Friday, April 11, 2014

My Meal Plan Obsession

When I told my mom that I was trying to get back to blogging she said, "I don't think you should write about food at all.  I think you should just write about the boys.  I always skip over your food posts looking for stuff about them." Ahhh, grandmothers...

If you are in her camp, this is not the post for you.  However, if you are like me and both passionate about and obsessed with food, especially in a voyeuristic way, I think you'll like where we're going today.  Some of my favorite posts from around the web tend to be peeks into peoples' fridges, snippets on the breakfasts of interesting people, and meal planning downloads from other busy A-types.  I love writing about food, and these days our life, schedule, and budget are such that meal planning is the linchpin of our culinary existence. My husband still works from home, so generally, I'm shopping for and prepping 3 meals a day for 4 people 7 days a week; that's 84 meals a week, people.  No joke.  Turning out food this way in a budget and health conscious way takes a serious plan.

Gone are the days of rambling to the store for an obscure ingredient when the whim strikes or ordering takeout just because we're feeling lazy.  Going to the store is a major physical expedition. You know those handy seats in the front of the shopping cart, meant to hold your child so you can shop?  My 30 lb. monkey-toddler laughs in their face.  He likes to escape the little safety belt, stand up, and lean precariously toward towering displays of breakable jars or try to get down and smash eggs (this actually happened, in a totally mortifying fashion).  I often end up holding him and trying to shop one-handed; it's nuts. So I like to try and make one and only one shopping trip per week, even if that means going to three stores (in this town, it does).  With one shopping day, all of that exertion and frustration is compartmentalized and can be rewarded with a large glass of wine.

I know I'm lucky to be able to shop at off-peak times; Friday morning is an ideal time to hit grocery stores, as they are usually fully stocked in anticipation of the weekend rush, and relatively empty of customers. If you are home with kids, or work in a non-9-to-5 industry, I can't recommend this timing enough.  I know it is not rocket science, but it took me many an annoying trip to a picked over Thursday Trader Joe's to get hip to the Friday shop.  So, for me, Thursdays are usual meal planning days, where I pour over cookbooks, Pinterest, and the family calendar, and try to create a realistic meal plan for the week ahead.  Starting the weekend with a stocked fridge makes Sunday meal prep that much easier, with everything readily on hand to get rolling on cooking projects fresh off of your morning coffee buzz.

In honor of type-A culinary voyeurism, here's a peek at my meal planning these days:

1) Breakfasts
We keep this easy: cereals, eggs, toast, Kashi waffles, or the ingredients for homemade ones for all of the boys.  For me, I've recently been inspired by this stunning raw vegan Australian instagrammer I follow (don't even ask me how I find these things, I just do), and have been doing a kind of vegan-until-dinner thing which has me feeling surprisingly phenomenal.  In this spirit, I've been starting the day with a massive smoothie.
image via Lonijane
These concoctions have been so hydrating and energizing. I've been using coconut water instead of a dairy product (our Trader Joe's sells the quart containers for $3, so it's not a bank breaker, or rather an even trade-off with almond milk or some such) and some combination of bananas, frozen mango, blueberry or strawberry.  I've also been adding a teaspoon of maca powder, which I'll post about separately.  I can't tell you how beneficial this whole routine has been to my energy... delicious game changer.

2) Lunches
The little boys are easy: I check PB&J levels, stock up on Cabot Cheddar for grilled cheeses, and get as good a variety of fresh fruit as is in season.  Hummus (I try to mix it up with the bazillion varieties TJ's offers), bell peppers, cukes and carrots are on the weekly list as well.  I get turkey for B (aka, the husband).  We go through bread like it's our job.  And every Sunday, I make a big pot of soup for lunches for the week.  Soup is my easiest, healthiest, favorite go-to lunch (until when/if it warms up here and I switch to salads).  Sometimes I can sell it to the little boys, and B always loves it on the side of a sandwich or with some good bread.  It can also pinch hit for dinner when necessary.
Some favorite soups of late:
Shutterbean's Carrot Coconut Soup
image via Shutterbean
My Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup
Paste e Fagioli has been a winter staple.
And this week I am going to make an old fave of ours, Chickpea and Spinach Stew.

