When it comes to menu planning, it is funny how many people don’t think about the week ahead until the week actually starts. I often hear from folks that they don’t have time to plan because they are constantly in a state of rush between their jobs, the kids, you name it. I do understand that completely because I am a mother of 2 as well.
However, we all know that not having a plan makes it difficult to stay on track with our fitness or wellness goals. I would also argue that one wastes way more time trying to figure out stuff half way through the week.
Here is what we recommend.
1) On Friday evening (while watching TV or sipping your favorite tea or cocktail), start thinking about what you would like to eat next week. Jot down at least 4 menu items for dinner. The reason I say 4 is because that is all you really need to plan for. Once you have 4 main dinner items, you can create so much more using these main courses whether it is lunch for the kids or other meal using the leftovers.
2) What will you snack on? What will the kids snack on? (think about what you will buy pre-made and what you will make yourself) Writing it down allows you to self-discipline. If your list contains only chips, then you know there is a problem there.
3) What are the main ingredients you will need? Remember to use a combination of green, red, purple, orange vegetables. I recommend you alternate from time to time. For example, if you are using kale as your source of greens this week, maybe you try more spinach next week. For vegetarians, remember your sources of proteins such as lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh, whole grains/seeds such as quinoa, etc.
4) Hit the grocery store on Saturday if possible. Sundays are tough because you don’t have time to prepare that much food (unless you go early Sunday morning)
5) On Sunday you can try to cook most of the items that will need to be cooked.
For example, cook the quinoa or millet, whatever you choose. You can also cook your lentils. If you want to consume some stuffed vegetables or lasagna, etc. try to pre-make them on Sunday.
6) Chop off the vegetables that you will need for the first part of the week. For example, chop off carrots, cucumber, broccoli. cauliflower or even kale.
7) Use all the vegetables remnants and boil them to make a broth. Add garlic, pepper, salt and green onions to the broth. You can blend the whole thing afterwards for a puree or strain it just to get the broth. I would recommend blending it because you lose nothing and it can be used as a base for soups.
8) Last, grab some vegetables you can stuff with everything. I like zucchini, eggplant, bell pepper, tomatoes for that purpose. Then stuff with whatever you like. You can use the quinoa / millet, your protein, your vegetables, etc. Fastest way to have your vegetable ready to be stuffed is to cut it, remove the middle part, then put the open vegetable face down in a pan with a little bit of oil. then, it will become very soft and won’t need to spend too much time in the oven. If you are going to have it baked all the way through and not use the pan approach I would recommend doing the stuff vegetables as your first step so that it will cook while you are doing all the other stuff.
9) Wash your fruits, berries that you bought from the stores. I like leaving a portion fresh for snacking etc. However, I usually cut quite a bit and put it in the freezer for easy use when I need to make a smoothie.
10) Just eat every day basically. No need to be cooking that much at all.
Monday: Stuffed vegetables day – You have worked enough on Sunday, so reward yourself and don’t cook anything. All you need to do is put the stuffed vegetables in the oven and warm it up! Stuffed vegetables is one example but you could have made some lasagna or whatever and do the same on Monday. Best of all, kids or you can get leftovers for lunch the next day.
Tuesday: Quinoa or millet salad – This time you are only using raw vegetables (pre-cut). Just mix them in and add the quinoa, etc. Then add some lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and you are good to go. You can also add more protein in the forms of chia seeds, almonds, cashews, etc.
Wednesday: Lentils day – Your lentils were already cooked. So, you need to warm it up. Lentils can be eaten with flat bread as an add-on. I like adding my lentils on a bed of kale or a bed of lettuce to which I add some pepper and a bit of pure olive oil. Keep in mind that lentils are very balanced meals, so you don’t need much when you are eating lentils.
Thursday: Stir fry day – Use all the chopped vegetables and mix in the quinoa / millet, etc. Add your protein sources such as tofu, tempeh… This will take 10 minutes to make instead of you sitting down and cooking everything from scratch. Next day, use the rest of the stir fry for the kids lunch at school. You can warm it and put it in a thermos if they want to eat it warm. Or it can be used inside a wrap to make a nice sandwich for them.
Friday: Soup day – Use the broth or the blended vegetable purees we talked about before. Now, add some more vegetables in it to have something to chew on. You can add some pieces of carrots, broccoli, beans, chick peas to make it whole.
On Sunday, after cooking the quinoa / millet, remember to put it in different bowls representing each day you are going to use it. The reason is because you might want to put everything that will be used beyond 3 days in the freezer. Just remember to take it out the day before so that it can be thawed.
And remember that the beauty about cooking / prepping most of your food on Sunday is that it creates this habit and / or project where you can ensure that the whole family is involved into. It is hard to get the kids motivated to help every day in the kitchen. But if there is a day where everyone gets their hands dirty kids just love it.