I have had several people on facebook ask me about meal planning. How do I handle it? What kinds of foods does our family eat? How do I manage to feed our family on a military budget?
Let me start by saying, it isn’t easy. And we still have a long way to go. My children are picky. But I force them to attempt a variety of foods, whether they want to or not. My husband and I struggle to get enough time to sit down for a good meal, let alone with all 5 of us together. Things get crazy and chaotic. And sometimes we eat in shifts. Oftentimes Aaron and I eat in front of the tv.
So we are far from perfect. We are a normal family, just like you. Trying to do what is best.
A few months ago I revamped our way of meal planning. I was getting tired of the “What’s for dinner?” question that would come. I would have meals planned out, but not what we were going to eat on what day. It was great knowing we could eat meals A, B or C, but it was also very difficult because we would have to narrow it down and might not feel like any of those meals. I found that we were not eating a lot of the meals I had planned because we just didn’t feel like it. So we would go off of the meals I had planned and buy something else. It was just not working.
What I have found to work is to organize my weeks based upon categories. Now, this is not an original concept. If you google meal planning you will probably find a handful (or two) of blogs that talk about this concept. Honestly, I don’t remember reading it on any particular website, but I know that I saw a similar idea posted on pinterest, and it reminded me of the way we used to eat growing up.
Now growing up we always had predictable meals. Spaghetti on Monday, Burritos on Tuesday…so on and so forth. And I hated it. Hated having the same meals over and over and over again. So I didn’t want to get stuck in that rut. But the concept works. Especially for a tight budget.
So here’s my take on it.
Each day of the week we have a different “category.” Then I plan meals based upon that category. I don’t purchase things for a specific meal but things that I know we like that fit into those categories. Let me show you how it works.
Wednesday: Whatever (leftovers or quick meals)
So when I do my shopping list I take a look at these categories and think about what kinds of foods that we like to eat. Here’s how it looks:
Mexican: We like to have burritos a lot. But we also enjoy quesadillas, soft tacos, and fajitas.
So I can get chicken breasts, salsa, cheese, tortillas, beans (I get dried beans from WIC), and brown rice. If there are any good avocados available I will pick up one to make some guacamole. And fresh salsa is always best. So sometimes I will pick up the ingredients to make fresh salsa (tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, cilantro, green onions, lemon juice, and garlic). These ingredients work well for any of the three options. If I want I can add in bell peppers, some spinach (or lettuce), etc. These veggies work wonderfully in quesadillas and fajitas.
For those of you who are following the Trim Healthy Mama plan, here is how I alter my Mexican Mondays. First of all, we buy the low carb whole wheat Mission tortillas. These are great for my diabetic son as well.
If I decide to have beans and rice on my burrito or with my fajitas, this makes it an E meal. This means no guac and low fat cheese. I LOVE Cabot extra sharp, 90% reduced cheddar. Because I use boneless, skinless chicken breasts the fat is very minimal in the whole meal because I do not use any fat in our refried beans (I simply mash the beans in my food processor with some salsa and then reheat it).
My brown rice I like to use the boiling method. Basically you cook it like you would pasta. Heat up a big pot of water. Add your rice. Let cook for 30 minutes with the lid off. Drain the water from the rice. Put it back in the pot and place the lid on it for 10 minutes. There will be a little bit of water in the rice still which is good. The water will then steam the rice, cooking it the rest of the way. Then you can add seasonings. I usually make up a decent amount and put the leftovers in freezer bags to save for another night. (Works really well for stir fry.)
After cooking I season the rice with chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, and pepper. Sometimes I add a little salsa and sometimes I add just onions, garlic and a little bit of tomatoes. Depends on my mood.
Now, my kids won’t eat our burritos. But they love “cheese crips.” So I make them up tortillas with cheese crisped in the skillet (quesadilla to the rest of the world) and serve it with some salsa and a few corn chips. They love it!
Italian: For Italian we have a variety of choices. Spaghetti, baked ziti, pizza, or alfredo.
In our pantry I always have a variety of pastas. Spaghetti noodles, ziti, and elbow are the most common. I have just switched us over to Dreamfields pasta which is supposedly great for blood sugars. It seems to work for us, but may not work for you. There are some other great pastas like the veggie one from Rotoni that we also like.
I also always buy at least one jar or can of spaghetti sauce, a package of lean ground turkey sausage, parmesan cheese, and pepperoni. If I know that we are having ziti or pizza I will pick up mozzarella and ricotta (these are also great THM items).
It takes a little more work to fit Italian food into the THM plan but it can be done. Remember that Dreamfields is on plan as long as you stick to 1/5 of the box. I try to stick to 1/6th since that is one serving size according to the box. Make sure your sauce is sugar free.
When I have spaghetti I am usually in E meal mode and add a slice of bread to go along with it (that is in plan).
Ziti can be done in S mode if using ricotta, and full fat mozzarella. This is a good meal to use real sausage if desired or to add some good pepperoni chunks. Just make sure to keep your sauce and pasta amounts down so that your carbs do not exceed 11 grams. Alfredo is also truly an S meal due to the fat in the sauce. Add some chicken for protein.
My kids don’t really like most of these options. But they do like noodles with some cheese on it. So I will make up whatever pasta we are eating and add some cheese. S loves pepperoni so I give him a few slices of that to go with it. And I always give them a small amount of what we are eating (so spaghetti sauce, alfredo sauce, etc, on the side).
Pizza is a bit tricky. I have yet to really figure it out. But generally what I do is make my family pizza and then make an S crust from the Trim Healthy Mama book for myself. I then add a tablespoon of spaghetti sauce, pepperoni, tomatoes, spinach, bell peppers, a couple of onion slices, and a whole bunch of cheese. Yum! I would love to figure out a way to use Gwen’s bread as a crust in a way that it would fit as an E meal but I have yet to do so.
Salads go great with all these meals. I am not a big dressing fan so I am quite content with either lemon juice (if its an E meal) or some olive oil mixed with lemon juice (if its an S meal). My husband uses low carb Italian dressing. Gwen has a recipe for a great ranch dressing option that can also be used.
Asian: For Asian we are a bit boring. We really like beef and broccoli, and chicken stir fry.
My husband loves steak. So he buys steak in bulk at Sam’s and we freeze it to use for a variety of different meals. Beef and broccoli works wonderfully with steak versus the roast that many recipes online suggest. If making it THM style use shirtaki noodles (konjac or yam noodles) to make it a S meal. Otherwise brown rice works wonderfully under the beef and broccoli. (By the way, I buy frozen broccoli to use throughout the pay period in a variety of ways. It works wonderfully in this recipe as well.)
Another favorite is chicken stir fry. The ingredients for this are easy to come across too. The rice I make up on Monday’s for the Mexican meal and then freeze. The chicken comes in the package with the chicken I use on Monday as well.
This is a perfect E meal if served over rice and cooked with a minimal amount of oil, or a great S meal if served over shirtaki, and cooked with a healthy amount of coconut oil. Just use egg whites instead of whole eggs if making it an E meal.