Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Reluctant Meal Maker: Meal Planning

I know this is kindergarten stuff for many of you, but meal planning was truly a foreign concept to me. Once I learned a bit about it, I spent the second half of last year giving it a shot, and flailing at best. I wasn't detailed enough. I didn't consider snacks or breakfasts. I'd forget a couple ingredients from most recipes and either find myself at the grocery store more often than I'd prefer, or resorting to whatever backup box I could dig out of the cupboard.

I'm still not a pro, but it's definitely getting better. The tricks for me have been DETAILS and FLEXIBILITY.

Details. I have to get super detailed with my meal plan. I have to consider breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and beverages. For a while, I was trying to just come up with 5 dinners, then I'd decide that day what we'd have. Fail. Didn't work for me. What is working for me is sitting down with the calendar and really considering our week when I plan the meals. Will Raf be home late? (Don't try something complicated when you don't have help distracting the kidlet.) Are we planning to be out most of the day? (Keep dinner simple, or use a slow cooker meal.)

Flexibility. As much as being detailed has helped, I also have to be flexible. Sometimes plans change. Then the meals change too. Sometimes I get home and have zero energy left in my tank, or Lana can't handle flying solo. Leftovers, it is! Sometimes I still forget to add things to the grocery list. Time to substitute! (This doesn't always work out well, but I'm glad that I'm at least getting comfortable enough in the kitchen to give it a go!)

While my days are going much more smoothly because of meal planning, I still have my challenges...

Time. Meal planning is time consuming! It takes time to scour Pinterest and cookbooks for healthy, whole foods-based, seasonal, TASTY meals! It takes time to go through each ingredient list line by line and check the cupboards and fridge. It takes time to shop at 3 or more stores.

I just have to keep reminding myself that it's less time consuming to do this once a week than to do it every day of the week. And I'm assuming that like everything else in life, with experience, the process will become second nature and it won't feel like it takes any time at all.

Eating on the Go. I've always had a hard time planning food for myself when I'm out and about. And I really do hate having to hit the closest drive thru in order to avoid yet another intense hangry episode! I'm better about planning for Lana. I pretty much always grab one of her covered snack cups and at least a couple levels of her Zoli on the go feeder before I head out the door. But I still can't seem to pack a snack for myself. Or water. And now that Lana's down to one nap a day, it's gotten much worse. We're out on playdates during lunchtime at least a couple days a week now, and I never know what to bring for lunch. Lana's happy with a bunch of snacks, but I'd prefer getting something more substantial in her so that we have more success with her afternoon nap. And I need to eat too, darn it! I just don't have that many recipes up my sleeve that don't require reheating or reliable refrigeration. I need to come up with some, quick! Any (toddler friendly) ideas out there??


rgcamire said...

Hmmm, I don't have too many creative ideas. But we do things like peanut butter and apples, cheese and crackers, good old PB&J or smoothies (endless varieties too). Smoothies are great for us when we are in the car for lunch and easy to keep in a cooler or just thow a block of ice in the bag. I have been meal planning for awhile for just the same reasons. It definately gets easier, especially when you get a good rotation of recipes and staples in the house. Good luck!

Jim said...

Have you checked out TasteSpotting? Great website with inspiring photos and links to the recipes. It is often my go-to site for getting motivated.

Also - check out America´s Test Kitchen. They have reduced recipes to the basics - nothing fancy - and full of flavor. They focus on the science of good food - every time.

rgcamire said...

Also, I used to make soup and put it in insulated mugs to take with us if we were out for a meal. =) But is quite a bit colder here, you might be too warm for that? Hard boiled eggs are good too.

brooke said...

Jim--haven't tried tastespotting, but i use gojee all the time. And i LOVE ATK!! I haven't explored them a ton, but I have their slow cooker book and everything is awesome!

Gina--great ideas!! Keep em coming! I'd love to hear about your smoothie combos. I only have one that I use regularly (froz berries+yogurt+apple juice).

Shannon W said...

I never thought to bring smoothies while we were out and about. My fav recipe right now is 1 orange, half a banana, a small handful of green cabbage (you won't be able to taste it), 2-3 baby carrots, honey, bit of vanilla. I have a Vitamix so I can get it really smooth.

Other ideas for lunch while out are hot dogs--we just eat them by themselves with no bun since we're gluten-free. You could even pre-cut these into pieces for your toddler. Add some sliced cucumbers, grapes, and a few Kettle potato chips. Works really well for us.

We also do turkey rolls--rolled up turkey lunch meat. I try to stay away from lunch meat most of the time, but it's a treat every now and then. We buy the nitrate/nitrite free stuff.

brooke said...

smoothie sounds tasty!! tried some rolls this week. she's not quite on board with them yet, but i think they'll become a staple over time. keep the good tips coming!