Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What's For Dinner: A Belated HASAY Post

A few weeks ago, my friend Pam asked me if I planned my meals every week. And I was like, "Yes! Of course!" I spend about ten minutes on Fridays making up a meal plan for the week, and until Pam asked me about it, it never occurred to me that there are people who don't meal plan. How do they know what to shop for? What to cook? Really, how do you do it? Do non planners just purchase random cuts of meat and veggies and hope for the best? It really, truly baffles me. I mean, if I didn't have a list and a plan I'd walk out of the store with nothing but snacks and cereal.

Part of it is because I've been meal planning for so long. I started doing it shortly after college, when Nelson and I were living in near poverty and every dollar counted. Our grocery budget was very limited so I had to get as much nutrition in each meal as I could for the least amount of money.

Then, I started Weight Watchers for the first time and I realized that I had to stock my home with healthy foods or I would never have a chance. I also realized that I need to start cooking for real because if I don't keep meals interesting the call of the pizza delivery guy gets really, really hard to resist.

I'm going to admit here that meal planning is a little uncharacteristic for me because I'm neither organized or good at planning. I mean I'm better at organizing and planning than Nelson, but I'm still not very good (Nelson? Terrible.)

(Oh my god this post is boring, no? Whatever, I'm going with it.)

Meal planning has become a cornerstone of weight loss for me, because eating out is one of my biggest vices and it is much easier to eat healthily at home. I generally plan for five or six meals a week; I figure one night we will get take out or have a "quick meal" and/or one night we'll have leftovers.

For example, here is this week's meal plan:

Cuban beef with brown rice (Monday night; delish)
Chicken Parmesan (low-fat) and sauteed zucchini (Last night -my first time making it, and it was great)
Spiced pork loin with a corn and black bean relish
Grilled flank steak and polenta, with a corn and red pepper salsa
Turkey sausage and pepper pasta
Frozen roasted veggie lasagna and a salad(a "quick meal")
Leftover night

Important notes on my meal planning:
1. I never freeze any meat, except chicken breast, which I buy frozen in bulk and turkey meatballs, which I buy frozen. I buy and use fresh meat every week. This saves room in my freezer and having the fresh meat ensures that I'll cook it (because I'd hate for it to go bad) and it saves me from forgetting to defrost things.

2.I try something new every week, to keep things interesting.

3. I cook from recipes almost exclusively because while I'm a pretty good cook and excellent at following directions, I'm not terribly creative in the kitchen.

4. I always have one or two quick meals on hand (something frozen and easy to prepare) if the kids give me a particularly rough day, or I'm just too busy to really cook.

5. I always have nuggets, sweet potato fries, and peas on hand because my kids will almost always eat those things if they refuse whatever I'm cooking. I know not all parents are okay with cooking separate meals for their kids, but I've just cut my losses here. They get their own meal two or three days a week. Grilled cheese, mac & cheese, and cheese toast are also always winners. Anything cheese and/or bread related works for them, really.

6. You've probably noticed there are a lot of pasta-type meals here. Well, I'm Italian and growing up we had pasta several nights a week, so it's the norm for me. Also, my kids will nearly always eat pasta. I always do whole grain, mulit-grain, or 100% whole wheat pasta because we eat it so often. Whole grain pasta has come a long way. It's not the nasty cardboard stuff it used to be, so if you're not eating it with regularity you really should give it a shot. I buy Barilla Whole Grain Pasta in bulk. Don't forget to salt your pasta water generously (like a scant palm-full of kosher salt per pound of pasta.) It makes all the difference.

Okay, so that's all I'm going to say about that for now. So, go forth and plan your meals and eat whole grain pasta. Oh, and tell me: Do you meal plan or not? How does it work for you?


Pamela said...

i'm a sort of meal planner, mostly because i have a freezer full of cow and pig and chickens and veggies, and a pantry full of canned stuff. So I'm pretty much set no matter what the day.

I keep staples (ummm, not stapler-staples, der) around because my short people really like to make their own food choices, and we cook dinner together.

We eat lots of soup, meat and roasted veggies, and we have homemade pizza every Friday night--in the living room in front of a movie.

And how do you reply via email? I did that for a while and then realized I wasn't actually sending people email, I was sending email to the noreply address at Blogger.

Anonymous said...

I'm such an old hand in the kitchen that I don't really meal plan like I used to when I was younger, had small children and was on a tight budget.

Having been on that budget for so many years keeps me coming out of the store, even when I don't have a list, without the junk foods. I never bought them, so it never became a habit and I loathe convenience foods - they just don't taste good to me.

This was a problem when Beloved and I first started to cohabitate, because the man lived on junk and convenience foods (his exwife was NO cook). Nowadays when he wants a snack, he makes a peanut butter sandwich or toasts a bagel or something along those lines because chances are there are no chips or cookies or candies in the pantry.

Jan from the Sushi Bar

Kat said...

I roughly meal plan, then forget half the ingredients when I am shopping, then have to make trips to the commissary again cause I forgot this or that. Like I have roast, but forgot potatoes and carrots. Smooth move there Kat.

VandyJ said...

I try to meal plan but it's pretty tentative. Every time I plan ahead life gets in the way. We have meat in the freezer and I plan htat day or maybe a day ahead so I can thaw things. I like to get Nick's input on the type of meat and I like to try new recipes. I too am less than creative in the kitchen. Nick can make anything up but me not so much. Oh, and I have an award for you at my place.

nutella said...

