As I shared in a blog post last year, I’m oddly averse to the term “meal planning.” I think it has become quite loaded, and frankly can turn people off to the process. Personally, preparing all weekly meals in one day doesn’t work for me, because I believe it may limit creativity and the ability to assess what you actually want to eat. What if, on the day you planned to eat leftover chili, it’s blazing hot and sounds like the most unappealing meal ever? When it comes to food, I need nourishing options and my approach is to have different items available to select. In this post, I want to share my current approach that has been working for me during shelter-in-place and minimizing time planning what to eat throughout the week. As I shared in my first meal planning article, this is a personal process, and what works for me, may not work for you (or the people you are feeding in your home). If you have your own meal planning routine already in place, amazing! I’m going to share mine in hopes it may make your life a little simpler, especially with so much going on around us.
The last few weeks, I’ve been allocating about one hour to cook a bounty of food I can use throughout the week. By “bounty,” I mean large portions of my staple items. I got home from a road trip on Monday and assessed what I had in my pantry and fridge: items for my usual kale salad, eggs, carrots, farro, and an onion. My intention was to make a variety of “bowls” throughout the week, utilizing all of these items. The kale and farro would serve as “base” ingredients, which could be varied accounting for what I felt like eating and the amount of time I had to put it together. Here was my one-hour plan:
- Roast large sheet pan of carrots with smoked paprika, za’atar, and salt (50 minutes)
- Cook two cups of farro in low-sodium vegetable broth (45 minutes)
- Chop three heads of kale, wash, spin in salad spinner, and massage with dressing of lemon, olive oil, salt, and garlic (15 minutes)
- Pickle red onion (10 minutes)
- Boil four eggs (7 minutes) *I like using the vinegar from the pickled onions to store the cooked eggs
- Make a tahini sauce (tahini, Greek yogurt, apple cider vinegar, water, salt, garlic)
Monday Dinner: base of farro and roasted carrots, hard boiled egg, pickled onions, drizzled with tahini sauce and my beloved Frank’s RedHot. *This meal was shared with my husband.
Lunch: I am a creature of habit, and derive genuine satisfaction from this kale salad I simply can’t quit. On Monday, I made enough to last about four days, which typically serves as the base for my lunch meal. I added leftover farro, roasted carrots, pickled onions, tahini sauce, and Frank’s.
Dinner: Despite my tendency to be a creature of habit, I also value and need variety with my meals. After a long work day, I wanted a no-frills dinner situation utilizing what I already prepped, while changing the flavor profile. My plan was to make a Korean-inspired bowl. Here was the additional work required to put these together:
- Roast large sheet pan of cauliflower rice (*refrigerated not frozen variety) with olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (30 minutes)
- Fry two more eggs for additional protein (3 minutes)
- Made a peanut sauce using peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and water (2 minutes)
For these bowls, I mixed leftover farro with the cauliflower rice to create a filling base. I added store-bought kimchi, a fried egg, the hard boiled egg leftovers (1/2 per bowl, thus why I added another egg), Everything But the Bagel Seasoning, and chopped almonds. *Also shared with my husband.
Lunch: Another day, another loaded kale salad. Added farro, roasted carrots, pickled onions, and the last of the tahini sauce.
Lunch: Same salad as yesterday, without tahini sauce. The last of the carrots.
Lunch: We have come to the end of our road with the kale salad (and the pickled onions). I needed more substance for this meal, so I heated up a leftover garbanzo bean “stew” I made a few weeks ago. Pro-tip, your freezer is your friend!
Weekly Recap: Tallying up my meals over the week, the initial hour of this “nourishment plan” yielded eight meals (counting two dinners for my husband). I think this is great value for actual time spent in the kitchen. I want to stress how deeply personal this process is. I believe it is critical to honor your own likes and dislikes, because I want you to eat foods you love. For me, I am satisfied by vegetarian meals with a Mediterranean flavor profile, but this may not be your thing. Awesome! Connect with the foods/flavors/textures that are satisfying for you, and create your own one-hour plan. Here are some other quick ideas:
- BBQ or bake a sheet pan of your favorite lean protein (salmon or chicken would be great here).
- Make Greek yogurt your meal base, not just at breakfast. You can create your own Mediterranean bowl of Greek yogurt, lentils, and roasted veggies (probably cold ones with the yogurt) and boom, you have The Plate Method we talk so much about in our appointments.
- Prepare a large batch of your favorite high-fiber starch (mine is clearly farro). Quinoa, barley, freekeh, any type of bean, and lentils make great options. Cooking them in a low-sodium broth really amplifies the flavor.
- Utilize store-bought ingredients like these shrimp burgers, veggie burgers, or canned fish.
- A homemade dressing/sauce can dramatically change the flavor of a dish, offering variety and satisfaction. Here are some other quick ideas:
- Your favorite hot sauce + Greek yogurt + water + salt + pepper
- Greek yogurt + lemon juice + water + fresh or dried dill + garlic powder + salt + pepper for a lower-calorie ranch
- Hummus + lemon juice + salt + pepper for a Mediterranean-inspired vinaigrette
- This store-bought staple: Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing
- Simply adding your favorite vinegar to a dish (perhaps roasted vegetables or raw veggies) can jazz things up. We love balsamic, red wine, champagne, and rice vinegars.
- Texture is an important element to consider, and can contribute to your overall satisfaction with a meal. I may add some chopped nuts for a little crunch, or some Greek yogurt or hummus for a little creaminess, depending on what I feel like a dish needs.
For more tips, don’t hesitate to talk to your dietitian, and continue to visit our blog for recipe inspiration. Happy cooking!