Every week I receive a weekly reminder from one of my groups asking members if they want to try for a weekly meal plan. It also asks if you have a Shabbos meal plan. My husband and I have been planning our Shabbos meals for years (Friday supper, Saturday lunch, plus a third meal late Saturday before sundown). For those of you not familiar with the Jewish Sabbath, all shopping and cooking must be completed by sundown on Friday night. No exceptions.
The rest of the week meal planning was…well… another story.
Until recently, I used to wing it. My pantry had staples like beans, rice, pasta, buckwheat, tuna, rice cakes, peanut butter, spreads,and baking supplies. Fresh fruit, veggies, eggs, and bread were in the fridge. Throwing together an easy, nutritious meal wasn’t a problem. Then something happened.
Some health concerns warranted that half of the family was about to go gluten-free and dairy-free. I felt that these two commonly allergenic substances were causing unwanted symptoms and I needed to eliminate them. I knew in the long-run this would be beneficial. In the short-term, without my standby pasta or pancakes options, I was stressed about what to feed everyone. Yes, there are plenty of websites and recipes chock full of ideas, but when suddenly the pasta and bread needed to disappear from the menu choices, it made things a bit challenging.
So, it was time to do some meal planning.
I’d seen samples of weekly or bi-weekly meal plans, but the problem with them was the suggestions contained gluten, dairy, non-kosher items, expensive items, or products that I can’t buy locally. I needed a customized plan. I had to do this step by step.
The first thing I did was make a list of what everyone liked to eat. I listed it by categories. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, soups, and treats/desserts. It gave me a point of reference to see what my options were.
Next, I began an internet search for some new recipes. What I did when I found a recipe I liked was to send it to myself as an e-mail. In the subject line I typed the name of the recipe. In the body of the e-mail I copied the link, the ingredients, and cooking directions. After it arrived in my in-box, I moved it to a folder called ‘recipes’.
I am a HUGE fan of FlyLady (www.flylady.net). At some point I had signed up for a free Cozi calendar through Flylady. The link is http://www.flylady.net/d/cozi/ It is a fantastic organizational tool. Check it out! One of the sections is called MEALS. Under MEALS is DINNER PLANS.
For a few weeks I charted what I had been serving all day long. I saw patterns. I cook mostly from scratch and charted what I was cooking and on which days. Those patterns are started to emerge. (This is a pre-planning step. In teaching we use a lot of pre-writing organizers, so this was similar to having a student do a pre-writing exercise before writing an essay).
The final step was to write out a weekly plan. This plan is really a guide, but nobody calls it “meal guiding”. Maybe they should…I’ll start a trend.
In meal guiding (formerly called meal planning as of 5 second ago), flexibility is a must. I have found SOMETHING inevitably happens to mess up my execution of the “perfect plan” after I’ve written it: someone gets sick and doesn’t want to eat, the kids ate a late lunch and aren’t hungry for supper, someone used up a key ingredient and didn’t tell me, etc. etc. etc.
When it comes to food plans, guides, and meal options, there is always going to be trial and error, especially in the beginning. All you can do your best and be flexible because things inevitable happen you have no control over. I have many favorite quotations. One of them is “Man plans, G-d laughs” Never-the-less, meal planning saves money, time, and stress. When you know what you plan to serve and have the ingredients on-hand you won’t waste money on expensive fast food or pre-made take-out meals. You can cook in double and triple portions and freeze for another time. You can avoid the “what’s for supper/lunch/dinner/snack” question and even tell the family to check the menu for a weekly preview.
Good luck and happy planning.
The Klutter Koach