How is it that February is only 2 to 3 days shorter than the other months, and yet it feels like the month just flies by??
We had a few hiccups this month implementing our meal plan pledge, but overall we stuck to the plan. In my mid month update, I realized that my goal was not just to have my family tolerate the meals I included in the plan (as I had stated in my original pledge), but to free myself from spending so much time thinking about meal plans! So I’m happy to say that I achieved this goal, and by the end of the month I felt meal planning became more effortless. Below I’ve summarized some of what I learned in February, and what worked well for us. Hopefully some of the same tips and ideas are useful for others so that you can find a meal planning strategy that works well for you and your household.
I can’t wait for the warmer weather to arrive, and I already have some ideas for our new spring/summer meal rotation; I’m thinking I’ll incorporate more salads, bbq, stirfry dishes and tacos and phase out the soups, stews and chili that we’ve been warming up with this winter.
1. Choose your recipes wisely!
Currently, we are juggling a preschooler and a baby which means that life can be a little hectic. I was overly ambitious with a couple of recipes early in the month that involved hands-on attention right before dinner time. If your dinner time can be a bit harried as well, go easy on yourself and find ways to reduce or eliminate food prep time in the evenings (especially week nights). Some ideas include prepping meat and veggies earlier in the day, making use of a slow cooker, or staggering your dishes so that you prep the main one day, and the side(s) the next day. That way, you’re only having to prepare one dish each day and the other dish is leftovers from the previous day.
Another consideration for us was the ability to customize the meal. As I mentioned in my kick-off post for this pledge, we are a family with four very different tastes at this time! Having a meal that each family member could customize to some extent helped ensure that the meal met everyone’s approval. This might be different toppings for soups and salads, or fillings for sandwiches and wraps.
2. Determine the level of flexibility that works best for you
I know some people plan each and every meal, including snacks, for each week. And I applaud these people! But I found even just trying to plan dinners and lunches was a bit too strict for us. I need flexibility for those days when things do not go according to plan (e.g. you are going to prep dinner while the baby has their nap…but then the baby decides it’s time to pop their first tooth! Or a massive snowstorm sweeps through your city, and you know it’s bad because they close a major roadway for the first time in years…yet you still consider venturing out for groceries because OMG THE PLAN!!)
I ended up settling on the following:
- the 2 to 3 new dinners that we made each week were planned. This way, I could make sure that we had fresh ingredients on hand. That being said, I often didn’t decide which dinner we would have until the night before…and occasionally even a couple of hours before dinner time. This ‘flexible plan’ worked well for us.
- most of the time however, we did decide on dinner plans the night before so that we knew whether we were pulling out a meal from the freezer to allow for defrosting time, or if I needed to make sure I had some time blocked off to do some food prep.
- I found that having a well stocked pantry, fridge and freezer meant that I always had ingredients on hand for a variety of breakfasts, lunches and snacks, so I ended up not following a plan at all for these meals! I do think it will be useful to have a list of snacks and lunches to refer to when I’m not feeling inspired (see point 4 below), and this also means finding a way to keep your kitchen stocked with the items you use frequently (see point 5).
3. Learn some ways to reduce food waste
One risk of not following a strict plan is having perishable items expire before you use them, resulting in food waste. I found a few strategies to avoid this:
- Throw it in the freezer! If you are unsure how to freeze something, use Google. (I now know how to freeze avocado 🙂 )
- Blend it in a smoothie! I’ve recently started incorporating more veggies into my smoothies, and have had a lot of success! If you’re not sure if that cucumber that is looking a little sad would go with the kiwi that your daughter won’t eat, Google has an answer for you (spoiler – they are yummy together!)
- Toss it in a soup, stirfry, pasta sauce, casserole, etc. etc. I always struggled to finish salad greens before they went off, until I realized that I could use them in everything from soup to pasta sauce.
- If all else fails, start a backyard composter and then you’ll at least be creating some nice dirt out of the veggies that got forgotten in the back of the crisper drawer. 😦
4. Have a plan….and a few backup plans
Recently, my baby started eating solids. I knew I wanted to do baby led weaning with him, as I had done with my daughter. This meant that I had to incorporate food items that met certain criteria: high in iron and/or a source of vitamin C, easy for him to pick up, as well as the right texture for him to be able to squish it in his mouth. I ended up creating a list of meal and snack ideas for him, which I posted in our kitchen. I found that this list was great for:
- those moments where lunch time has snuck up on you and your brain is stuck in a rut on what food to prepare.
- when other people are taking care of your child, and you want to give them some options for healthy meals and snacks
- providing inspiration prior to hitting the grocery store
I’ve decided that once he is able to eat all of the foods that my daughter is, I’m going to recreate this list as a list of snack and lunch ideas for the kids (and the parents, too 😉 )
5. Stock your pantry, fridge and freezer with the items you use frequently, and then find a method to keep them stocked!
A few years ago, we started keeping a pen and piece of paper stuck on the side of the fridge for recording a running grocery list. As one item is used up, add it to the list. It sounds simple, but it was a change from my previous routine of doing a quick scan of the fridge and cupboards to create a list prior to shopping and invariably missing something important, or (gasp!) not creating a list at all and ending up with a cart full of impulse buys and food items that didn’t go well together.
6. Don’t forget what is in your pantry, fridge and freezer 😛
On social media, I shared a picture of a white board that is in our kitchen. We use it to keep track of the items in our chest freezer, which is located downstairs. This helps us not to forget what we have in the freezer, but is also a good visual reminder to do some big batch cooking when the list is getting pretty small…
I also shared a picture of some of the more…unique items in my pantry. 🙂 I love a good food impulse buy, and sometimes that’s how you discover new favourite foods…but we have limited space in our pantry so I need to make sure that I actually TRY these new items, rather than just have them waiting in the back of the pantry for my husband to discover them and have him ask when I’m planning to prepare haupia pie, or lingonberry cocktails, or what I’m planning to serve with the coriander chutney…. 🙂 I’ll need to make it a habit to clear out my pantry every so often so these unique items don’t start to take up all of the room in our pantry.
Thanks for following along for the completion of my first pledge! Now I need to shift my thinking towards next month’s pledge: movement.