednesdays: Leftovers from Sunday
Thursday: Fish
Friday: My husband BBQs
Saturday: Dinner out

It's not set in stone. BBQ night and dinner out often get switched up, depending on our weekend plans. Your plan may be radically different... say you're vegetarian or have food sensitivities. Maybe you'll start with a theme (italian, japanese, comfort food) rather than basing your meal plan around a main ingredient. Consider trying Meatless Mondays. Think about your life, maybe you have a volunteer comitment on Tuesdays, date night on Fridays or your kid wants to have buddies over to watch football every Sunday. The key is to go with a framework that works for you.

Even if you don't really know much about cooking, it helps to start with a framework. Go with things like canned chili, peanut butter sandwiches, frozen burritos... but set aside one day a week to try and cook something from scratch. Preferably a weekend day, when you have some time to really learn. And slowly, as you learn to cook one week at a time, you can start to add new, home cooked, favorites into your weekly menu.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What's the point...

So if I'm so gung-ho about meal planning, well then why am I blogging about it?

Well, for several months I've been trying to figure out if I want to join a local chicken CSA (community supported agriculture program). They've got truly free range chickens, humanely raised, and I hear they're pretty tasty too. My big drawback? Well, you get three whole chickens on your doorstep once a month and you gotta figure out what to do with them. Even though I know how to roast a whole chicken, the idea of dealing with a whole chicken every week is daunting. It's not like picking up a pack of boneless, skinless breasts. I've decided to go for it, but it shakes up my meal planning a bit, because I actually need to plan for how I'm going to cook a whole chicken and what I'm going to do with the leftovers.

While I'm at it, I decided to just go ahead and do a bulk order of some sustainably fished, low mercury, canned wild salmon and tuna. So if this works for us, it's going to swing my family's meat consumption dramatically away from industrial farmed animals. But it's going to require me to up my game on the meal planning front.

Some worthwhile articles:
CHOW: Tips for responsible carnivores
Which meat harms our planet the least?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Hi there, and welcome to my new blog Fresh Habits. What is "Fresh Habits"? Well, it's intended as a place where I can share my practice of creating a healthy, happy, sustainable lifestyle one habit at a time. Each month, I'll pick a new theme, sometimes it will be habits I already do well, sometimes it will be things I know I need to work on.

And I'll probably post some recipes and random parenting & gardening stuff from time to time. Because everyone loves food, gardens and babies!

For the month of May, I'm picking meal planning as a theme. I know, I know... WAY boring. Who likes to sit down and plan meals and make grocery lists? Not me. But you know what I hate more than planning meals? The alternative. It goes like this:

Me: Honey, what do you want for dinner?
The Bearded One: I don't know? What's in the fridge.
The Small One: Mama, mama, lookit tower!!!
Me: Nothing. You want pasta or you want to order out? Oh honey, nice tower, but let's put the soup cans away!
The Bearded One: I'm sick of pasta, let's order out.
The Small One: Mama, mama, want my milk cup! And a cereal bar! And banana!
Me: Yes, yes honey, are you hungry? Mama's trying to find the take-out menus. Hmmm... jeez, I'm sick of all our take-out places. And sick of spending big money for crappy food.

You get the picture. I get really sick of the "I dunno, what do you want to eat" every night, and we don't eat well when everything is either frozen pizza, pasta or take-out... night after night. Meal planning is a great way to get good food on the table, faster and easier, regardless of your busy lifestyle.