How to Meal Plan

Over the years meal planning has been one of my most time, money and sanity saving practices. Time is saved by my only needing to go grocery shopping once a week. I also do not have to plan/think about what we are having for meals on a daily basis. Early on, in my living on my own days, I found if I had to make a quick run into the store for even one item, I invariably came out with additional items I was not planning on purchasing. Meal planning allows me to minimize trips to the store. Additionally, by planning out meals far enough in advance, I am able to identify items that can be bought in bulk, which is often cheaper.

Even though I have to take a bit of time to sit down and write out a meal plan, it is much better than fretting every day (or few days) about what to make for dinner. My sanity suffers little to none when all I need to do (besides prepare the meals) is look at our calendar and follow the schedule I’ve already come up with using ingredients I’ve already bought.

Here are some basic steps that I use when creating a meal plan:

1. (This step I usually only do every few months or so) Make a list of things you buy on a regular basis that are non-perishable (or can be frozen, as in the case of meat, etc.). I call these my staples and includes such things as: toilet paper, paper towels, dried beans, Rapadura, coconut oil, etc. Track the quantities you are buying and how quickly the items are consumed. Identify whether or not you would save time, money, and/or sanity by buying in bulk for at least a one month’s supply.

2. Buy a calendar (or use some other handy, dandy organizational tool) and decide how long of a meal plan you would like to create. We use a regular wall calendar. We write in our schedules (appointments, etc.) on the calendar as well so everything is in one place and easy to reference. Our calendar hangs on our kitchen wall. We plan our meals in one month increments.

3. Start filling in your dates with meals! I typically have one breakfast and snack food per week that lasts the entire week. Sometimes I’ll plan a weekly dessert as well. Then, lunches during the week are leftovers or a choice of several staple lunch items that I keep on hand at all times, such as tuna, peanut butter, etc. or fresh fruit/veggies that we’ve got on hand. So dinner is really the only meal that requires extensive planning. So, my planned week may look like this (except written in the boxes on our calendar):

Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Weekly breakfast: Oatmeal with fresh fruit

Weekly snack: Nutriblobs

Weekly dessert: Homemade icecream, chocolate chip cookies

Jan 30: Baked salmon, rice and beans, roasted beets and carrots

Jan. 31: Homemade chicken noodle soup with homemade sourdough bread

Feb. 1: Rosemary chuck roast, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts

Feb. 2: Salad with grilled chicken

Feb. 3: Pan-seared pork chops, mashed delica squash, cauliflower

Feb. 4: Bacon, Avocado, Tomato sandwiches on homemade sourdough with salad

Feb. 5: Tacos (homemade tortillas, tomatoes, lettuce) with beans and rice, left over veggies

4. After you have come up with meals, write out a shopping list for each week. Some people may prefer to look at grocery store ads first and then come up with meals based on what is on sale. We get a month’s supply of meat (we’re part of a meat CSA) delivered to our home once per month. Once the meat is delivered, I develop a meal plan around the different meats we receive. Then, come up with my shopping list based on the meals I’ve planned. If you like the idea of having all the meat you need for an entire month, try buying meat in larger quantities and freezing it. Then, keep a list of your meat supply and use it for meal planning.

Other helpful tips and ideas:

  • I keep a shopping list for each week on a separate piece of paper (in my weekly to-do list notebook for easy reference) and then add to it throughout the week.
  • If I plan to use a recipe that I do not have memorized already, I write down the page number and recipe book initials next to the item on my meal plan. So, it would look like this, “Rosemary Chuck Roast, p. 42., GFC.” This way, I’m not scrounging to find a recipe when I go to make dinner. I know exactly where to find it.
  • If any recipe requires prep work before the day you are going to be making the meal, write whatever prep work (feeding sourdough, marinating meat, etc.) that is required on the calendar day that the prep work should be done. So, if you are planning to have fresh sourdough bread for dinner on Tuesday, the sourdough starter must be fed the day before. So, I would write Monday’s date, “feed sourdough”.
  • Try to have meals correspond with your schedules. For instance, I know that by the time Friday night rolls around, I am going to be exhausted and not feel like cooking. So, I usually plan a lighter meal for Friday nights, such as BATs (bacon, avocado, tomato sandwiches).
  • I find it useful to find a quiet moment in a day, sit down and surround myself with cookbooks and do all my meal planning at once. Most people think and plan better if they are able to focus on the task at hand and not have to deal with interruptions. I’ve found it takes me less time when I set aside a chunk of time and concentrate on meal planning, than if I try to meal plan in the midst of my daily activities.

So, there is my meal planning method. If you find it overwhelming or confusing, I encourage you to develop your own method that works best for you and stick to it. The more you do it, the quicker you will become and the easier it will be for you. I have been using this method now for five years. You can also start small. I used to only plan for one week’s worth of meals when I first lived on my own. I gradually increased my planning to a month’s worth of meals (even before we joined our meat CSA) merely to save money and reduce the number of trips I was taking to the grocery store. Now I plan our meals in one month increments. I go to a grocery store once a week on Friday, mainly for perishable items, such as fruit, which is not available at our farmer’s market during the winter. I also go to a local farm on Fridays and get our week’s supply of milk. Then, Saturday mornings our family heads to the farmer’s market for the rest of our groceries and to have fun together. I do admit I buy a fair share of non-perishable items in bulk online at either Alice.com or Amazon.com merely because I can get things cheaper there (and often with free shipping) than in our local stores.

If you have any other meal planning tips or suggestions, I’d love to hear them! There are so many different methods of meal planning out there, it really is all about discovering and/or developing a method that works best for you and your family.

Happy planning!

*This post is shared on Monday Mania and Raising Homemakers.

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Moments

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be reading the book, “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. Here is a video that embodies what the book is about. I hope you are blessed by the video and that it will inspire you to savor all the tiny, wondrous moments of life.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv

If you remember, several blogs ago (click here to read this blog) I discussed a conversation I overheard at a local restaurant. The head chef was explaining that we, as a culture, have become so used to artificial flavors that we don’t even recognize or like the true flavor of real food anymore. She even had a customer complain once that the blueberries she was using in her blueberry pancakes were not real. She knew the blueberries were real because she’d bought them herself from an area farmer. The customer was just so used to artificial blueberry flavoring that his taste buds did not recognize what a real blueberry tasted like anymore.

Here’s an interesting video that discusses the common trend of adding fake ingredients to foods and marketing the fake ingredients as the real thing.

Blueberries faked in cereals, muffins, bagels and other food products – Food Investigations – NaturalNews.tv.

Sourdough Cacao Chip Cake

I have been looking for more ways to use sourdough and superfoods, although not necessarily together. Today, I decided to experiment a bit and invented the following recipe that incorporates both sourdough and cacao nibs (superfood). I hope you enjoy this delicious snack or dessert!

Ingredients:

  • 2/3 cup coconut oil, melted gently
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup Rapadura
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup of brown sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup of cacao nibs, finely ground (I used my food processor)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 cups of sourdough
  • 1 cup of whole wheat flour
  • Optional: 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9×13 inch pan. Mix together coconut oil, butter, maple syrup, Rapadura, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into greased pan and bake for approximately 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

This cake is quite rich and tastes delicious without any icing. It pairs wonderfully with a large glass of raw milk!

*Brown sugar can be eliminated by substituting in 1/2 cup of blackstrap molasses and increasing the whole wheat flour measurement to a total of 1 1/2 cups.

*This blog is shared on Real Food Wednesday and Monday Mania.

