A Simple Guide to Menu Planning

Rainbow SaladI feel that it goes without saying that organization is the key to successful menu planning.  Having a clean and well-organized kitchen will encourage you to spend time there and create beautiful dishes for yourself and for your family.

Balance is also important to planning a weekly menu.

Balance

  • the season
  • the weather
  • your health
  • your individual tastes
  • what is available to purchase
  • your cooking and working schedule
  • the dietary needs of your family.

I feel that this can be applied to any type of diet.  I choose a Plant-based, Whole Foods diet that is gluten-free and vegan with mostly raw foods.  That is what works best for us.

Breakfast and lunch are quite straightforward at our house.

I push for fruit bowls, smoothies, or fresh vegetable juice for breakfast.  Sometimes my children like rice cakes with avocado or organic cereal with almond milk.  I try not to get too strict about what they eat (although it is likely that most people would consider that I am very strict).

Mid-morning snack is generally more of what was had for breakfast.  This is when it pays to make extra; cut up extra fruit, blend more smoothies and juice more vegetables.

Lunch for me is generally a green salad with seed pate or nori rolls or zucchini pasta with pesto on a bed of greens.  The kids tend to pack up the leftovers from the previous supper and add containers of extra veggies and fruit.

Mid-afternoon snack is pleasant with an energy ball of some kind or cut up vegetables with dip or guacamole.  I regularly make a large batch  of energy balls on the weekend.  My daughter likes to make muffins so that is a big help when she does that.

Suppertime is where I plan a little more.

Sunday afternoons/evening I do the following:

  1. Have salad ready; I make sure that my salad bowl is filled and ready (this is a large container with washed and cut greens, shredded, chopped and diced vegetables or various colours that I keep in my fridge) and also that my dressing is made for the week.  This cuts down on a lot of time and helps me know that I will always be happy for lunch and dinner. The veggies from the salad can be used for many different meals; pile on your plate and top with other favourite foods, filling for nori rolls, rice wraps, stir fry, soups, or stews.  I used to worry about what everyone else wanted and would wait to think about what I wanted at the last second.  Often I did not get to eat what I would have preferred to have.  Now I know that I am looked after.  (Finally!)
  2. Have pate ready; I make sure that I have a seed pate made for the week to use in nori rolls, toss with pasta or quinoa, top salads, put in wraps, or eat with crackers or veggies.
  3. Ask; I ask what my family members would like to eat this week.  I ignore requests for ordering pizza or dinners out.  We do this very occasionally.
  4. Make a list; I make a list of the vegetables in the fridge.  I prioritize the ones that need to be used up first (so they don’t spoil) and ensure that they are incorporated in a dish early in the week.  I do not make a menu and then go out and buy the food for the recipes.  For me that tends to get me put me over my budget.  I prefer to purchase the foods I like and then get creative with how I prepare them.  Of course that means learning to substitute when I don’t have certain items.  That gets easier with practice and letting go of fear.  (Funny how I can do that with food prep but not with other things)
  5. Double the recipe; I consider what I could make that is easy to double so that there will be leftovers for lunches or leftovers for an extra busy night.  Soups, salads and stews are easy to double.
  6. Do ahead; After choosing meals that we are all happy with (I get ideas from cookbooks, Pinterest, internet, my dreams (seriously!), etc) I then look at things that I may need to do the night before.  For example, if I plan to serve nut burgers on Tuesday evening, I will want to put the nuts in soaking water on Monday evening.  This ensures that when I get home from work on Tuesday, I can get right to it.  Or if I want to serve rice wraps on Wednesday with a special dipping sauce, I would make that sauce on Tuesday evening to allow the flavours to marry and save some time.  I make sure that I write down the things that I want to do ahead of time or  put reminders on my iPad (great invention, that is).

When choosing the actual meals that I want to serve, I consider the following:

  • colours – I think about all of the colours of the rainbow and choose as many different colours for each meal
  • tastes – I consider the 5 basics tastes that we experience; bitter, salty, sweet, pungent, and sour.  I include as many of these in a meal as possible.
  • textures – I prefer to experience different textures within a meal, rather than it all being the same.  Sometimes this works out and sometimes not.
  • proper food combining – This is mostly successful but not always.  I make a valiant effort.
  • different types of vegetables – I consider the types of vegetables that I am using and choose from root vegetables, round vegetables and leafy vegetables.

All of these factors contribute to the meal being pleasing to the eye and enjoyable. I do not get hung up on ‘do we have enough protein’ and things like that.  I go for variety, taste and colours.

I also think about meals that can become something else the next day.  For instance, if I prepare quinoa and roasted yams and pile them on top of a plate of greens and vegetables, I can easily turn the leftovers into veggie burgers, a soup or fill wraps.  I may need to whip up a sauce or spread but that does not take too much time.  In this way, I save time on the nights that there are activities going on or when I work late.

Don’t think that I am a perfect menu planner, because I am not.  There are days when I don’t make what I planned to and there are weeks when I don’t make a menu plan and wing it for a few days.  Life happens and I try not to beat myself up about it.  I continue to stock my house with the best foods for my family and go with the flow (as best as a Type A can!).

Do the best that you can and all will be well.

Check out my Recipe Page for recipe ideas.

I would love to hear from you.  Let me know what about menu planning you are struggling with and if this post was helpful.  Next week I will share one of my weekly menus and any tips that you ask for.  First I want you to give your own a try and let me know how you things went.

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