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I have a confession. I have a love/hate relationship with making my family’s meal plan. It is not a task that gives me warm fuzzy feelings, but it is ministry to my family. I know without a plan in place, I have a greater chance of caving in to a quick run to the store for that frozen pizza. So twice a month I suck it up. With my big cup of hot green tea, comfy pants, and my arsenal of Google, cookbooks, and the family calendar, I plan.
I prefer to meal plan when the house is quiet and the kids are in bed, allowing me to focus. I have a food budget, desire to provide my family with the most nourishing foods possible, and not waste any food I bring in the house. All this means… I need concentration!
When I first started planning real food meals, I felt overwhelmed. I was clueless as to what I would offer for snacks or dinner without pulling out a box. The longer I have been at this real food thing, the easier planning has become. In the beginning, it could take an hour to meal plan. Today, it takes about 20-30 minutes.
Before I share my meal plan strategy, here are some things you need to know about how I shop for our food.
- I have a grocery budget for a family of 4 humans (plus two dogs and 8 laying chickens) of $600. Update: as of December 2013- $800. We’ve cut our budget in many ways to afford good food– going out to eat, cable, and other “luxuries.”
- I shop bi-monthly at a local co-op, where I get fresh, raw dairy and fruits and veggies, along with eggs, raw honey, and a few other goodies.
- During farmer’s market season, I shop weekly for fresh produce visiting my favorite farm stand.
- I visit our local health food store on a weekly basis where I restock items such as bananas, a local brand of fresh OJ, and other staples.
- Our family recently became members at Costco. I visit monthly for a few items like Kerrygold Grass-fed Butter, Kerrygold Cheese, organic tomato paste, Wild Planet Tuna, and a couple of other items.
- I purchase our meat twice a year through a farmer. Recently we bought 60 pounds of beef, soup bones, whole chickens, and 15lbs of pork.
- I purchase grains through a local co-op which specializes in grains, oats, and a few other products, twice a year.
How I Effectively Meal Plan
I thrive on routine! I’m a former 1st grade teacher who lived 7 hours a day on a precise, calculated schedule. I decided early on, if I was going to be successful with planning real food for my family, I needed to have a food routine! This is what I came up with– I do have impulse days, where I change something up, but this is what I strive for when planning.
Scrambled Eggs with homemade baked good
|Oatmeal/Fruit||Omelet Day:Omelet with filling and toast and fruit||Homemade Granola with milk and fruit||Smoothies with breakfast burritos or egg sandwich||Easy Breakfast Day:A baked good with hard-boiled eggs and fruit||
Pancakes, waffles, or French toast with fruit
|Meat Day:Whole chicken, steak, meatloaf, hamburgers, fish
||Salad and Sandwich Night:Grilled cheese, leftover meat sandwiches-with salad (beans, greens, fruit) or quiche||Mexican Night: Tostadas, fajitas, quesadillas, stuffed peppers, tacos||
Spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, pasta dish
|Homemade Pizza Night
||Soup Night: Soup, homemade bread, and salad||Easy Night:Leftovers or an easy meal, such as a casserole
Meals include veggies and/or fruit as well.
I usually don’t plan lunches. I use lots of leftovers from dinner or the boring ol’ homemade pb&j (hey, I have two kids) or some type of more adult sandwich for the husband and I. You can find over fifty real food lunch ideas for kid here. When I do plan lunches, I always plan lunch meals after breakfast and dinner so I can plan to reuse leftovers.
Planning Snack Options
- Fresh Fruit and veggie slices (or veggie cutters)
- Ak Mak Crackers (where to buy) or Mary’s Gone Crackers with cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese, or homemade jam.
- Yogurt with fruit and homemade granola or crushed nuts
- Veggies: cucumber slices, carrot sticks, and celery. I use these little veggie cutters with the kids. Dipped in homemade hummus, guacamole, or homemade ranch.
- Air-popped (I use this) organic popcorn (where to buy) with coconut oil (where to buy) and/or grass fed butter and good-quality salt.
- Brown Rice Cakes (where to buy) with nut butter.
- Whole wheat sprouted or sourdough toast with peanut butter, cream cheese, coconut oil (where to buy), or grass fed butter.
- Hard-boiled pastured eggs
- Cheese slices from grass-fed milk.
- Smoothies (such as this recipe)
- Raisins and other dried fruit with no added sugar
- Homemade Gummy Snacks
- Homemade chips (such as beet chips or kale chips)