My Meal Planning Mentality

Recently, I was asked to write a full post about meal planning and the steps I usually take to make sure we have mostly nutritious, homemade meals throughout the week. Everyone approaches meal planning differently, but I have found this routine to be the most efficient and doable for us.

  1. Find a method that works for you. I used to write everything down, but now I use Google Drive to record our meal plans. I created a template that I insert the meals, sale items and grocery list into weekly. I love this method, because Kevin can also see the meal plan whenever he wants, and I can access it from my phone for grocery shopping. I’ve had way fewer “Crap I forgot the list moments!” since I started using this method.
  1. Start small. When I first began meal planning, I only planned my dinners. I was in grad school, so I had a more flexible schedule when it came to breakfast and lunch. Eventually though I realized that life would be a lot easier if I also had a plan for breakfast and lunch. Since I already had the hang of planning dinner, adding two more meals wasn’t that overwhelming. For breakfast, I just plan a few options for the week then determine what I eat based on how I am feeling and what my morning schedule looks like. For lunch, it usually depends on if we have leftovers from dinner. In case we don’t, I also make sure to buy salad ingredients, so I can throw together quick veggie packed lunches the night before.
  1. Set a budget. I love grocery shopping and could easily do some serious damage and spend countless hours perusing the aisles. However, I also enjoy saving money, so I go into the store knowing how much I want to spend. Our grocery budget ranges from $60-$75 weekly. This is guaranteed to cover our breakfasts, lunches and dinners Monday-Friday and breakfast during the weekend. Lunch and dinner during the weekend are a wild card depending on our schedules. I usually spend about $60 on my main grocery haul then we may run to the store for other odds and ends throughout the week, which occasionally pushes the budget up to $75. My breakdown is about $15/protein sources, $20/fruits and veggies, $10/dairy products and $15/for odds and ends, but it really varies based on what we already have.
  1. Look at your schedule. The first thing I do is check our schedule for the following week and plan our meals around our lives. It seems intuitive, but I didn’t do this when I first started and there were multiple times I would have a lengthy recipe planned for a night I was in class till 8pm. It was not ideal.
  1. Shop your kitchen first. I despise throwing food away and buying food that I already have, so I always scan our pantry, fridge and freezer before writing down the items I want to buy from the store. I try to plan my meals around these ingredients, rather than picking a meal that requires that I buy a ton of new ingredients. This helps save money and reduces food waste.
  1. Check the ads. I am pretty sure there is some techy app for this, but I still love the good ole’ grocery ads and look forward to their arrival every Wednesday. One time we didn’t receive the ads on our normal day, and I was convinced Kevin was pulling a prank on me. He’s smarter than that though and knows not to mess with me and my grocery ads. My point is, the grocery ads are gold. You will save a ton of money if you base your weekly meals on the sales. I also use the ads to determine when I will stock up on certain items. Once you have your sale items that you want to buy, add them to the list of food you already have in your kitchen.
  2. Choose your meals. This is likely the most difficult and time consuming part of meal planning. You could easily spend hours looking up recipes. We have developed a pattern that helps me save time choosing our meals.
    • Make a bigger, versatile meal on Sunday and/or Monday. My cooking motivation is at it’s peak during the beginning of the week, so I try to make bigger meals that give us lots of leftovers I can use for lunches or in other meals throughout the week. It usually involves some sort of meat, a plethora of roasted or grilled veggies, potatoes or a grain.
    • Theme a night. Let’s be real, sometimes you just get tired of meal planning. We’ve found that having a themed night makes the process more exciting. We go through different phases and are currently on “Restaurant Meals” (Kevin’s idea). Once a week we are trying to recreate our favorite restaurant meals at home. This is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and learn new cooking techniques!

      FullSizeRender (2).jpg
      Our first restaurant creation was one of Kev’s favorites- Philly Cheesesteak!
    • Know your tendencies. By the time Thursday night rolls around, I could really care less about making some fabulous meal. I want to be in and out of the kitchen in 20-30 minutes. I’ve learned to only plan very simple meals like salads, omelettes, sandwiches, etc. on Thursday nights. If I had something extravagant planned, we would likely end up at a restaurant.
    • Making balanced meals that fit your needs. Personally, I don’t like eating big dinners. I prefer to eat a larger breakfast and lunch to fuel my body throughout the day. Kevin, on the other hand, prefers the opposite. In order to meet both of our needs, I make ½ our meal veggies (and sometimes fruit), include a meat or seafood for protein most nights then have a quick grain source for Kevin like pita bread, naan or rice, if he wants it.
  1. Go shopping! For me, this is the most enjoyable part of the whole process. The important part here is to stick to your list. It is so easy to throw that random item in the cart that you don’t really need. Doing this multiple times will lead to me blowing the grocery budget. My strategy to combat this is to do one lap around the store only getting the items on my list, then I allow myself to go back and get those spontaneous items. Usually, my basket is so full at this point and my arm feels like it is going to fall off, so I just decide to go checkout. (Side note- Use a basket if you are only shopping for 1 or 2 people. You will buy less and get an arm workout.)

