Pour a cup of Joe. This is a bit lengthy, but worth the read for one or two nuggets of information. “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” Alexander Graham Bell said it so it must be true.
Sunday- our day to prepare for the week. That means cleaning, laundry, meals, writing down activities, everything gets organized on this day to make a better – stress free week.
Let’s talk meal planning. YAY! I love meal planning because it is such a tremendous way to manage your money, and for the record, your sanity.
I met a fellow on a flight from Seattle to Atlanta and we, of course, chatted lots. He was coming from some kind of entrepreneurial workshop and heading back to college. We talked about all things “life”. I had my yogurt, fruit, almonds and water bottle. He made note as he was going to have to purchase food on the airplane. Notoriously known for healthy and fresh food selections. I said “Nate”, I think that was his name, it is all about the preparation. We prepare for business meetings, Christmas, vacations, dinner parties, birthday celebrations, you get the point. We can prepare for our meals. It is simple, just to be honest. Is it fun? Maybe not. Does it take time. That is a big YES, but you can decide that for yourself.
Here is what I do to make sure our family stays on budget and when I am crazy from a full day, I can look up at our chalk board of options and choose one for dinner. Done and done.
Here is how it works~
- Plan all my meals on Sunday for the week. Mentioned above.
- Make a list of what the meals of the week are and write them on a blackboard.
- Make simple-ish meals.
- Everyone helps out (it truly takes a village).
- Prep what you can in advance (chop veggies and make a big salad).
- Less is more.
- Don’t go for perfect, go for good enough.
- Anything in life that is truly beneficial takes time to make a habit and routine.
- Decide what is most important and let the rest go. If laundry can wait, let it wait.
- Decide your budget, don’t go over and don’t buy anything not on your list no matter how good the sale 😉
- Eat before you go shopping. You’ll be more rationale. Trust me.
Prepare before you go to the grocery store. This takes some time and practice at the beginning, but if you want a less chaotic week and a more thoughtful experience, give this a try.
First get yourself a blackboard (thank you dear Lisa for introducing me to your blackboard). You will see in a minute where this fits in.
On the weekend sit down and think about all the food you will need to have on hand to feed your family wholesome, easy, delicious meals. Include breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, as well as, snacks. I have a grocery list. I start with the end in mind and work backward.
- Dinner: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
- Lunch: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.
- Breakfast: same
- Snacks: for lunch, after school or just to have around.
No matter how hard we try mornings are just a struggle. So, make it easy. Limit breakfast to food that is easy to prepare and readily available. Our “go to’s” are: Protein shakes, Trader Joe’s mini-pancakes, oatmeal and cereal. Cereal varies from week to week. Typically, something that says, “Organic or non-GMO”. If they are “actually” good for you or not is another story, but I sleep better thanks to the folks in the cereal marketing department. On a RARE occasion, I may have time for a scrambled egg or leftover pancakes from Sunday.
I make myself a “shake” every day- like Vega vegan shake. It is a scoop of the mix and 8oz of water. Done.
I prepare the night before as a rule (80% of the time) and we have a list of options. Queue blackboard. I leave the options on the blackboard for the kids to “choose”. We recently bought thermos’s (MakExpress Thermos) to broaden the variety of options. Note the thermos you have to prepare in the morning. Heat up whatever you choose and add the hot meal to the thermos. Don’t forget the spoon. As the kids cross off the list what they have eaten by Friday what’s left is left. Usually tuna sandwiches in our house. Just sayin’.
We also have a snack basket in our pantry, thanks to my mom 🙂 Literally a basket with snacks in it. It has – fruit snacks (think Annie’s gummies), granola bars (Cliff Bars or Cascade Farm Chocolate Chip) Fruit squeeze pouches (Go Go Squeezes), Zone bars. Next to the basket is often goldfish, crackers, or pretzels that the kids can make snack bags.
Teamwork: Make the kids pack their snacks and water bottles every night and add them to their lunch bags. In the morning, you only need to throw in the water bottle and the lunch meal.
Here are some of our lunch options:
- Tuna sandwiches
- PB & J (oldie but a goodie)
- Turkey and cheese sandwiches
- Soup- chicken noodle is a favorite- Thermos meal
- Pasta and tomato sauce (Annie’s) Thermos meal
- Cheese raviolis (Annie’s) Thermos meal
- Egg and Cheese on a bagel
- Bagel with cream cheese
- Cheese, pickles, banana peppers, lettuce sandwich (I know, fancy)
- BLT (with vegetarian bacon)
- English muffin pizzas (these don’t typically travel well for us) but I have not given up on it yet!
I also pack a container (Ziplock snack containers) with carrots, broccoli, apples, grapes, melon (not my kids favorite I must admit). I will sometimes add ranch dressing or hummus for dipping in a smaller snack container.
Not sure how adventurous you and your family are but there are some other great alternatives for sandwiches that I am happy to share that will have you looking forward to lunch. Like these that can also double as dinner: (Black Bean- Feta Quinoa Bowl)(Chickpea Salad Wrap)
Each week when I am making my grocery list I ask the kids what they want for lunch, what snacks they want to take to school and what they want for dinner!! It is a team sport in this house. They usually say, “I don’t care”, but I know that is not true.
