Discovering Meal Planning
People tell you all the time as a childless couple that once you have a baby your world changes–I just don’t think we were prepared for how true that actually was! Before getting pregnant with Lil One, I lived in my kitchen. After work, I’d be in the kitchen coming up with some fantastically gourmet-sounding dish fresh inspired by the pages of my large array of food magazine subscriptions. After my meal was complete I’d plate it up and pull out my camera so that I could photograph it for my food blog. Upon enjoying the meal with a glass of wine, I’d head to the computer, edit my photos and write up my post for the day. I swore that after I got pregnant, nothing would change! I’d still be the gourmet in the kitchen and work on my food photography and continue to expand my culinary horizons. How wrong I was…
It took me and S. about 2-years to get pregnant with Lil One. While I didn’t have to suffer through morning sickness, and my bouts of nausea were reserved for when Mr. Way Too Much Cologne Wearer sat next to me on the commuter rail into work every day–my energy levels were just not there for me to step foot in the kitchen and make a dinner worth photographing, let alone blog about. Instead, my meals consisted of Velveeta mac and cheese. Yup—that’s it. 100% pure, processed mac and cheese. It comforted me the way nothing else (other than my homemade guac, which I made once a night for the first 2-trimesters by the way) could.
Once Lil One was born and I was back at work however, things needed to change drastically. I was not going to continue with my pregnancy-induced-processed-food-eating-ways. When I sat down and looked at my schedule for the weekdays, it laid out something like this:
–getting up at 4 a.m. to pump my daughter’s morning breast milk needs
–getting ready for work at 5 a.m.
–get out the door for drop off at 6 a.m.
–commuter rail into Boston for work at 6:16
–train home, often times not until 6:30 at the earliest
It was clear something needed to be done in order to get a nutritious meal on the table as soon as I got home at night so that I could maximize the 45-minutes I had to spend with my daughter before bedtime. Solution: the slow cooker was going to become my new best friend!
I started to sit down on Saturdays and review the meals we were interested in, see how I could adapt them to fit the slow cooker and began to make my menu for the week and subsequent shopping list. With about 25-lbs of added baby weight to lose and an equal 25-lbs of “support weight” for S. to lose we really tried to focus our meals on healthful options and significantly cut back on our processed food intake. We decided that rather than five separate meals for the weekdays we’d focus on three—a Monday/Wednesday meal, a Tuesday/Thursday meal, and a homemade pizza Friday. This idea of staggering leftovers and menu planning is not rocket science, nor do I claim it to be—it’s just what had gotten us through.
Sunday became my prep day. I’d cook a massive batch of soup for lunches for the week, prep Monday’s slow cooker meal in the crock and toss it in the fridge and completed what prep I could for Tuesday’s meal. We started to purchase the disposable crock liner bags to help save avoid the need to chisel off any debris that may have crusted on during the cooking process. Come Monday morning, the crock got tossed in the slow cooker and we set the timer as we walked out the door.
We are now two years into our menu planning and have made a few changes to the planning process along the way. We decided that since we were on track with not only menu planning, but limiting our processed food intake and having a steady exercise program in place, it was time to make some additional diet modifications. Last year was called “Operation Whole Grain and Legume”—we were not eating nearly enough of them in our diet before and this needed to change. This year is being dubbed “Mission Clean Eating.” I recently subscribed to Clean Eating Magazine—I can’t wait to get the first issue in the mail in March!
I am being realistic in that I know from time to time I’m just going to eat gross food and I’m OK with that. I’m a firm believer in moderation. We don’t consume large quantities of fast food, nor do we intend to, but sometimes I just crave those fries and nothing will stop me from having them. I think the goal for me and my family is to make the best possible choices in our food consumption as frequently as possible and hope that Lil One and Baby Bro grows up to make the best choices she can as a result of what we raised her on.
So down to the nitty-gritty—what is on the menu this week?
Lunches: Thai Chicken Soup. I used organic for 95% of the ingredients, reduced sodium chicken stock to control the sodium content of the soup. I also added ¼ cup of quinoa to the soup.
Monday/Wednesday: Tomatillo, White Bean, and Chicken Stew. We are huge fans of tomatillos and the past two summers we tried our hand at growing them in our garden for fun. Low and behold they were a cash crop for us putting out the largest yield of any of our crops. We made a large batch of roasted tomatillo sauce (using jalapeños from our organic garden as well in the recipe) and froze it in small batches. We combined some of our sauce with boneless, skinless chicken breasts, white beans and some onions in the slow cooker and served it over organic brown rice. This is one of our favorite dishes to make, and honestly, it has gotten so much better by the addition of our roasted tomatillo sauce instead of the jarred one we had been buying. The best part—our food-fussy Lil One LOVES this meal!
Tuesday/Thursday: Spicy Black Beans and Rice with Mangos. This will be our vegetarian meal for the week and is brand new. I just recently purchased a vegetarian slow cooker cookbook and am putting it through its maiden voyage. We totally do not have organic mangos in season locally so we are relying on the frozen organic mangos for this recipe. I’m hoping this is as yummy as it sounds on paper.
Now it’s your turn—I’d love to hear how you approach meal planning for the week. I am constantly inspired by others!
Do you menu plan? What is your menu for the week? Do you have any vegetarian recommendations to try out?