I think I've finally found a meal planning system that works for our family and that I love. Let's bring it in for a group hug! (I've written about my quest for a perfect grocery shopping and meal system here and here and even talked about it on the podcast!)
The trick for us has been to focus on preparing meal ingredients instead of a meal plan. It's a slight but significant difference. We've also found that spending some time doing meal prep on Sundays is key to easy, healthy meals throughout the week. Our meal prep this Sunday (pictured above) included preparing salad greens, quinoa-beet burgers, Tracy's killer granola (OMG why have I never made my own granola before?), and sweet potato freezer burritos.
Week after week I would sit down to make our weekly meal plan and grocery list and immediately feel stressed. I actually love to grocery shop (at Trader Joe's!) and to cook so I couldn't figure out why I hated this task so much. And then I realized: this doesn't work for us right now.
So many times we wouldn't end up making a meal I had planned because we would just need to throw something together and following directions seemed like too much effort. Or Chris would suddenly have an evening event scheduled and I wouldn't be up for trying to make a full meal while also handling Dashiell's dinner and bedtime. So Chris and I finally came to the realization that specific set meals just don't work for our family, at least right now.
What we've found that does work really well for us is to shop for healthy vegetarian meal staples such as tofu, lentils, qunioa, vegetables, and fruit, to spend some time on Sunday doing meal prep, and then to create recipe-free meals during the week.
I've found that if we spend about two hours on meal prep on a Sunday we can eat healthy and easy meals throughout the week. On Sundays, we do a few of the following to get several days worth of meals prepped:
+ Prep vegetables (cut off greens, de-stem, peel, etc.) from our weekly farmer's market share so that they are easy to cook or eat raw throughout the week. I love to shred raw, peeled beets and carrots to have on hand as an easy addition to salads.
+ Chop and wash romaine lettuce and greens for easy weekday salads. This has really helped us eat more salads.
+ Roast chopped vegetables such as sweet potatoes and broccoli (oven at 425 degrees, ~20 minutes).
+ Make a batch of quinoa (2 cups dry quinoa to 4 cups water). Sometimes we freeze half of the cooked quinoa to use later in the week or the next week. Cooked quinoa is a great staple to have on hand because it's healthy (it's a complete protein!), filling and versatile. We use quinoa in stir fries, in burritos, on salad, and as a side or main dish when mixed up with various things such as beans, roasted veggies and feta.
+ Make one large-batch meal such as a soup, black bean burgers or Yumm sauce. We love eating Yumm sauce over quinoa and roasted veggies or as a sauce in burritos.
+ Bake a healthy snack, like blueberry snack cake or granola. I love having something I can grab for a quick breakfast, a mid-morning snack at work, or as a snack for Dashiell.
I've always loved to spend Sundays in the kitchen, such as cooking a big pot of soup, so this builds on an established routine. By focusing on prepping healthy meal ingredients, our meals are consistently healthy and we're eating what we buy at the store instead of watching it languish in the refrigerator. So far this approach is working beautifully for us and it's helped Chris and me to be more in-synch about meals. He always preferred to be more spur of the moment but I'm much more of a planner. I think we've found a great happy medium!