This is certainly not an end-all, be-all method for how to meal plan. It works OK for us when I actually follow through on things, which is not as often as I probably should. I don’t assign particular meals to particular days, but instead have some idea of what I’d like to eat on what day, and then play it by ear. Our commitments have a tendency to get jostled around, and there are usually a few days a week where we end up going out with friends, eating at Craig’s best friend’s house, or I just can’t bring myself to cook, and I’d much rather have takeout.
Our “brand” of clean eating is trying to cut out most processed foods(durr), meaning things with lots of ingredients that we wouldn’t normally cook with, also refined flours and non-whole grains(I’m still a sucker for breads though, so we are really just cutting down). We’re also trying to cut out refined sugars and GMO crops, increasing our organic and local purchasing, and trying to cut down on animal food sources. Regarding organic, we TRY to buy organic, but sometimes the cost differential between conventionally produced and organically produced products is so great I can’t justify spending the extra $$ on organic.
Here’s where I start:
What do I have in the fridge that needs to be used?
What do I have in the freezer that I could use?
What have we eaten lately that was awesome?
What have we eaten way too much lately that I want to avoid?
What’s growing in the garden that we need to be eating?
This week, I had some leftovers from the weekend. Those included a little under a quart of black beans that I had cooked up, a couple cups of leftover smoked pork butt that had been pulled, some buns from the pulled pork, a ton of leftover homemade salsa, and all the stuff for my rainbow cabbage salad . Those tend to be my first priorities. Then I look through the freezer and determine what I should use soon, and add that to my mental list. In this case, I found a block of organic ground beef from costco, and a block of boneless skinless chicken thighs.
Now I have to figure out what to make. I TRY to make at least one new thing each week, just to a)keep me on my toes b)try to stay seasonal in what we’re eating c)not get bored with the same dishes all the time. For that, I consult my handy dandy Pinterest board, 101Cookbooks, or SmittenKitchen. Many of the recipes that I pull from other sites have things in them that we’re trying to avoid, but with a little modification, most “healthier” recipes can be made to work. Let’s say a recipe calls for orzo or couscous. You could easily sub out parcooked brown rice for the orzo, and quinoa for the couscous. Easy enough. I find that even browsing vegetarian and vegan pinboards or blogs (I use pinterest to find good blogs too) can sometimes give me ideas, and I can sub in a more conventional ingredient for one of the stranger vegan ones, or add meat to a vegetarian side dish to turn it into a meal.
This week, I started out knowing that one of the first meals that I made would need to be my rainbow cabbage salad, as everything had been prepped and in the fridge for like 4 days already and needed to get eaten. I also knew that I was running to costco after work and would have a LOT of prep afterwards when I got home, so I opted to just buy a rotisserie chicken (they’re so cheap at costco, it’s hard not to!) and shred it over the top of the salad and have that for dinner.
I also try to use the same ingredients in multiple dishes. This cuts down on additional ingredients that are sitting around in the fridge costing me money.
This week’s meal plan was:
(Kind of) Patty Melts with fruit
Grilled veggies & tofu
Chicken sausage w/ leftover grilled veggies
Chicken sausage, tomato & kale pasta w/ parmesan
Chicken sausage w/ polenta, kale, & quick ragu
Rainbow cabbage salad w/ chicken or tofu
Black beans w/ salsa, greek yogurt, and leftover meat
Fruit, smoothies, gouda
The meal plan was tailored to work with one trip to costco for ingredients. This is what my receipt looked like:
Rotisserie Chicken – $4.99
Aiden’s Chicken & Apple Sausage – $13.99
Firm Tofu (Non GMO – 4 packages per box SO CHEAP) – $3.79
Kirkland Signature Greek Yogurt (2 tubs) – $6.99
Ancient Grains Penne Pasta(whole grains, no wheat) – $7.49
4 dozen locally produced eggs – $6.38
4lbs strawberries – $6.49
2lbs brussels sprouts – $3.79
1 pineapple – $2.99
3 eggplants – $4.99
2lbs broccolette – $5.49
2lbs crimini mushrooms – 4.49
2lbs (I think?) multicolor cherry tomatoes – $4.99
1 case (8 cans maybe?) organic diced tomatoes $5.99
Total – 83.23
There are some things that I could have gotten a little cheaper at the grocery store, like the eggplants if they had been on sale, and MAYBE the broccolette had I found a sale on it as well, but for the convenience of only making one trip, and knowing that the quality is going to be good due to costco’s high turnover, it was worth it to me.
