Monday, January 23, 2012

Meal Planning

I am all about keeping it simple and having a plan helps me better utilize my time, save money, and of course eat yummy food! Meal planning has saved my sanity and most definitely helped our budget. In the past I have dabbled here and there with some vague organization, but never really kept it up for long and during my pregnancy I completely handed over the reigns to the hubby. For nine long months the idea of preparing food was just out of the question and Kellen stepped up like a champ, making us delicious and healthy meals. With all that time away from the kitchen, upon Ezra's arrival I was so excited to get back into my cookin' groove! And that's exactly what I did. Food was fun again and I was just in hog heaven! As always though my system was kind of crumby and I would make several trips to the store (no easy feat with a wee one) and in my excitement would spend way more money than I wanted. So I got organized and made a plan. In the last several months I have created an easy and efficient system and now I can't imagine how we ever got by without it.

Every Saturday I write out a meal plan, no assigned days, but making sure to include enough food to get us through to the following weekend. I sit on the floor with all my cookbooks (and occassionally my laptop) and select our meals and snacks based on season, current cravings, and budget.

I have found that when you select recipes seasonally and with overlapping ingredients you can make your dollar stretch quite a bit further. (Good, quality organic food is very important in our house, but I hate to spend money unneccesarily. When you're buying asparagus in November you are just throwing your money away, not to mention the environmental cost.)

What's great is that when you're shopping with purpose there is a lot of room for flexibility. Sometimes I'll leave out a meal and see what's in abundance this week or when the farmer's markets are thriving I'll buy up the best priced, most appetizing food and then make a plan. This way you know you are getting the freshest food and you'd be amazed at the deals you can make. (I got a giant basket of eggplants last year at our local farmer's market for a dollar. It was the end of the season and nearing the end of the day. The farmer simply wanted to part with her produce and I happily obliged. Needless to say we ate every eggplant dish I know that week...and it was awesome!) If you are fortunate enough to live in a place with year round abundant farmer's markets (I am jealous!) and would make planning all the easier.

During the winter I make a lot of stews, soups, and casseroles. You work with what you have and a good hearty, winter veggie meal warms the bones with the added bonus of plenty of left-overs!

So if you're curious I'll give you an example from this upcoming week in our house.

The Meals:
 Cornmeal Brussels Sprout Masala w/ Rice
Tomato-Rice and Roasted Garlic Soup
 Superhero Chili (Roasted Root Veggies and Beans)
Caramelized Onion and Butternut Squash Casserole w/ Roasted Sprouts

Chickpea-Quinoa Pilaf w/ Curried Tofu

And that's it for the week. I will be able to make five delicious, home-cooked meals with enough left-overs to last through the following weekend for a little less than $50. I am definitely not the purest foodie on the block (well maybe on my block, but that's not saying much). I would love to incorporate more raw and fermented foods, buy more local, etc... but I feel pretty happy with my diet and definitely happy with my system.

If you're having trouble getting organized a template might be just what you need. If you would like to use an adorable meal planning template, Danielle's is super cute, efficient, and comes in two different sizes. How fun!

Do you meal plan? What's in your shopping cart this week?



Danielle said...

Aww, Tara you are so sweet! Thank you so much for the link love! I think it is so great that you posted this meal planning post, I have one scheduled for today as well. Your caramelized onion and butternut Squash casserole w/ roasted sprouts sounds incredibly delicious.

Noelle {Aloud} said...

My technique is similar to yours, though I often procrastinate and do my meal-planning and shopping both on Monday morning. I find eating local, seasonal produce is much, much easier March through October, when our local fruit and veggie market is open. In the winter, I don't do nearly as well. (I have trouble saying no to a child who begs for fresh raspberries in January!) But I always try to make meals that create lots of leftovers, which we eat for lunches and one "Leftovers Night" a week.

Mama Smith said...

I am not a good planner and meals are no exception but I do try to have a recurring list of meal types (like a pasta or pizza, a curry, a soup) and then I do one night a week as a wildcard to try out a new recipe. I find that if I have too many new recipes it's too much to handle I can't improvise with what looks good at the store. I spent many years being really strict about only eating local (oh how I missed bananas) and it all went out the window when I got pregnant and now I do my best but my kid is picky and there's a lot of rule breaking. Your menu sounds yummy!

Tara said...

Of course! I love that we both posted about this on the same day. Great minds think alike! Hehe.

Tara said...

I'm way worst about keeping it season in the colder months as well. It's just so much easier in the spring and summer when there is so much abundant fruit and veg! I like the idea of a "Leftovers Night". We normally just eat up whatever is leftover the following day for lunch, but it would for sure be fun to make a feast of it!

Tara said...

Thank you! I'm with ya, I've got to have my staple dishes or else I get completely overwhelmed. Too much new and I'm just a mess! During my pregnancy my eating habits changed a lot too (from vegan to vegetarian), so I get it about the rule breaking. Sometimes you just have to do what works, you know?

Danielle said...

Definitely! Hehe. Here is the link for that sweet potato burger:

Lea said...

Please post your revipe for superhero chili! It sounds so good! I am good at meal planning. I think it makes life less hectic.