So, about 1000 words later, you have some insight into my meal planning mentality. While it does take more time than calling for takeout, I believe it is worth it in the long run. It saves us money and ensures that we are eating a more balanced diet.

Want to chat more about meal planning? Please feel free to leave any questions or comments below!

 

Watermelon Chicken Chopped Salad

The first time I had watermelon in a salad was at a brewery in San Diego and it was an amazing flavor combination. The crisp and juicy texture of watermelon works so well in salads and provides a burst of flavor in each bite. Last week at work we had a giant box of fresh arugula leftover after a cooking class, so I didn’t hesitate to shove as much as I could in a bag to take home. As a result, this delicious salad was created. It has all the right textures, flavors and is a great way to welcome the upcoming warm summer nights.

Watermelon Chicken Chopped Salad


 

Serves 2

FullSizeRender (8)

Ingredients

  • A few generous handfuls of arugula or mixed greens
  • 2-3 Tablespoons good quality olive oil (the dressing is very simple, so the oil’s taste will shine through)
  • 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • ½ avocado, diced
  • ½ cup of cooked chicken (you can use leftovers, rotisserie chicken or grill it fresh- whatever works for you!)
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 1 cup seedless watermelon, diced
  • ½ cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • Balsamic glaze (store bought or make your own)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Mix olive oil and white balsamic vinegar together. They won’t completely combine, but just give it a good whisk.
  2. Toss lettuce with dressing, salt and pepper.
  3. Pile lettuce on a plate and place toppings in a row on top of the lettuce or just throw everything all there!
  4. Drizzle balsamic glaze over your masterpiece.

 

Move More in May!

 

Yeah, yeah I know there is a national day or month for everything, but I still feel obligated to inform you that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month (it’s also National Bike Month, so get pedallin’). Most of the National Day celebrations are somewhat pointless, but you’ll be shocked to find out, I find this one rather important. And yet, I’m not seeing many posts on social media celebrating Physical Activity Month. Sure, it’s really hard to compete with the likes of National Donut Day, National Pet Day, Mother’s Day, etc. Regardless, let’s make it a priority to get moving in May! Here are some tips to help you move more this month:

  1. Schedule it.

We schedule so many aspects of our lives from work to hair appointments to social activities, so why not schedule time to move our bodies as well? Next time you are looking at your calendar, look for time slots to fit in physical activity and make that commitment to yourself to improve your health. I like using Google calendar and setting up reminders for when I will exercise. Here’s the stumbling block though. It’s really easy to just ignore that reminder or tell yourself you will do it later, especially when you aren’t being held accountable. Personally, I hate letting people down and falling through on a commitment, so it helps if someone else is relying on me or expects me to do something. If I have a workout scheduled after work and know that at the end of the day I will probably just want to go home, I will tell someone to ask me if I did the workout. Given my nature, I don’t want to admit that I didn’t follow through on my commitment to my health, so I will likely complete the workout.

2. Break it up.

Research shows that adults should perform at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days (5+) of the week for health benefits. Finding a 30 minute chunk in a jam packed day can turn people away from regularly engaging in physical activity. However, research also shows that breaking the 30 minute bout into three 10 minute sessions throughout the day is just as effective! Fit in some movement right when you get out of bed, go on a walk during lunch or do body weight exercises in your office and end the day by moving during the commercials of your evening TV show.

3. Move throughout the day.

The majority of professions require that we sit, a lot. It’s really easy to get used to that, but our bodies don’t enjoy it. Find ways to move more throughout the day. You may even notice an increase in your energy and productivity! I work in a three story building and my new strategy is to use the restroom on the first floor and take the stairs. You can also set a reminder on your computer to get up every hour, propose walking meetings or walk to your coworkers office instead of calling or emailing them. All the little things add up!

