Class #5 – Learning the Basics of Menu Planning
So we just talked about time, money and struggles in the last lesson. In this lesson I am
going to hand down some of my top tips for helping you meal plan. These are basic tips,
but I promise once done they will help save time, money and eliminate struggle. In the
video below I will discuss why we meal plan and why it is such a guiding principle in your
healthy journey. Then in the written lesson I will give you my top tips and the worksheet
will help bring it all together. Let’s Meal Plan!
1. The Rule of 7
No doubt you have some recipes that are a huge hit with your family. When they hear
that you are making that special dinner they all make sure they are at the dinner table!
What if you had 7 meals that commanded that kind of positive attention? In the
worksheet you will be asked to find 7 recipes that you can rotate into your menu planning
for the week. I will have some tips there to help get you started. Having 7 meals that
you know are nutritious, easy (because you have mastered the recipe) and that you
know you and your family love is the first step in meal planning successfully. If you can’t
think of 7 that fit all the criteria – nutritious, easy and your family loves it – it is time to go
on a recipe search. Once you have 7 staple recipes you can rotate them on a bi-weekly
basis. The worksheet will help with this process. We will talk about recipe overload just
a few paragraphs down.
2. Balancing Nutrition
If you are on a health journey you know how important it is to balance your nutritional
intake. This all happens in the meal planning stage. This is not a nutrition class so I am
not going to wax poetic about nutrients and what is a good balance. What I am going to
do is ask that you write all your meals out for the week. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Look at the basic nutritional intake for each meal and make sure you are getting what
you need in a day. This is going to make a huge difference in your diet, your health and
your kitchen. Here is an example: if I have a fruit/veggie smoothie in the morning with no
protein then I need to make sure that my other two meals have some protein, so I might
opt for an egg salad at lunch and salmon and veggies for dinner. If I am having eggs
and turkey sausage for breakfast, I need to make sure my lunch and dinner include a
veggie and my snack is fruit. Make sense? It also works with portion control. If I know
that dinner is at Aunt Pats and she is making my favorite taco dinner, then my lunch and
breakfast should be on the lighter side. Got it?
3. Recipe Overload
Hopefully you are getting excited to get in the kitchen and cook. Hold on! One of the
biggest mistakes I see people make is they get so excited that they start cooking recipes
left and right. Then they burn out. This actually happened to me when I was first
starting out. I ended up with a plethora of “had to try” ingredients that spoiled because I
cooked a recipe, didn’t like it and never made it again. I was wasting money and time.
So here is my tip to cure this problem. It is safe to say that the average family eatsdinner out 4-6 times a week. I would like you to move that number to 1-2 times a week.
So that means that you are making dinner meals at home an average of 5 nights a week.
Out of those 5 nights, only one night should be a new recipe. Yep, that’s all! The rest of
the nights you should rotate a few of your 7 staple recipes and other recipes that you
have made at least twice.
Here is what this does for you. It eliminates kitchen fails and frustration. After 2-3
kitchen fails in a row you are ready to hang it up and proclaim that you are the world’s
worst cook. But in fact you were just trying to take on too much too fast. Here is a funny
story. I was serving a new recipe to a group of friends. The amazing smell filled the
house and I knew I had hit a home run. Everyone was going to love it. We all sat down
to dinner and started to eat. The first bite I almost spit back out . . . it was awful. I could
hardly believe it. As I watched around the dinner table I could tell that everyone felt the
same as me. I put down my fork and said, “This is the worst food I have ever tasted!”
The table erupted in laughter and out we went to dinner! I have to tell you it was not the
recipe’s fault, it was mine. I was so caught up in making the next best thing I forgot that I
already had recipes that were amazing and easy. It’s so great to experiment in the
kitchen; in fact I count on you to experiment since I have a whole food blog full of
recipes, but don’t overwhelm yourself with new recipes. As enticing as they are, too
many new recipes in a week will cause frustration and cause you to hang up your apron.
4. Making the LIST!
Want to keep from overbuying at the grocery store? Make a list! This is the key, as you
plan your meals for the week, write down every single ingredient. Even if you KNOW
you have it in the kitchen write it down. If it is an unusual ingredient I even write down
the measurement the recipe calls for so I don’t overbuy, or worse, buy too little.
Remember we are working on eliminating frustrations and kitchen fails. This is a huge
step in that process. I keep a pencil and pad in my kitchen and jot down things that
need to be replenished throughout the week as I am cooking. If I see that I am running
low on sea salt it goes on the list. When I keep that list going it helps me maintain
staples that I know I will use over and over again. Also, when you shop with a list it
helps you move through the grocery store more efficiently. My favorite tip about a list is
to write it in the order that you shop at the grocery store. For example, I always start in
produce and end in dairy (if I am buying dairy). That is how my grocery store is laid out
and my list follows my path. I can get in and out while minimizing that task and the time
5. Shop Your Kitchen First
If you thought it sounded crazy to write down every ingredient in your menu plan here is
why I suggest doing that. Nothing is worse than going to make your favorite recipe only
to discover you are missing an ingredient. No time to run to the store to get it. This
causes immediate frustration and puts you one step closer to calling the pizza guy! If
you write down all your ingredients for each recipe you can give your kitchen a quick
shop and cross off the things you have as if you were in the grocery store shopping. This
helps fight back frustrations, keeps you from overbuying and allows you to go through
your kitchen to check on pantry staples. It’s an easy principal that really works like a
6. Schedule a Time
I shop with my list on the same day of every week. This helps keep my perishable
rotation in check and helps maintain my staple item supplies. It also means I have
scheduled the task and it will surely get done if I have carved out a specific time for it.
Chances are if you don’t schedule tasks they won’t get done. Right? I know this is true
in my busy household. I am the complete opposite of my mom. She loves loves loves to
go grocery shopping, not me. Can you believe it? I am food blogger that hates going
grocery shopping. My mom loves it so much that if we happen to be talking on the
phone and she asks what I am doing, if I say I am on my way to the grocery store she
says, “Oh I love the grocery stores in Colorado, I wish I was with you!” Are you kidding
me? All I can think is, I wish you were going for me!. It is so efficient to schedule a time
to do your grocery shopping. If you have your completed list and the list is in the order of
your grocery store layout, you will not be wandering around aimlessly trying to decide
what to make for breakfast; you will be in and out in a flash!
I guess you noticed that I did not give you any specific meal plans. There is a reason for
that. I want you to be creative and think about how you eat. I thought it more affirming if
I taught you tricks to make meal planning a snap for the type of cooking and eating you
do. Use the worksheets to further your quest and refine your skills. There are more tips
there to help you get started and make your own amazing, new meal planning habits!