I seem to go in seasons with my cooking; sometimes the thought of finding and trying a new recipe energizes and excites me and other times it completely repels me. During those times when the idea of spending any amount of time more than necessary in the kitchen drains me, I try to remind myself that meals are an OPPORTUNITY to nourish and boost my family’s health and not just another thing I have to get done in the lineup of the evening’s events. This reminder holds a lot of weight, and if you really think about it; the food you eat either boosts your health OR it stresses out and taxes your body. One unhealthy meal may not be a big deal, but night after night if I am choosing convenience over quality then the health of my family will no doubt suffer because of it.
Several years ago, when I was working part-time and my family was on a tight grocery budget, I would create a lineup of meals that would last us two weeks and only shop every other week for all of our food. The less often you go to the grocery store the less money you spend, right? It worked for us. I continue to plan and shop according to this routine, which has proven very effective in saving us time and money.
After I have shopped for my meals and have all the ingredients on hand, I write out the “menu” of all the meals I have ingredients for, with the meals that have fresh ingredients that will expire if not used soon, at the top of my list and frozen meals at the bottom of my list. I stick this list to the side of our fridge so that when the inevitable question, “what’s for dinner tonight” comes up, we know our options.
I like to do all of my grocery shopping at Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. Logistically, where I live these three stores are all a short distance away from me and located within a short range from each other. Almost all of the time when I grocery shop I stop at all three stores in the same trip so I don’t have to go again for a least a week. I make my best effort to eat foods that are in season, this provides us the most nutritional benefit and also saves money. I try to avoid processed foods as much as possible but also strive for balance; in an ideal world I’d make everything from scratch but that isn’t an option for us right now. It also isn’t an option to buy all organic so I prioritize, almost always our meat/proteins and refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list for buying organic fruits and veggies. Super easy to do, by the way. Check out their free app!
What do breakfast and lunch look like? We keep it pretty simple. Eggs or oatmeal. I aim to have vegetables at every meal. Does the thought of veggies for breakfast not appeal to you? It doesn’t appeal to my son either. But, I say you have to try it first. Roasted brussel sprouts or sweet potatoes with a couple over easy eggs on top never gets old. Or an egg bake with spinach, peppers, mushrooms, virtually any veggie you like…, delish! Make a big pan on Sunday morning and you’ve got a quick and healthy breakfast to last all week. You get the idea. For lunch we keep it light, veggies and hummus with some string cheese, salad, a clean protein bar, a sandwich with clean protein and veggies. Pretty much grab and go.
Family dinners consist of a clean protein, as many veggies as I can get the family to eat, and typically a starch. We do a lot of soups and crockpot meals in the fall and winter and a lot of grilling in the spring and summer. I like to take traditional meals like chili or spaghetti and “clean them up”… chili’s are typically sweetened so I use organic molasses or coconut cane sugar to sweeten instead of refined white sugar. In our spaghetti I use lean ground turkey and throw in mushrooms and a red pepper into the sauce to add more fiber and nutrients. That being said, we are also a family that LOVES pizza. I truly believe in balance and progress over perfection. With the exception of my toddler, I’ll go out of my way to offer her something cleaner on the nights the rest of us have pizza or takeout.
I prefer to spend time cooking on the weekends because on weeknights my time and energy are best used elsewhere, and it just isn’t possible to spend more than ten to fifteen minutes prepping dinner. So, Saturday night I will cook a big pot of soup that will be enough for two dinners. I will do the same again on Sunday night, either doubling a recipe or cooking enough to last us two nights, so that by the time Monday and Tuesday come around I already have a healthy family dinner all ready to go. While I’m already in the kitchen on the weekends I will cut and roast a couple pans of veggies to have on hand for the next few days for eggs, salads, and side dishes.
My hope in sharing this along with weekly menus is that you will take away the bits and pieces that work for you and implement them into your family’s routine. With just a little extra time and effort you can streamline the process of family meals to the benefit of everyone in your home. Starting Monday, I will be posting weekly Menu Plans to give ideas on healthy(ish) family dinners, tips on food prep and how to make the most out of your time in the kitchen. Follow One Loved Mama on Facebook or Instagram for these weekly updates!