You’ve just finished another long day at work. Or perhaps the day was spent chauffeuring the children from one appointment to another. In any event, it’s dinner time, everyone is hungry, and you have no idea what you’re going to make.
The easy thing to do is to pick up the phone, and call for pizza. But… now you’re serving your family a meal that is high in calories, sodium, and cost. Let’s not mention the fact that any concept of portion size just flew out the window with the last of your willpower.
Sound even remotely familiar? And how does this fit with the New Year’s resolutions that you just made?
Meal planning is not only a fantastic idea, but essential for any family. Meal planning introduces organisation that saves time in meal preparation, money spent at the grocery store, and reduces the amount of food spoilage.
Before heading out to your local grocery store, or even before sitting down and making a list of potential meals, the first thing that needs to be done is an inventory of what food you do have on hand. This will not only inspire you with potential meal ideas, but it will also give you a chance to rotate the stock you do have, and use/remove items as they become short-dated. Don’t forget to take stock of the food taking up space in your freezer.
For example, if I look in my freezer, I can see I’ve got a roasting chicken – a bit long in the tooth, but still edible. It needs to be used. Behind the chicken is half a bag of kernelled corn. In my pantry, I have several bags of pasta, tins of tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, and rice. In the fridge, I have fresh carrots, celery, and an onion. My spice collection is fairly well-rounded.
Right there, I have at least three meals.
Day One: Chicken goes in the crock-pot first thing in the morning, with half an onion (diced), water, and spices. Because I have a few minutes, I peel a couple carrots, slice them, and throw them back in the fridge. When dinner time rolls around, the chicken is done (smells divine), and all I have to do is cook the carrots, corn and rice. Balanced, very little fuss.
Day Two: After the chicken carcass has cooled enough to remove the bones, I put the crock-pot (with the onion and water still in it) into the fridge, and the chicken in a separate dish. Once cooled overnight, I can skim much of the oil from on top the of the water, and am left with a fantastic broth. Half the remaining chicken goes back into the crock-pot with more water, fresh carrots and celery added to it. Leave it to cook all day. If there were any carrots, corn or rice left over from dinner the previous night, they can be added about an hour before dinner. Voila, dinner for day two. Any remaining soup can be portioned into containers and frozen (don’t forget to label the container with the contents and date).
Day Three: Because the crockpot is now empty, I’ll use it again. Combine the remaining chicken with tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, celery and the other half of the onion. Season to taste and cook on low all day. Come dinner time, prepare pasta, and serve. Any extra sauce can also be frozen for use at a later date. Alternately, left-overs can also be packed into lunches.
Go back to your inventory list. As you compose your list and see potential meals, you’ll also begin to see potential holes – those ingredients that you’re missing. Those items need to be added to your shopping list.
Now that you have two lists started, it’s time to start the actual meal planning.
The first thing you want to do is use up items that are short-dated. If the item is short-dated, and you have other ingredients to make a complete meal, even better. Use a notebook to record your menu, and a calendar to plan the date of the meal.
Or, if you are technically inclined, you can use any number or on-line or down-loadable programs to assist you. I recommend browsing livestrong.com/myplate. There, you will find healthy recipes and an amazing database with the nutritional values of thousands of foods (it’s probably actually millions, but I don’t want to exaggerate). Canadian Living has a free meal planner, as well as tons of useful articles… I also recommend checking them out.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at putting together the actual meal plan, and taking our list to the grocery store.