3) Dinners
This varies widely week-to-week depending on a variety of factors from athletic and social schedules, to monthly budgeting fluctuations, to seasonal cravings.  A typical week will look something like this:

Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken.  This recipe has been a staple of mine for over a decade, and B has declared more than once that he would have married me just for this chicken... it's that good.  This week, a recuperating relative has requested a perfect chicken care package, so I'm going to pop two in the oven, as I can't rightly fill the house with that aroma and not offer some to my men.  This is the kind of dish that is great to cook on Friday for meals all weekend.

Pizza Night.  We do this at least once a week.  It gives me a nice break from cooking, since pizza is B's department, and it is so soul-satisfying, especially served with a side of House of Cards.  We use amazing pre-made doughs from our local Italian specialty store and make two pies: spinach and mushroom for me, pepperoni, mushroom and peppers for B.  We totally don't each eat a whole pizza ourselves.  Ever.  

Sunday is known in our house as "Fat Day".  We cook our most indulgent and complicated dishes on Sundays and try to truly savor the process and the meals to start our week on the right foot.  One of the best Fat Day recipes we've had recently is Helen Jane's Slow Cooker Thai Lemongrass Beef.
image via Helen Jane
This is one of the most flavorful, complex, and satisfying slow cooker dishes of all time.  If you are a meat eater, you must try this one ASAP.   The ginger, cinnamon, star anise combo is so warming and intensely savory, and the leftovers will rock your world (if there are any).

For the record, this Monday is Passover.  But a typical Monday for us is usually busy all around: school and sports for little J, intense workdays for B, general re-entry fatigue for the babe and me.  I usually keep dinner pretty simple, and often vegetarian to compensate for Fat Day.  Lately, we've been doing a lot of sushi bowls and a lot of Tofu Tikka Masala.  I love Trader Joe's Tikka Masala sauce, and usually do a combo of spinach, peas and tofu sautéed in coconut oil, with garlic naan on the side.

Our new house is a block from what I consider to be the best fish store in our town.  The boys love to go check out the lobsters swimming around in their tank.  I love to treat us to some of their fresh fish for dinner when we can.  Gwyneth's Sriracha Salmon is a super easy weeknight winner, served with simple greens.  My sister also swears by this Crispy Coconut Kale with Roasted Salmon and Coconut Rice recipe, which is on my short list for upcoming meal plans.
Gwynnie's Salmon: image via Self
Simple dinners are a rule-of-thumb for hump day when we're often running a little ragged.  Burrito Bowls have been a weekly staple.  I love the Shutterbean trick of mixing a jar of salsa into cooked rice for a quickie, easy Mexican base, and I'll also cheat and use Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans if I don't have time or energy to do something bean-y from scratch.  A toppings bar of shredded cheese, chopped scallion and avocado, diced tomato and shredded lettuce, and we're good to go; and this little number is both time and budget friendly.

Thursday is probably our chillest weekday.  No school for J, just one little morning activity, and the rest of the day is open, which I love.  We can have a quiet, easy afternoon, with more time to devote to a more involved dinner.  With the weekend on the horizon, it's nice to kick off the feeling of ease and indulgence this way.  We have a little shrimp stash in the freezer right now, and I've got my eye on this beauty of recipe: Shrimp and Avocado Salad with Miso Dressing.
image via Pinch of Yum
So that's what a week might look like around here.  I lean heavily on pre-prepared elements and quickie, old favorite staples to bridge a small smattering of more adventurous and ambitious meals.  I love, love, love pizza night (both for deliciousness and the husband cooking factor).  And some weeks are indeed a blur of takeout burritos, Annie's Mac and Cheese, and another bowl of that Sunday soup with a piece of unexciting toast, long after we wish it was already gone.  But when we're in our groove, crisis-free, and meal planned, culinary life is pretty good.  The three elements of the Thursday meal plan, Friday shop, and Sunday prep day keep us as well fed and waste free as possible. 

I hope this post gives you a little inspiration!  I always love to see what others are cooking and how their kitchens tick.  Any new favorite dishes in your house?  I'd love it if you shared in the comments.  


  1. Welcome back. This is a great post and reminds me that I need to get back to a meal plan at our house!

  2. This is awesome! I needed some ideas, I'm trying the slow cooker recipe today. I have a gyro beef recipe that has been my go-to for months. We purchased a freezer full of grass fed local beef and this recipe puts good use to the ground beef.

  3. Thanks, Peaceful Reader... I'm glad you're still here!

    Bridget, that recipe looks great! Would love to know what you thought of the Thai Beef.

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