Yesterday, we started taking inventory of what was already on hand, and rotated stock. Excellent start; you’ve began reducing your grocery bill by eliminating the risk if bringing home duplicate items (over-stocking works well for dried goods, not so well for perishables).
As illustrated by the “3 day chicken” example I gave yesterday, meal planning can be simple, and result in balanced, nutritional meals that will fill your family without breaking the bank. By knowing what you currently have on hand, you can now begin to design a dinner plan. So, what are your favourite meals?
Thanks to livestrong.com, I don’t even have to know the calorie content of some of my favorite recipes – the website allows me to add the recipe, then calculates the calorie content per serving. As a result, I know that the container of spaghetti sauce I have in the freezer has 105 calories per 1 cup serving (in comparison, each one of my chocolate macaroon cookies contains a whopping 269 calories).
Back to the subject of meal planning. To make life easier, I’ll do my shopping on Sunday. Knowing that I will be bringing a variety of fresh vegetables home that day, I’ll structure my meal plan around using the fresh produce first. Monday might include a chicken and vegetable stir-fry, served over wild rice. Tuesday could be Greek chicken salad. Wednesay, boiled ham, mashed potatoes, and veggies on the side. Thursday could use left-over ham in a batch of split pea soup. Friday might see baked salmon, rice, and frozen green beans. And so on…
With this brief plan, I would use half of the chicken Monday, and the rest for Tuesday’s meal (it could all be cooked on Monday, with Tuesday’s portion refrigerated until eaten). The stir-fry vegetables (I might use bell peppers, snow peas, carrots and celery) can be sliced up either Sunday night before or Monday morning, then cooked for dinner. Tuesday, serve the chicken in a salad made of romaine lettuce, cucumber, bell pepper, fresh tomato, sweet onion, and feta cheese. Again, the bulk of the salad can be prepared prior to dinner – perhaps when the other vegetables were cut for the stir-fry? Wednesday’s ham dinner should leave some ham for the following day’s split pea soup – prepared the night before, and slow-cooked in the crockpot.
See how one meal can lead into the next?
And, by knowing my meal plan, I know that I’ll need to pick up vegetables from the grocery store, pull a chicken from the freezer to thaw…
Breakfast and lunch should also be planned to some extent; however, these two meals don’t tend see the same kind of variety as dinner does. For example, I’m quite often happy to have cereal for breakfast five days out of seven, with perhaps eggs or pancakes on the other two days. If I’m working, I might plan to have enough left-overs for lunch, or will pack a sandwich.
Snacks will usually include a piece of fresh fruit or cut up vegetables.
Having a difficult time coming up with ideas, or not quite sure how to make your plan reasonably balanced? The Canada Food Guide is a good resource, and Eat Right Ontario has several sample meal plans to offer.