4. Do what you enjoy.

I’m pretty sure I preach this to just about everyone, but please don’t force yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy. There are SO many ways to move your body. Heck, I just learned foot golf is a new thing! Physical activity is supposed to make us feel good and energized. The more you enjoy it, the more you will look forward to it and maintain these habits long term.

5. Think outside the box.

Let’s all say this together- You don’t have to go to the gym to move your body! Yes, the gym is a great place to exercise, for some people, but it’s not a motivating environment for everyone. Personally, I love it. Guess what the main factor was when I chose the college I would attend? Yep, the gym. That doesn’t mean I always want to exercise there though. Sometimes I just want to be outside and use my bodyweight and park benches for exercise. Other times I don’t even want to deal with people or even put appropriate gym clothes on, so I exercise in my living room in my gross shorts (I sat in wood stain while building a sofa table, so Kevin now refers to them as my poop shorts I should probably throw them away…). Do you live in the frigid cold? Go walk around a mall, do walking lunges and step ups on benches and laugh at all the people wasting money on overpriced clothes #tjmaxxforlife.

6. Involve others

Our social wellness is just as important as our physical wellness. I really enjoy combining the two and getting active with friends. Sure, grabbing a drink is always fun, but why not go on a walk or take a group exercise class together before enjoying a beer? Stream a free yoga class and host yoga and brunch at your house. Play basketball at lunch instead of going out for a heavy meal. Be the friend that suggests social outings that involve a little sweat. One day they will thank you.

I would love to hear how you are going to move more in May! Do you have any strategies that work for you? Share it all in the comment section!

The Weekly Grub + Making Veggies the Star

I’m sure someone already said this to you recently, but holy cow when did it become May!?! I can’t even believe that May is already here, but I do enjoy the beginning of any month. I love change and the first of the month always feels like a great opportunity to adopt new habits, lose pesky bad ones, make new memories and try new things.

One of the many things I am looking forward to in May is the abundance of fresh fruits and veggies that the warmer weather will bring. Luckily we live in an area where fruit stands and farmer’s markets are around every corner. Seasonal and locally grown produce take your taste buds to a whole new level, which is why I think they should be the star of any meal.

We often plan our meals around meat. I’ll be the first to admit, meat is absolutely delicious. I told my Italian language teacher in Italy that American BBQ was my favorite food. She looked baffled by my response. That’s how loyal I am to meat. However, I firmly believe that fruits and veggies always deserve a fighting chance. If you ask me to bring something to a party, please know that whatever I bring will involve fruits and veggies (Kevin likes to tease me with this Simpsons clip when I do). I especially like hosting, because I get to be in charge of the menu and I usually give a heavy focus to fruits and veggies. Being that you are at my house, you have no other choice but to eat the food I serve you. Therefore, I will make sure I contribute to your 7-9 daily servings of fruits and veggies. You’re welcome 🙂

FullSizeRender (5).jpg

One of my favorite ways to force help people eat their fruits and veggies at parties is with make ahead salads. I’m currently on the broccoli salad train after seeing one on the cover of the most recent Cooking Light. I bought the ingredients and set out to make it, not entirely stoked because I thought it required blanching the broccoli. (It’s typically recommended that you closely read a recipe before starting to cook or bake, but I’ve never been that great at following directions.) After I got the pot and my ice bowl ready, I quickly checked the recipe and realized that you just leave it raw. What?! Mind blown. I immediately knew this recipe was going to be a winner. I served it along a slider bar with numerous toppings and the bowl of broccoli salad still got devoured. This just goes to show you that if you make veggies look and taste good (and don’t give people other options) they will get eaten. As BBQ season embarks upon us, I want to challenge you to give fruits and veggies a fighting chance at your spread. Make the salad the most talked about dish, serve grilled fruit kebabs for dessert and start changing the way people see veggies.

The Weekly Grub

  • Sunday: Carnitas quesadillas (with peppers and onions)
  • Monday: Grilled chicken, broccoli salad and corn
  • Tuesday: Shrimp fajita lettuce wraps
  • Wednesday: Watermelon, feta and chicken salad
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Out!

The “Only healthy thing we consumed on Picnic Day” Broccoli Salad

The best part about this salad is that you can change the ingredients based on what you have on hand. I have included apples, used sunflower seeds instead of almonds, added basil…get creative!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup  2% or whole fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped broccoli florets (about 1 bunch)
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sliced strawberries

Preparation

Combine yogurt and next 4 ingredients (through pepper), stirring well with a whisk. Stir in red onion, broccoli, and remaining ingredients. Cover and chill 1 hour before serving.