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What’s for Dinner?

I’m sure you’ve heard that question once or twice.  Maybe once or twice this week…

Last week I gave you a bit of a teaser, and left you hanging…  But, I’m not going to do that today!  I’m finally going to spill the beans about how to make the perfect meal plan.

I have a number of meals that I can whip up quickly.  Like tonight:  wild salmon, topped with lemon juice, dill, and garlic granules.  With veg and some sort of carb on the side.  Tonight’s veg & carb was leftover from a few nights ago.  Delicious!  However, tonight’s meal was an anomaly, though.  Normally, if I whip something up, it’s not well planned.  But when I plan, I definitely eat much better!

I plan meals on Sundays.  My Sunday mornings go a bit like this:

  • Wake up & grab the paper
  • Make coffee & breakfast
  • Eat breakfast while reading the paper & clipping coupons
  • Break out the Grid
  • Review the coupons, food in the fridge, freezer & pantry for what’s best this week (pull out the grocery circulars, too – ours come on Wednesdays)
  • Complete the Grid
What?  You don’t have a Grid?!?  I found this great mousepad at a local stationery store.  It’s a perfect meal planning grid!  It’s basically just 7 columns wide by 7 columns long, so it fits the days of the week & the Meal / Snack combination.
 I start by filling out any meals that I know I’ll be eating out – Thursday night dinner, for example.  I’ll just make a big X, and indicate “out” – or, even include nights when we plan take-out (like the night that our cleaners have just cleaned the house – I certainly don’t cook those nights!).  I also tend to X out snacks on the weekends, since I’m usually either grabbing something or (more likely) having bigger meals at mealtimes, so I don’t plan for snacks then.

After that, I’ll start with dinners.  I’ll move some chicken, fish, or beef from the freezer (usually enough for 2 meals) to defrost in the fridge.  I also base my decisions on the veg that I have in the fridge.  We get a CSA delivery once every 2 weeks.  I do my best to use that up within a week and a half with planned meals.  So, if I get celery root (for example), I’ll search for recipes that have celery root.

I have  few go-to cookbooks, as well as a file folder of recipes from magazines (that I’ve torn out).  If I have something odd in my CSA bin that week, I’ll head to the inter webs to find a tasty-sounding recipe.  I’ll usually try 1 to 2 recipes per week that I haven’t tried before, and mix in a few meals that I’m super comfortable making (if the new recipes don’t turn out, I don’t want to be disappointed a few days in a row!).

Once I finish the dinners, it’s really easy to complete the lunches!  For lunch on Tuesday, for example, I eat leftovers from Monday’s dinner.  I’ll do my best to mix it up though.  If I had grilled chicken breast with roasted veg for dinner, I’ll top that on arugula and add some goat cheese for a great salad!  Since we typically make 4 meals’ worth of food for dinner, for my hubby & I, this works out perfectly!  Once we’re finished with lunch the next day, no more leftovers!  (But, if we’re making something larger, like lasagna, I’ll add in a few more days / nights of leftovers.  It’s all in the plan!)

On to breakfast!  I have a number of go-to breakfasts that I have every single week.  4 hardboiled egg whites with some sort of fruit.  A smoothie with frozen fruit, protein powder, and oatmeal.  Egg white scramble with loads of veggies.  Oatmeal with berries, granola, and nut butter.  The list goes on!  So, I mix a few of those in there (keeping in mind any early meetings), and plop those into the Grid.

Snacks are easy.  Every snack has protein & some type of carb.  So, I have a number of go-to snacks, too:  greek yogurt with fruit or granola, almonds with fruit, nut butter with celery, cheese and fruit or veg, 2 hardboiled eggs and veg, granola and fruit.  I make sure that I’m not having too much nut butter in 1 day – so I’ll be sure that on a day when I’m having oatmeal or a smoothie with nut butter, I won’t also have a snack with nut butter.  It’s all about balance!

Now your Grid is complete!

Time to plan the grocery shopping!  We shop at Trader Joe’s or Sprout’s on a weekly basis – your local store would work too.  I hit up Costco about once every 3 to 4 weeks for the major items (wild salmon or organic chicken breast – which can be frozen, although I prefer my fish never frozen).

I flip over the Grid, and start determining, based on the items on the Grid, what I need to buy.  I’ll separate the page into various sections of the grocery store:  Pantry, Dairy, Meat / Seafood, Frozen, Produce.  Then I’ll start adding in the ingredients from my recipes and the grid boxes, along with how much I need.  How many tubs of yogurt?  What size of Vegetable broth?  (Would a can work, or do I need one of those 4-cup boxes?)  I’ll then take stock of standards that we always have on hand, to be sure that I’m all set.  Do I need more garlic?  How are we on whole wheat flour?  (I usually have a list going of staples, like those – so I won’t forget).

Most Importantly:  When I’m in the store, I stick to the list!  Since I already know what I want is on sale, I’ve already factored that in.  And I don’t let myself get sucked in by something that looks tasty at the store.  Because if it’s not in my house, I won’t eat it!

Do you meal / menu plan?  Any tricks that you’d recommend for me?

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