We meal plan, but only vaguely. The wife is a picky eater, so anytime I want to try something new I have to get her buy in first. She's come an awful long way from when we first got together. I mean, she eats chicken now! I aim to grocery shop only once a week, so meal planning helps with that as well. At this point, the kiddo eats whatever we put in front of him, but I know we won't always be so lucky. I'm a creative cook and almost never strictly follow a recipie. Typically, I'll look up a few different recipies and then combine and adapt them.

I'm on WW now too, which is an additional challenge, since I'm the only one on it in our household. I do buy prepared snack food items for the wife, but almost never eat them myself.

Erin said...

you think this post is boring? i don't! i think it is great! i try to plan meals, but should be better. and all those other things you suggested are great.
i just love the way your blog speaks to me - i too have cut my losses on the no separate meals things :)

anyway, you should make a side link with your favorite recipes because, seriously, i want what you are eating!

gretchen said...

I never seem to get it together enough to plan for a whole week at a time. Things always change up for us, usually at the last minute (I'll get stuck on the other side of town at an audition or something)so I have to adapt. So I usually shop for 3 or maybe 4 meals in a row. I've switched us over to whole wheat pasta too, and we really like it! Wish I could get my Italian-American in-laws to eat it!

Hannah Hammonds said...

I'm a meal planner. I like to know what we're having and what to get at the grocery. It also helps my husband because some nights he has to cook and he can just look at the menu and know what to do.
Menu planning also helps me only go to the grocery once a week and only get what I need, which has saved me A LOT of money.
I say go menu planners!

Sprite's Keeper said...

We do meal plan, but depend on a lot of easy meals to get us through the week. Turkey burgers tonight in fact (just ground turkey with a little seasoning on the George Foreman with some veggies), but your cuban beef with brown rice sounds great. Can you send me the recipe? ANd the chix parm as well? John would love those!

Mrsbear said...

I'm awful when it comes to meal planning. Most of what I do is on the fly, or if I decide on a recipe I'll shop same day. Admittedly I end up with a lot of junk snacks for the kids, especially if they're with me when I go to the grocery store. Luckily most of what I cook isn't unhealthy, mostly chicken, turkey, nothing fried, usually baked, broiled or sauteed.

I like the idea of planning, I just don't know if I have the follow-through.

Anonymous said...

I try to meal plan. I will do really good with it for a few weeks then we'll have a crazy week & I'll get totally off track & I'll fly by the seat of my pants for a week or two before I get back on track.

When I am meal planning, I plan for 12 meals & stock up at the store for 2 weeks worth of basics, snacks, etc. leaving us with 2 nights to eat out or eat leftovers. When we do get off track, I tell Chase that we'll be having a few crappy meals while we clean out the pantry & freezer & then I start over again with a blank slate.

We generally try not to fix separate meals for the kids. If they decide they're not going to eat what we've put on their plate, then it is tough luck for them & they have to stay at the table with us until we are finished eating. There are nights, though, that I'll want to make something I know they won't touch so I will make their supper early & then Chase & I will have a late meal. Since he doesn't get home from work until a little after 7 & they are in bed by 8 at the latest, those nights are a special treat for them anyways because it means they get an hour of crazy play time with daddy.

Keely said...

I do meal plan, yes. I don't always follow the plan - I have a couple frozen options on hand like you. And sometimes I have to leave it to hubby to cook the meal, which means I have to remind him to check the board where it's written, and remind him again to start anything he needs in advance.

Crap on toast, I'm a nag.

Jamie said...

I find that when I take the time to meal plan we eat much healthier and cheaper. We love to do takeout and get really lazy some weeks. I love having leftovers for lunches so the more on top of our meals I am the better.

The Man Cub goes to bed pretty early still so he usually eats before we do most nights.

My mother is able to make dinner out of whatever she has on hand pretty much every night. I wish I had that skill.

Oh, and I love recipes on the sidebar idea.

Frogs in my formula said...

This wasn't boring at all. I plan 2-3 meals a week. We eat out 1-2 nights, then the rest are kind of cereal or scrambled eggs type dinners. I'm not savvy in the kitchen, so everyone's expectations are low, which is fine with me. Some nights, if something comes out well, Junior says, "Mmm, this is pretty good" and I feel a little sad because I secretly want to be a fantastic cook.

Barbara said...

I meal plan totally. On a Monday evening, I plan all our lunches and dinners and then write my shopping list based on that and what basics we need. Then on Tuesday I go shopping and I stick to my list religously (sp?).

I can't imagine how you would go about doing your shopping if you didn't know what you were going to have to eat!

elizabeth said...

We do absolutely no meal planning. Really. It's an absolute miracle when we buy something with tomorrow in mind. Eric goes to the grocery store every day. It's ridiculous.

Wild Child said...

We're one of those non-planning families. I think it works for us, because we have a limited repertoire. My husband doesn't like new things, so we make the same things over and over again. We won't do separate meals for kids, so we often eat what they like.

However, I'd like to plan, but my husband refuses to make what I plan and starts things like pancakes on the nights I'm not home first to say "Make this." Then he's like, well what should we get from the store? And if I say, well plan what we're going to have, he'll come home with bread, milk, chips,and sometimes cereal. Bah!

Casey said...

Jamie plans in advance so at least one of us does. He'll go get meat and make turkey chili, cook a bunch of chicken on the grill and then throw together sides. I love that man.