Updated: Mar 18, 2018
I know, I know it doesn't sound exciting or sexy but making a menu plan is a game changer. I've talked about it before, but I thought maybe I could make this vision of menu planning a bit clearer.
Many moons ago I ate a very heavily influenced Macrobiotic diet...lots of whole grains, miso soups, a variety of freshly prepared veggies and rich bean dishes. I cooked for clients with a variety of illnesses (macrobiotics is known for its healing powers) I spent most of my time in the kitchen, and I loved it. When I wasn't in the kitchen, I would be in the health food store/ farmer's market or at a park bench menu planning. I would sleep with books about food and healing. This is not an option for me now with four children ranging in ages of 5 months to 8 years old, even though the need for a clean, healthy and balanced diet is the greatest. When I'm eating a diet full of fresh, whole foods, I feel calmer, more centered and most importantly better equipped to deal with the many adventures of having small children. That is just the benefit to me! Children need to know what real food tastes like and how it feels to be nourished. I have tried for years to shield them from all the "bad" foods but guess what... it doesn't work. Not only did it not work, but it created a lot of struggles between me and the children but also with other family members. Food is a lot of things celebration, memories of their grandfather and grandmother (who side note are not on the same food train and me) I didn't want to take that away from them. So, we have a baseline of home cooking that provides whole organic foods with lots of fresh veggies, whole grains, soups/stews, bean dishes, tofu (sparingly) tempeh, seitan. If that all sounds impossible believe me, I get it. I'm lucky that my husband can cook because there were plenty of times (pregnancy mostly) battling morning sickness and strange food cravings that there was no way I was doing any of that stuff but the menu plan saved the day. All Matt would have to do was take a peek, and he knew what to do.
1. Veggies should always be prepared fresh. There is nothing yummy or nourishing about veggies that have been cooked and then reheated. I'm talking about greens etc. Veggies take no time at all to cook so get the most out of them and eat them fresh.
2. Whole grains and beans ALWAYS need to be soaked, another good reason to menu plan. Soaking in an all-day affair. The menu plan lets you know the night before what needs to be soaked. If you can't fathom cooking beans from scratch, there is no shame in using can beans. I like Eden brand, it has a BPA free lining and the beans are cooked in kombu with no salt. I like to be in charge of salt ;) I also favor quick-cooking red lentils or green lentils. They don't need to be soaked and the cook time is way shorter. Always cook more than you need for the dinner meal. That way you have lunch for the next day. Brown rice can easily be turned in to a stirfry, or quick nori rolls with avo, red peppers, cucumber, carrot maybe leftover tempeh or tofu.
3. Soups and stews are a life saver. You can always make enough for the next day lunch but also make enough to freeze for days where cooking isn't an option.
4. Pick foods you love. Sit down and make a list of your top ten meals. Come up with some variations of them. Ex: Taco Tuesday... black bean taco, veggie taco, tempeh taco. Maybe sometimes its a burrito. Having a menu doesn't have to be the same boring thing every week. It is a great way to get inspired and creative.
5. Change with the seasons. Soup, stews and roasted veg is not where it's at in the middle of summer in FL. So, vary your ingredients to what is in season and also adjust your cooking methods.
6. Your kids will LOVE it! The sense of rhythm and routine is very appealing to them. My kids know that Monday we have kitchari, Tuesday they have tacos, Wednesday is our no-cook day (we do Indian for lunch and frozen Amy's pizza for dinner), etc. They don't call it Tuesday they call it taco day. It is predictable (and that means security and trust) for the child.
7. It makes shopping easier, and it saves money
If this sounds like a lot, I get that, start with dinner and work up to breakfast and lunch. Happy Planning!!