Basics of Cloth Diapering

Myla in one of her velcro-close, GroVia cloth diapers at 2 months old

Before we had our daughter we decided to diaper her in cloth. We were not motivated by environmental concerns (disposable diapers take years and years to decompose), although it is nice to know that we are being good stewards of the earth by using cloth. Rather, we were primarily motivated by the amount of money we would save by using cloth. We were also concerned about the chemicals and materials used in disposable diapers and wipes, particularly since they would be next to our baby’s skin. We ended up deciding to use cloth wipes as well as cloth diapers.

We have been cloth diapering for over a year now and my husband and I love it. There are numerous cloth diaper options available. We settled on GroVia diapers, which are what is called an “All-in-Two” type of diaper. This means there is a re-usable outer shell and an inner cotton pad (otherwise known as a “soaker”) that simply snaps into the shell. GroVia’s are also adjustable so there is no need to buy multiple sizes. The diapers should fit until potty training is complete. Once the cloth pad is soiled, simply unsnap it and snap a new, clean pad in place. The outer shell can be reused until it becomes soiled. We usually go through two shells a day. The soiled diapers we put in a wet bag, a bag lined with waterproof/stinkproof material, till we decide to do laundry. We usually wash the soiled diapers and shells every two or three days.

Myla in one of her GroVia's at five months. This is a snap closed version.

We have only used five small packs of disposable diapers in a year. We used two packs when Myla was born because she was a preemie and her cloth diapers did not fit her for a few weeks. The other three packs we bought whenever we were dealing with a particularly bad diaper rash requiring ointments not safe to use with cloth diapers because the ingredients would ruin the absorbency of the cotton (Burt’s Bees, Lotramin, etc.).

Unlike the disposable we have used, we have never had an issue with blowouts when our daughter is in cloth. There are cloth boosters (a slightly thinner cotton pad that lays on top of the cotton pad) that we add to the diaper at night so the diaper will last the entire night. We only had issues with leaks once and that was at night. We finally realized the diapers were leaking because was time to readjust the size of the diaper to the next size up. Once we readjusted the size, viola!, we had no more leaks. Once our daughter started solid foods we started lining her diapers with flushable liners. These look similar to dryer sheets. The flushable liner is ultra-thin and sits on top of her cloth diaper. When she poos, it keeps the poo off the cloth diaper. We simply pick up the liner and flush it (and the poo) down the toilet. We do not have to scrape or spray her poo off the cloth diaper since it is contained by the flushable liner.

When all was said and done, we spent around $450 for our stash of cloth diapers and diapering gear (wetbags for nursery and diaper bag, spray bottles, cloth wipes, etc.). So, all-in-all, that’s about $8.60 per week for a year of cloth diapering. This weekly cost is going down the longer we use the diapers. Even after over a year of use, our diapers are still in excellent condition so we will be using them on baby number two as well, which will further reduce the weekly cost average above. We probably could have gotten away with purchasing fewer cloth diapers and doing laundry more often (we initially purchased around fourteen shells and thirty-five cotton pads). However, now that we will potentially have two kids in diapers, I’m thankful we bought as many as we did.

There are all sorts of cloth diaper options out there to fit just about any budget. A few other types of cloth diapers include:

All-in-One: Think disposable, but cloth. These diapers are all one piece (waterproof cover and absorbent inner are connected) so you have to use a new, clean diaper with every change. These come in all-in-one size (adjustable as baby grows), as well as in specific sizes.

Pre-folds: This is what most people think of when they hear the term “cloth diaper”. It is a single piece of cloth that gets folded around the baby’s bum and pinned closed. A cover (wool, plastic, etc.) must be worn over the pre-fold to contain messes. This is the cheapest cloth diaper available and is comes in a variety of sizes.

Pocket diapers: These are similar to all-in-ones and all-in-twos, but the outer shell has a pocket in which the cloth insert is placed. By placing the insert in the pocket, moisture is wicked away from baby’s bum. A new shell and insert is typically used with each diaper change. These are available in specific sizes or all-in-one size.

