I have found that one key part of success in the Trim Healthy Mama lifestyle is meal planning. I have had varying levels of success with meal planning in the past, but usually I do well for a few months & then get busy, so forget to plan, then the meals start to become more and more last minute, while becoming equally less and less healthy.
I encourage you to JUST DO IT! I have found that Sunday afternoons are best for my meal planning. Right after lunch, I sit with my calendar and my iPad, and my book and set up my meals for at least 2 weeks at a time. I still am not fully consistent, but when I am, my life is MUCH smoother, less stressful, & more healthy!
Here’s how I do it, Step by Step!
1. Get your phone, calendar, day planner or whatever else you use to track your appointments.
2. Get a calendar that is dedicated to meal planning. I use this one that I found at Target in the Office Supply section. I like this particular calendar because I use the 3 colors of sticky notes to signify my S, E & FP days. I see at a glance what the fuel for the day is, which I find much easier to do than mixing it up within a day. I am beginning this year with a 2-week fuel cycle, so I also mark what days need to be what fuel types.
3. Get your THM book, other recipe books & whatever device you normally use for Pinterest, (awesome resource for meal planning!). And a shopping list!
4. Make a quick mental (or written) list of the proteins you have in the fridge or freezer. For our family, we usually have on hand: Frozen boneless & bone-in chicken breasts, & thighs, whole chicken; grass fed hamburger, steak, stew meat; pork chops, butt or loin; salmon, tilapia, trout, shrimp & sometimes bass; turkey breast or ground turkey. I also will add the meal in a box options such as frozen eggplant patties, ravioli, frozen burgers (beef, turkey, veggie), etc. I usually have most of these on hand, but sometimes I use up my last one without realizing it.
5. Make a secondary list of your staple pantry items: quinoa, pasta, flours, canned goods, etc. I usually have these on hand, including: variety of tomato products, spaghetti sauce, progresso light soups, variety of dried beans, almond flour, coconut flour, flaxseed meal, etc., coconut milk, evaporated milk. Just your stuff you usually cook with.
6. On your calendar, pencil in your activities, big & small. From things like regular meetings, to dentist appointments, anything that affects your day & your time allowed to cook.
7. Start to look at when you have busy or on-the-go days that you need fast meals & pencil in CROCKPOT (or Leftovers). Then look at days that you have quite open & pencil in COOK!
8. Roughly plan the dinner proteins first. Using your list of proteins from the fridge or freezer, schedule the proteins for your evening meals. I like to rotate my proteins so that I have a variety throughout the week, and a variety in cooking styles. For example, we have basketball practice on Monday nights, so that is a crockpot day for us. I don’t want to always do chicken crockpots, so I might add crock-beef, crock-chic, crock-soup.
9. I now know that our Monday is a crockpot S day. I pull out my iPad, pinterest open, search THM Crockpot S chicken (or beef or whatever). Fabulous! So much to choose from. Plug in your crockpot meals first, remember to vary your proteins so the kids don’t complain too loudly. Pencil it in on the YELLOW sticky note, bottom half. Stick it on the calendar in the right day. (Now, I know you could just write it on the calendar you use for everything else. But the sticky notes become very useful on month 2, trust me!)
10. Continue in this manner for your dinners, switching up fuels, proteins & cooking styles as desired. If we have a very free afternoon, I will plan a casserole or something that requires longer prep or longer baking (like a whole chicken), while on our busier days, I try to schedule faster meal options (fish or crockpots). I’m usually pretty loose on what fuel types, unless I’m doing a fuel cycle. The sticky notes make it easy to switch as needed, until you find a good balance for your meals. I also plan at least one breakfast for dinner each month (usually the last Friday of the month), but eggs, sausage & sprouted toast are always a super fast dinner when needed.
11. When you are happy with your dinner variety, add in the breakfasts. I tend to fall back on eggs & frozen sausage patties for S breakfasts, Smoothies on FP days & oatmeal or cereal on E days. Sometimes I mix it up, and often we’ll do THM pancakes on Saturdays, but these are my main breakfast staples. I can’t think in the morning so I need easy! (Morning tip: I’ve copied the FP smoothie onto an index card & attached it to the cupboard above the blender. Including options. This makes it easy, no book necessary & my daughter can make her own smoothies too!)
12. Lunches again may vary by the day & the scheduled activities. I usually have a sandwich on Joseph’s flatbread or maybe a Joseph’s ‘pizza’ with cheese & pepperoni. A light soup option, salad or leftovers are also my go-to lunches. Sometimes a smoothie if I haven’t had one for breakfast & we are headed out the door. I loosely schedule the kid’s lunches too and rotate between: soup, sandwiches, salads, leftovers, & their Friday indulgence: chicken nuggets.
13. Go through the recipes, and make sure you have marked the page number or pin name on the sticky too. That way you know which recipe you were intending to make. On the left hand side of the calendar, make a grocery list of items you will need each week.
You’ve done it! Two weeks, or maybe a month of meals ready to go! YAY!
Now, if you’re like me, I have the first two weeks quite detailed, and the last few get a little sketchy. I will add to them as I get closer, as we have leftovers, or when I have more time. Typically 2 weeks of planning, with an additional 2 weeks of loose planning are all I can handle in one sitting before my brain starts to explode. But those other 2 weeks are all the recipes that I found while searching for the first two weeks & want to try but I may not have the ingredients or sides planned out yet.
Also, be sure to use the plan to look ahead to remind yourself to take things out to defrost. I usually look 2-3 days ahead at breakfast, and put the food in the fridge to defrost, so its ready by the time I want it. My BIGGEST defeat in cooking healthy for my family is in NOT taking the food out to defrost, having to change plans last minute & then throwing something together. Then I have a meal I need to cook before the ingredients spoil & my plan gets all wonky. BUT with the sticky notes this does make it easier, just pull & swap & move things around. Super easy.
After you have done this method for a few months, you will have a stockpile of menus planned for each meal type. I save my stickies & re-use them, maybe not each month, but every other month for sure. So after about 6 months, this process should not take nearly as long as it does the first month. Or, you could be super lazy (or is it smart?!) and just re-use the entire month’s menu, no switches required. This would definitely work if your schedule is uber-consistent, and if your family doesn’t mind eating the same things frequently.
Good luck & God Bless! I hope you can find the success we have found using this system for planning your THM meals!