On grocery shopping night, I count on spending the entire evening prepping and processing my haul. So that’s what I did. Craig attacked the chicken as soon as I walked in the door, we got the cabbage salad made, took the chicken off that we wanted for that, and then I got down to business. The first thing that I did was stick the eggs, sausage, yogurt, and tofu in the fridge. I had no immediate plans to do anything with those, so they got put away. Then the chicken got shredded and put into various containers with beans and whatnot so it could go to work with me or be eaten by Craig for lunches. Then the carcass went into a pot with some onion, garlic, celery and carrot scraps that I had frozen from previous meals, plus some fresh parsley stems leftover from dinner, and was turned into stock. I let it simmer away while I worked on other things.
I got down to business and started prepping my mushrooms (and a couple of bell peppers that I picked up on sale a few days prior) for grilling. Since they were going on shish-kebab sticks, I took off the stems. I’d normally chop them up and turn into something else, but I had lots to get done, and knew that they’d help add some umami to a veggie stock at a later date, so I put them in my veggie scraps bag and stuck them in the freezer.
After everything was prepped, I simply threaded them onto skewers and stuck them in a casserole dish. Now when I ‘m ready to grill them, all I have to do is fire up the grill and throw them on!
My brussels sprouts were also pretty simple, albeit a little time consuming. I don’t like the funky outer leaves on them so I peel the outer 2-5 leaves off til I get clean ones, then cut off the nubby stem part and they’re ready to go. If I were roasting or sauteeing these, I’d have cut them in half or into quarters, but I was a little concerned they’d fall through the grates on the grill, so they got left whole.
After they were cleaned and ready to go, I just topped them with some olive oil,salt, pepper, herbs from the garden, and some spices from the cabinet. I don’t like using fresh garlic when I’m grilling because when it browns/blackens, it gets super bitter, so if I want real garlic flavor, I’ll crush some up and top the freshly grilled vegetables with it instead.
Then I just shook up the container and had seasoned and ready-to-go brussels sprouts for the grill.
I did something similar with my broccolette. In my experience, it’s always been fresh and no parts have been particularly wonky, so I just rinse it off in the bag, drain, then top with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes, then shake it up like the sprouts, and I’m good to go.
Then it was just a matter of prepping the fruit. Craig loves snacking on fresh fruit but is also exceptionally lazy, so he will eat healthy if things are ready for him to grab, otherwise, he’ll go for crackers, chips, chocolate, etc. I also prefer to preload my work and get stuff done while I’m already in prep-mode, so I can just grab a container out of the fridge later and eat whatever it is. So I processed the pineapple, and the strawberries.
At this point, I had spent probably 3 hours total prepping and cleaning, and washing dishes and whatnot. The chicken stock had simmered for enough time that it looked good, but I was ready to go to bed. I know that this is totally against all food-safety regulations, but if I make stock on the stove in the evening, I’ll cover it, make sure the lid is tight, simmer for 20 minutes or so totally sealed, and then turn it off and let it sit overnight to cool before I strain it and stick in the fridge. When I cook with it, it always comes back up to a boil or gets reduced down, so I haven’t experienced any health issues with it, but I do make sure that it’s only Craig and I eating it. If I’m serving to other people, I am sure to use stock made “by the book”. If you’re more reasonable about safe food handling, you could try my crockpot method.
So by the end of the night, I have skewers made and veggies prepped to be grilled, I have chicken shredded for lunches, and cabbage salad & dressing ready to go for lunches, everything I need purchased for the rest of my meals, and a solid plan that can easily be modified if/when plans change.