Do you enjoy meal planning and meal prepping? From my experience, some people can’t live without their detailed meal plans while others find it too restrictive and boring.
And, should we ALL be meal planning our socks off? Does this matter? It depends. Ask yourself: Is the quality of the food you eat affected by your meal planning (or lack of)? Do you have a well-stocked kitchen that helps you cook a well-rounded meal in under 20 minutes? Do you find yourself ordering take out or going through the drive through multiple times a week? What is the impact of your meal planning (or lack of) on your finances?
In practice, we all have different lifestyles, schedules, and priorities. Your solution may look nothing like my family’s solution. Where do we find common ground? We all want to eat REAL, MINIMALLY PROCESSED, NUTRIENT DENSE foods most of the time.
DETAILED MEAL PLANNING IS A GREAT TOOL IF:
- You are new to eating home-made meals and you need a launching pad to get started.
- You are stuck in a rut with the same old recipes and want to switch it up.
- You are making major dietary changes and learning to eat a different way (e.g. you are learning to manage IBS symptoms with a low FODMAP diet).
- You are short on time during the week and now want to get all the groceries and prepping sorted ahead of time.
- You love doing it!
However, if planning out all the meals for the week is a daunting task and it does not appeal to you, you can try FLEXIBLE MEAL PLANNING. Instead of creating a play by play of your week’s meals, you cook ahead some foods that can be easily combined into multiple dishes during the week.
HOW TO DO FLEXIBLE MEAL PLANNING
Write down a few types of meals you want to eat during the week. For example, a Mediterranean bowl, tacos, and an Asian inspired stir fry. Then prep ahead a few food components:
*Cook a grain like brown rice or quinoa (or make cauliflower rice if you are grain free!).
*Roast a couple trays of veggies (bell peppers, asparagus, broccoli, carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, etc.).
*Marinade proteins or sides: chicken breast, fish fillet, tofu, portobello mushrooms, etc.
*Stock up on condiments that can help you switch up the flavor profiles and keep the meals interesting:
- Mediterranean inspired: olives, artichoke hearts, beans, hummus, tahini, feta cheese.
- Mexican inspired: green onions, cilantro, salsa, avocado, lime, tortillas.
- Asian inspired: peanut butter dressing, sesame seeds, fresh cabbage, kimchi.
You can pick one hour twice a week and prep meal components while listening to your favorite podcast or catching up with your go-to Netflix show!
Or, you can batch cook some meals during the weekends. Double or triple the amount of food you cook over the weekend. If you make pancakes or chia pudding – triple the recipe. If you are roasting veggies – do a second round. Basically, build the prep into what you are ALREADY COOKING during the weekend and it won’t feel as much of a task.
The goal with flexible meal planning is to have versatile foods that are already cooked that you can mix and match into different meals.
Flexible meal planning has been really helpful for my family. Prepping a whole week of recipes does not work for us… but we also can’t scramble last minute since we have little ones that get cranky and have meltdowns if dinner isn’t served by 6 (or 5:30 some days!). In moments of kid craziness, I know I can quickly combine together some precooked foods that are waiting for us in the fridge and make a delicious dinner without stress.
In summary - you can eat healthful, nutrient dense meals during the week without needing a step by step road map. Making some staples ahead of time and stocking on fun condiments can help you put together yummy home-made meals in minutes!
SAFETY NOTE: while most grains and cooked veggies should last about 5 days in the fridge, always double check none of it has gone bad. I find that, although, grains like quinoa and brown rice taste better when cooked in broth, they go bad faster than if they are cooked in plain water. The trick to flavor is to add herbs and spices (and olive oil or grass-fed butter when you reheat!).
GIVE THESE EASY MEAL PLANNING RECIPES A TRY THIS WEEK!
*Asparagus, cucumber & feta salad with a balsamic vinaigrette. You can prepare ahead to make this recipe by washing and trimming the asparagus, washing and dicing the cucumbers, and specially by cooking the lentils!
*Curried chicken stew (slow cooker recipe). You can prepare ahead to make this recipe by washing and dicing the sweet potato.
*Freezer veggie breakfast burritos. You can prepare ahead to make this recipe by cleaning and dicing the red onion, the sweet potatoes, and the bell peppers.
NUTRITION FUN FOR THE KIDDOS
*Involve your child in meal planning. Ask them about their favorite meals you make at home and add those to your go-to list. Being an active participant of meal planning makes children more invested in the meals and more likely to get excited about them!
*Have a healthy food tasting day! Offer different kinds of healthy foods to taste on a special theme day. For example, on healthy apple day offer green apples, red apples, dried apples, pureed apple and canned apples.
*Put fine motor skills to practice! Create a ‘vegetable person’ using real vegetables or pictures of vegetables. Help children use toothpicks to make their vegetable person stand up and be three dimensional. If using real vegetables, encourage children to eat their vegetable person for morning or afternoon snack.
*Yummy snack maker. Use flash cards or cut out pictures of foods from brochures to make a healthy, tasty snack. Some examples are toast, cheese and tomato, fruit with yoghurt, capsicum and carrot sticks with mashed avocado, scrambled eggs with English muffins
For other ideas on fun nutrition activities go here.