There are a thousand ways to plan a great menu. I have found different solutions suit our family better in different seasons. When including fresh organic fruits and vegetables became a priority in our home there was a major shift. Part of the shift was due to my own adventure learning to cook real food and trying to include seasonal and new foods. Another part that was hard for me at the time was not planning quite as much.
I love organizing and planning. Planning, structure, organizing, lists are fun and empowering for me. However the 90 day menu plan became more frustrating than helpful when we made the change to eating fresh foods.
Over the years my menu planning has had to grow and change through many stages. First it was just my husband and myself with neither really knowing much about cooking. During this time we attended several weekly potlucks and also hosted dinner parties regularly. This turned out to be a great blessing because several of the other people we spent time with were willing to teach and share recipes.
Around that time we were learning to cook real food and along came our first baby and we had to learn how to accommodate a baby, then toddler. Next we had three little kids 4 and under. Next they grew and then seemingly overnight we have grown to a family of seven with Grandma around often. Every season brought a change and today I plan the menu after I receive my box for the week. I am excited to share a few things that have helped me menu plan in every stage we have been through so far.
5 Real Food Menu Planning Tips
- If you are new to eating real food focus on progress over perfection. Clean eating is not an all or nothing endeavor. I think that some of us are too hard on ourselves especially when are just learning to eat real food or prepare food. I recently saw an encouraging video on this idea here. Evaluate where you are and take the next step. Is that making sure you get 5-10 servings of fruit and vegetables? Is that reducing how often you eat out? Is that exchanging your processed snack for a whole food?
- Keep extra fresh food staples on hand. For our home this is potatoes, onions, carrots, apples and usually celery. With these items even if you have no menu plan at all you have the base ingredients for thousands of meals.
- Stock up on the less perishable foods. I can’t even imagine how much time we have saved over the years by stocking up on the non perishables and relying on our delivery for the fresh foods. It also makes menu planning easier. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not talking about processed foods. I am talking about whole grains like brown rice, oats and farro. I am thinking of dried herbs, seasonings, dried fruit, nuts and other healthy ingredients you use often. When I had many very small children only needing to shop once a month or once every six weeks saved me time, stress and also helped our budget. I also learned a lot by using what we had.
- Build a flexible menu so you can swap meal plans quickly when your schedule shifts. I found this helpful in every stage; when we were both working a lot before we had children and suddenly we had a week night meeting. Later when I had just had a baby and I was exhausted some evenings. Now when our kids suddenly have school projects or other plans I didn’t anticipate.
- If you have lots of time every night to spend on preparing gourmet meals please ignore this step. If you have ever found yourself with a great menu plan for the evening but suddenly without the time to pull it off this tip might be for you. I love spending hours in the kitchen and cooking gourmet meals. However, these days I normally plan 4-5 very easy meal plans each week. These are the recipes we would tag “Weeknight Quick” on the blog. They are usually recipes that my husband and kids have no trouble pitching in or making. They could include using a freezer meal base and adding fresh ingredients, but I personally have not had any success with freezer meals that turn out well. I have had a lot of success with slow cooker and dutch oven meals.
- Plan around fresh foods. The fact is that most people plan the menu around the meat. Most people also fall woefully short of the nutrient needs because they do not consume enough fruit and vegetables. So this small shift can make a big difference. If you let the fresh seasonal foods inspire your menu you will incorporate more making it so much easier to get the 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables you need.
In any case they won’t come anywhere close to being considered gourmet meals, but they do get real food on our table and in our bodies without stress. They are more often than not very tasty. Not panicking over dinner and still getting to enjoy real food with my family makes my overall quality of life much better.
Another benefit to planning 4-5 no stress meals allows me to also plan a couple of meals each week that do take more time. I aim to attempt at least one new recipe each week to keep our table fun. I also try to include my family in meal preparation. As much as I never thought I would be a fan of incorporating so may tried and true quick recipes in my menu planning I have found that by not having a lot of pressure most days to prepare food I enjoy it all the more when I do have more time. I also land at the table a much calmer and more joyful dinner participant.
So what are my plans this week? I know every family likes different things, but I will share what we are planning in hopes it might inspire somehow. I love to look at the Variety Box and let the menu for each week inspire me. From there I just add on staples items, something we might like to try or things we might like to use to supplement. Anything we don’t include in the menu we eat as snacks or at other meals. Scroll past the menu plan to see the Bountiful Variety box and side items we received to plan for this week.
Day 1: Chicken Pad Thai with plans to meet and eat with another family who is making Thai Curry and side dishes. I will have to poste a recipe for these soon. 🙂
Day 2: Ministrone Soup and since I chopped too much cabbage and matchstick carrots for the Pad Thai they are getting used up. I made home a very simple home made French bread to go with, but I often enjoy the pre-made Mother Earth or Sourdough breads. I have been using kale instead of the swiss chard in this recipe or sometimes spinach.
Day 3: Street Tacos – one of my husbands signature meals. I didn’t even think I liked tacos before I moved to Idaho and started eating these. I still usually end up with a taco salad. I love that if you want to make this even quicker pre-cook and freeze the meat. You can also make crock pot refried beans and freeze them.
Day 5: Grilled Salmon, Farro and Grilled Vegetables
Day 6: Date Night – eating out. (We don’t do this very often, but it is inspiring to try something new. So many of my favorite recipes were created by trying to duplicate a really great dish I enjoyed at a restaurant.) Kids are eating home made pizza.
Day 7: Lasagna and Green Salad
Day 8: Chicken and Noodles – Like home made chicken noodle soup with carrots, celery, onion and home made pasta noodles.
Here is our basic delivery order. (I included things we buy in bulk and have stocked up on like farro and frozen meat.):
- Strawberries – we ate these as soon as they were unpacked. Some things don’t even make it to the refrigerator around here! Let’s go ahead and blame this on the kids. 😉
- Plum, Larry Ann – ate as snacks
- Peppers, Red Bell – asian salad and grilled vegetables
- Tomato, Grape Cherry – ate as snack and in green salad
- Apple, Fuji – ate at lunch
- Bananas – Smoothies with frozen fruits
- Carrots, bunched with top – pad thai, moo goo guy pan, chicken noodles
- Celery – ministrone, snack, chicken noodle and moo goo guy pan
- Ginger, Yellow Root – Moo Goo Guy pan & tea
- Kale, Green – half in ministrone, some for lunch in Kale, Date & Orange Salad
- Lettuce, Green Leaf – Tacos and salads
- Mushrooms, Crimini – Moo Goo Guy Pan and grilled vegetables
- Orange, Cara Cara – Snack
Fruit & Vegetable Added On:
- Green Onion – split with Taco and Pad Thai
- Plums – more for snacks
- Baby Rainbow Carrots – snacks
- Zucchini – Grilled Vegetables
- Apples – quite a lot more #2 apples – made a large pot cinnamon applesauce and one dehydrator full of dried apples
- Cilantro – Street Tacos and Pad Thai
- 5 lb. Russet Potatoes – not in the menu – used in the morning with a scramble
- Limes: Tacos and Pad Thai
Other items this week:
- Organic Sour Cream
- Greek Yogurt
- Milk & Half and Half
- 5 Dozen Eggs (we do use a lot of eggs for breakfast, protein snacks for our growing kids, baking)
- Black Forrest Ham
- English Muffins
- Dried Mango
- Ground Beef
- Whole Chicken
- Chicken Breast
Do you have any real food menu planning tips? Please comment!
I get my delivery at the end of the week. Here are this weeks first delivery pics – I am already feeling inspired!