One of the many, many questions we get when it comes to our new dietary regime is, "How on earth do you plan meals?!"
Really, y'all, it's not as hard as you think - and I'm going to share our secrets with you. Keep reading to learn my secrets to organize your meal prep and planning.
Before you can even think about meal-planning, you need to have certain things in your pantry and fridge - and you need to get rid of other things.
The first step, if you're looking to make a nutritional change, is to throw out all the junk food: candy, cookies, crackers, bread, pasta, rice, sugar, flour, etc (although, we do keep a little bit of sugar and flour on hand just in case). Just throw it out.
Once you've evacuated the no-no foods, it's time to stock up on healthy essentials. Some items we always keep in stock at Maison de Stevenson:
I know a lot of you are looking at that list and going, "Has she lost her ever-loving mind?! That stuff is expensive!" And it is. I won't lie. We've seen a slight uptick in our grocery bill over the past couple of months. Rice, pasta, and bread are all cheap, cheap, cheap - unfortunately, they're cheap in nutrition, too.
While our grocery bill has gone up, we've also noticed that our waste has gone down. We throw away almost nothing. We've started saving chicken bones and veggie scraps to make our own broth. Snack veggies that have gone a little soft get put into soup. Fresh, healthy food gets eaten because we don't have any addictive, shelf-stable sugar- and flour-filled alternatives to fall back on. We've also stopped eating out as much, because it's just easier to cook what we know we can eat, rather than go to a restaurant and have to substitute side dishes and worry about how something is prepared.
Still, there are certain stores at which we buy certain things, whether for pricing and/or quality reasons. Here's an idea of where we shop and what we buy at each place.
Trader Joe's // My absolute favorite. We go after church every Sunday, and it's where we get most of our groceries, especially vegetables. It's also a great place to get raw nuts, because they have a huge variety. I love their organic heavy cream because it literally has no other ingredients than organic heavy cream. We almost always get eggs here, as well as coconut oil. And it's great for inexpensive but delicious dark chocolate and wine.
Lowe's Foods // My second-favorite, because it's literally walking distance from our house. While it's always our go-to for last-minute forgotten ingredients (I always forget something), they have amazing sausages at their Sausage Works, and they often run great specials on meats. They have fantastic whole-bean bulk coffee, which I love because I can get as much or as little as I want of a particular flavor. They also have a great produce section, as well as a pre-cut "Pick and Prep" section to cut down on your prep time. We LOVE their spicy guacamole.
Costco // Our go-to for most meat purchases. We buy the giant bag of frozen chicken breasts here, as well as the big packs of filet mignon and ground turkey - we simply freeze what we don't use. Also, we get a lot of wine here - B just can't go to Costco without buying at least one bottle.
Aldi // Although not wildly convenient to our house, Aldi has decent cheap produce and canned goods. They also have a lot of inexpensive cheeses, although very few raw milk ones. It's a great place to pick up a bag of quinoa or lentils, a jar of olives, or raw nuts, although they don't have quite the variety of TJ's.
Whole Foods // They don't call it "whole paycheck" for nothin'. But we're supposed to only eat raw milk cheeses instead of pasteurized (we don't always do this...), and Whole Foods has the best selection we've found so far. This is also a good pickup spot for any exotic ingredients, like Thai red curry paste, or fancy dark chocolate bars.
Bi-Lo, Publix, etc // Since Lowe's opened up near our house, we've rarely visited a Bi-Lo or Publix (a "normal" grocery store, if you will). But occasionally we'll be coming from work or elsewhere and need a random ingredient. It's become our last line of defense.
Here's the fun part. I plan roughly 3 meals at a time, and we go grocery shopping several times a week (French habits die hard). We cook dinner almost every night, and we take the leftovers for lunch the next day. Occasionally, toward the end of the week, we'll have a "use shit up" meal to finish random leftovers (usually on a Thursday), but we cook almost every night.
This is where you're going to have to take stock of the way your family eats and your schedule and decide what meal-planning option will work best for you. We cook every night and take our leftovers for lunch the next day. But that might not work for you. You might prefer to cook every other night, eat leftovers for dinner, and take something else altogether for lunch. That's totally okay. You do you.
I have a specific notebook where I write out the menu for each week, along with a list of any needed ingredients at the bottom. I leave it on our kitchen counter so B can easily find and see what we're doing each day and what we need. It's actually really, really simple but it does take a little bit of forethought. However - a few minutes of prep work each weekend make the weeks go so much smoother.
Here's how to meal-plan:
So there you have it. Simple healthy meal-planning in a nutshell. It's not necessarily easy, but it's simple - believe me, there's a difference.
You have to be committed to spending a little bit of time planning. You also have to be committed to grocery-shopping at least twice a week, preferably more. But once you get the hang of it, it's truly second nature. We don't even think about it anymore. It's just what we do.
Questions about meal planning? Let me know in the comments below - I'm more than happy to help you and your family take a step toward a calmer, healthier dinnertime!
E and B