Do you struggle with what to make for dinner and instead end up going out or ordering take-out too often?
One of the most common questions I get in my coaching practice is how to make a meal plan that is simple and tasty for the whole family. I’ve tested many different methods when it comes to meal planning, and I find that very few work for longer than a week or two. So how do you do it? Is there an app? Do I need more cookbooks? Help!!
Should I get out my cookbooks?
This is often people’s first thought. “I’ll sit down with my cookbooks on a Sunday night and make a plan.” While this can be fun and inspiring, I think it can complicate things for the home-cook. I LOVE my cookbooks but I rarely use them for my Monday – Friday, simple family meals. Tonight I’m pulling one out for a lentil soup, but that’s about it. Look to your cookbooks for inspiration, to learn new techniques and for a special weekend meal. For your weekly meal plan I want you to focus on whole, fresh foods that you can prepare without a complicated recipe. Gather your confidence and creativity, and let’s get started!
Pick 4-5 proteins:
Picking at least 4-5 proteins assures your mid-week dining variety, while leaving 2-3 nights for leftovers or even eating out. Speaking of leftovers, you can limit your protein picks to only 3 or 4 and plan multiple meals where you’ve used the same protein. If you’re a meat eater, don’t completely discount veggie-based protein options, such as beans and rice, or quinoa and tempeh, as these can add to that variety and round out your diet. “Meatless Monday” has become a well-known, fun and popular way to sneak in more vegetarian meals. Challenge yourself to choose proteins in their whole, unprocessed form. Little hint for doing so: shop the perimiter of your grocery store, less-so the middle.
Add 2-3 vegetable sides to your chosen proteins; Challenge yourself to choose veggies in different colors!
Three vegetable sides may be more than you grew up eating, but we now know that a well-structured plate should be mostly vegetables for optimum health. I tell my clients who eat meat to aim for a piece of meat the size of their fist and the rest of the plate should be vegetables. If you sent me a photo of your plate – the first thing I would notice is the veggies! : ) When we’re talking about these vegetable sides, don’t forget that one can be a grain. For example: my protein is salmon and my sides are: quinoa, kale and roasted beets. And a vegetarian example: Beans and rice are my protein and my three sides are: a green salad, guacamole, and kimchi. Note: 2-3 veggie sides per-meal every day of the week might sound like a lot. Hints here: Keep your sides simple, and know that you can repeat various veggie sides, experimenting with different flavor combos throughout the week.
Get a chalkboard or have fun with some chalkboard paint!
It is helpful for me to have a small chalkboard surface in the kitchen. On the weekend, write new proteins and veggies that you’re planning for the following Monday-Friday. A dry-erase board hung on a hook works great as well; I just personally love the look of a chalkboard. At home we used chalkboard paint to turn an appropriate kitchen cabinet into an attractive meal-list.
It’s true, you will have better success the more prepping and planning you can do ahead of time. On Sundays I make my board for the week, come up with the shopping list and do a little prep. Then, each morning I’ll glance over and see what the dinner plan is and whether it requires any prep or a stop at the store. For example, in the case of salmon or seafood I would want to get it nice and fresh. I try and have my grains stocked in the pantry and do a thorough veggie shopping 1-2 times a week.
This concept is simple and whole-food based. Pick a protein, pick 2-3 plant based sides. Cook in the most simple manner. Use the internet or a cookbook for a refresher on how to cook quinoa, kale or find the basics for a lentil soup but don’t get drawn into a complicated recipe. Simple food is good food! I always make a little extra because leftovers are great for lunch, and often your choices like beans, a grain or roasted vegetables can be used in another meal. If any of this feels like a burden, please know that after just a little practice this can end up simplifying your week and lead to a healthier lifestyle. : )
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