You will find a plethora of cloth diapering options available, which are made of a wide range of fabrics like wool, hemp, cotton, flannel, bamboo, and many others. Two excellent online cloth diapering resources are diaperpin.com and diaperswappers.com

Special considerations:

-You must use cloth diaper friendly laundry detergents to wash your cloth diapers. There are numerous options available. We use Crunchy Clean.

-You must use cloth diaper friendly rash creams with your cloth diapers. We love CJ’s BUTTer, Northern Essence, and California Baby (also available at Target).

Myla in one of her GroVia diapers at one year old. This is a velcro-close version.

Nutriblobs Recipe!

These are excellent quick, on-the-go snacks!

Here’s a recipe for a delicious, easy to make, nutrient-dense snack! (Plus, I promised to post a recipe with gogi berries, a superfood, so here it is! This is the best way I’ve found to use gogi berries.)

Add the following ingredients to your food processor: 1/4 cup raw honey, 1/2 cup dried dates (unsweetened), 1/2 cup chia seeds, 1 1/2 cups of sunflower seeds or cashews (unsalted, preferably raw), 1 cup dried apricots (unsweetened), 1/4 cup coconut oil (gently warmed to liquid), 1/2 cup gogi berries, and 3/4 cup dried coconut flakes (unsweetened)

Blend all ingredients in food processor. Roll into teaspoon or tablespoons size balls. Roll balls in chia seeds. Store in fridge. Yield: 40 balls.

You can also store extras in the freezer to save for later!

This recipe is very easy to modify. Substitute in different types of dried fruits and nuts instead of those listed above for other variations of this delicious and nutritious snack!

Note: These are high-fiber so don’t eat a lot of them at once unless your body is used to consuming lots of fiber!

*Recipe adapted from Earth Balls recipe at Vim and Vigor.

A Note on Tragedy and Loss

So, 2011 is off to a sad start for our family. Over the past month, four of our family’s long time friends have passed away within weeks of each other. Three people died from cancer and one person from complications following a heart transplant. All of our friends, except for one, were in their early fifties. As I heard about each death, my first inclination was to wonder what factors contributed to their deaths (e.g. why?). Was it an unhealthy diet? Genetics? Where they lived (e.g. close to a toxic factory or stream where chemicals were dumped?)? A combination of things?

Then, there was the horrific shooting out in Arizona. I got an email in my inbox today discussing the shooting and how the foods we eat can affect our mental health. The article (click here to read) claims that the shooter was probably suffering from severe nutritional deficiencies, which caused major mental health problems. The author made some valid points about the connections between what we eat and how it can affect our health. I too often long for easy solutions for complex problems. I’d love to believe that if everyone just ate all the right foods, we’d all be protected from tragedies like mass shootings, cancer, and a host of other problems. Yet, life is not that simple.

It’s natural when we deal with grief to be overwhelmed with emotion, and we should be. Death stings. It’s painful and tragic. We live in a fallen world and the consequence of such and of our sin is death. We could eat all the “right” foods and avoid all things that have the slightest chance of being toxic/harmful (cars, planes, cell phones, microwaves, guns, etc.) and we will still die one way or another. My confidence and comfort for my own destiny rest in the faith I have placed in Jesus Christ who died for me so I could have eternal life. When tragedy occurs around me, my confidence and comfort lies in the simple truth that God is sovereign. He has a plan. None of our friends’ deaths was a surprise to Him. Each was a part of the intricate pattern carefully crafted and woven into the fabric of history by our Lord. How thankful I am that all I need to do is trust. How thankful I am that He is God and I am not.

Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “There is an active practice of holiness as we carry out, for the glory of God, the ordinary duties of each day, faithfully fulfilling the responsibilities given to us. The passive practice consists in loving acceptance of the unexpected, be it welcome or unwelcome, remembering that we have a wise and sovereign Lord who works in mysterious ways and is never taken by surprise.”

*This post is shared on Homemaking Link-Up!