Put your “dinner” options on your blackboard every week. Make meals that are simple with few ingredients. Every day I make a salad. I get the large bag of lettuce from BJ’s and almost every day I cut up, add cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and broccoli. I always have chicken or vegetable broth on hand. Broth are KEY in making most dinners for me.
Dinner is typically a salad and whatever else I put on the side. We have always given our kids broccoli and carrots (or whatever vegetable) with ranch dressing, or sautéed spinach, or salad and THEN they have what we are having for “dinner”. That way I assure they get their veggies first. If you don’t eat your veggies, there is nothing else 🙂
Life and health hack:
As much as you can, chop, prepare and store. For example, I also buy the big bag of broccoli from BJ’s and when I get home I take out 2 storage containers and chop up the broccoli. Frozen veggies are a great alternative too!
Then during the week just grab a handful and throw it on a salad or steam and throw over rice or the veggie on its own- quick and simple. My daughter happens to like steamed broccoli and parmesan cheese.
So- to review- vegetables are – salad, bag of spinach or chopped veggies, or frozen veggies from the frozen section of your grocery store that you can steam or sauté on the stove (in broth). I have a pampered chef steam basket for the microwave, but I will say throwing a pan on the stove with some broth and a few cups of veggies with a little garlic (you can use fresh or jar) is simple and quick.
Dinner recipes/ idea:
I will admit I always have a few quick GO TO, easy meals in the freezer. For example I will have an organic chicken nugget option like (Applegate Chicken Tenders), a frozen pizza (Paul Newman Pizza), cheese ravioli’s (large bag from BJ’s), taco’s (a family favorite) – I get the turkey chop meat from BJ’s and the kids typically have taco night. Not too much fuss there!
Here are some of the recipes I love:
Crockpots are a little gift from heaven sometimes:
- (Crock Pot Honey Chicken)
- (Weight Watchers Slow Cooker South Indian Lentil Stew) Seriously, my favorite.
Other dinner choice:
- Sauté 1 onion and garlic in soup pot
- Add 1 can diced tomatoes (large can)
- Add 1 can lentil soup (like Progresso)
- Add diced zucc/ squash/ carrots/ celery
- Chicken broth (usually I add 3 cups) enough to have liquid
- Simmer about an hour
- 15 minutes before removing from heat add 1 can cannellini beans and 8 oz. fresh spinach. You can also use elbow pasta instead of beans.
- Add parmesan cheese and serve with salad.
- So, simple it is silly.
- Jasmine Rice or Brown Rice
- In a deep pan (2-3 ) bags of frozen mixed veggies
- Stir fry sauce – 2/3 cup low sodium soy sauce; 1/4 brown sugar, 1 tsp cornstarch (optional: 1 tsp minced fresh ginger).
- Stir the sauce in with the veggies and cook until done. Serve over rice.
- *If you want to add chicken you can cut up raw chicken the night before and marinate in the sauce in a bowl in the refrigerator. Cook the chicken first then add veggies to the pan.
- Literally you can put anything in a quesadilla
- 1 package whole wheat tortillas
- Cheddar cheese
- Combine in a separate bowl- refried beans/ back beans/ 1 tsp cumin/ 1 tsp chili powder – simmer letting flavors combine.
- You can boil 1- 2 chicken breasts, then shred
- Sauté onion and green peppers
- In a frying pan spray pan, add tortilla with any combination of the above.
- Serve with sour cream and your favorite salsa. Ours is (Garden Fresh Gourmet Salsa) you can get it at Harris Teeter.
- You can throw chicken in a crock pot with broth on low and serve over rice with this fun honey sauce (in sauce pan reduce 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar + 2 tbsp honey), or just plain BBQ sauce. Steamed broccoli on the side.
- You can boil chicken and throw it over rice with black beans, salsa, cheddar cheese and a dash of sour cream – wha la – burrito bowl
- Boiled chicken, shredded with pasta and sauce – hearty meal served with a salad.
It’s a wrap:
- Anything can go in a tortilla:
- Cut up a sweet potato (skin on or off, your call), chop pieces super small and it will soften faster, throw in boiling water. Boil until potato softens. Take out and mash, add back beans, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp chili powder, cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Serve with chopped lettuce and tomatoes in a wrap with some cheddar cheese, our favorite salsa and sour cream. Super yummy!
- Just cheese.
- Chicken and sauté spinach.
- Taco meat, cheese, onions.
- Literally anything….
Staples in my pantry:
- Jasmine Rice
- Brown Rice
- Beans, lots and lots of beans
- Diced tomatoes
- Pasta sauce
- Spices: Cumin, Chili Powder, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, S & P, Soy sauce, broth (chicken or veggie) other spices depending on the recipe!!
Staples in the freezer:
- Veggies – stock up when they are on sale
- Chicken tenders (organic – just because the marketing makes me feel better)
- Bread (whole grain), Bagels, English muffins
- Yogurt tubes (great for lunches as they melt enough by lunch time)
- Chop meat (usually a lean meat like turkey or chicken)