Family Meal Planning

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Reposting this great article from the Weston A Price website.

A GROWING WISE KIDS COLUMN

Make Your Time in the Kitchen Go the Distance!

The time-crunch challenges that accompany the blessing of children can be overwhelming; just getting out of the house can be an accomplishment, not to mention the addition of jam-packed schedules with ball games, dance recitals, field trips and playgroups. Regardless of life’s extra curriculars, food must be a top priority to adequately nourish our families, to keep their bodies brimming with vitality and their brains humming with clarity. Meal planning is the answer, especially for those who feel “too busy” to cook. With just a few tweaks in your kitchen time, strategic list making and a few new organizational techniques, you will be on your way to having meals ready at the drop of a hat, while still keeping true to the principles of nourishing traditional diets.

Food Principles

As detailed in the book Nourishing Traditions (NT), proper nutrition requires some forethought and preparation. The paramount principle is to eat whole, naturally raised foods. This includes organically or biodynamically grown produce that is eaten raw or properly cooked. Naturally-raised meats (seafood, poultry, beef, organ meats, and eggs) are extremely nourishing, as are dairy products from pasture-fed cows and goats, which should be consumed mostly raw or fermented.

Traditional fats and oils are critical to health, even more so for the young, and include butter, lard, goose fat, extra virgin olive oil, and the tropical oils coconut and palm. Grains, nuts, and seeds should be properly prepared by soaking, sprouting, or sour leavening to rid them of anti-nutrients. This process inactivates enzyme inhibitors,1 which would otherwise hamper digestion. Phytic acid, a component of plant fiber that reduces mineral absorption, is also neutralized.2,3

Enzyme-rich, lacto-fermented foods and beverages should accompany each meal, such as kefir sodas (recipes found in Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon) as well as apricot butter, sauerkraut, and pickled cucumbers (all found in Nourishing Traditions).

Finally, bone broths are an easy way to enrich your family’s diet with minerals and other healing nutrients, as well as improve overall digestion.4 Please note that the scope of this article is limited to the more general idea of meal planning and does not go into detail about the NT basics of broth making, fermentation, and sprouting. While these techniques should be included in your meal preparation routine, much more discussion is necessary to do them justice. Therefore, future articles in this column will be dedicated to these topics to fully explore ways to incorporate them into a family-focused, time-crunched lifestyle.

For those of you just getting your feet wet with preparing traditional foods, you may be asking, “How in the world am I going to incorporate all these ideas into my family’s meals?” Once you understand the core principles and your cupboards are stocked with the basic desirable items (and de-stocked of the undesirables), you will be on your way. Try one new step at a time and build from there. Consider making at least two NT-style dinners a week. How about every breakfast and snack while you are catching your breath and getting your NT ducks in a row? There is no wrong way to make positive changes to your diet. Just be sure to do it at your own pace so the changes are lasting. Add a dash of meal planning to whatever starter technique you choose and, voilá, you are on your way! For those seasoned traditional diet cooks out there, allow these meal planning ideas to put a renewed spark in your kitchen routine and revitalize your adventurous side.

Meal Planning Bennies

It’s four o’clock in the afternoon and you suddenly realize you haven’t even thought about dinner. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. Throw a hungry pack of kids into the mix and it can be downright scary. Meal planning to the rescue! When you have the peace of mind that your meal is in progress, the whole house will seem calmer.

Having a plan and a well-thought-out grocery list reduces haphazard shopping and cuts down on wasted food. It also shrinks the food bill and the number of trips to the store. Ultimately, meal planning will make your cooking sessions in the kitchen more efficient and save you oodles of time. Trust me, the initial time investment to get you set up will be worth the effort. So let’s get started!

Getting Started: Meal Planning Basics

The fundamental premise of meal planning is to make every meal and food prep session go as far as possible. First, organize your family’s top 10 to 12 favorite recipes. Either keep a simple list that details where your recipe is found or create your own cookbook. In addition to turning to my trusty (and quite tattered) copy of Nourishing Traditions for numerous scrumptious dishes, I have also created a personalized “Allbritton Family” cookbook in a three-ring binder. My top recipes are typed up and printed out, placed in protector sheets (so food spills can easily be wiped away), and organized into categories, such as meat, slow cooker, Mexican, sides, and so on. This personalized cookbook allows for your family recipe repertoire to grow as you find new favorites. The initial time putting this together will pay off 10-fold once you get into the swing of meal planning every week.

Now take a few minutes to clean out and organize your freezer. If you have a separate full-sized freezer in the basement or garage, that is even better, but not necessary. Be well stocked with glass baking and storage dishes that have air-tight lids (Pyrex™ produces a line with a wide variety of sizes) and plastic freezer bags. A toaster oven is handy for re-heating and thawing foods and also takes the place of a microwave quite nicely in many situations. By the way, if you have a microwave, it’s best to demote it to retro planter or footstool; better yet, get rid of it!

Another item to procure is some sort of accessible pad of paper and pencil to jot down grocery items as they run out. I found a magnetized holder for a small pad of paper with a pencil slot that sits right on the fridge. While in the midst of cooking is when you notice items that are running low. Having this list accessible every day helps keep staples well stocked. You can take note right away, whether you are down to your last teaspoon of sea salt, final bag of your favorite herbal tea, or the last pound of grass-fed beef. Other family members can also easily contribute to the list. This on-going list gets incorporated into the main list you create while planning your week of meals before you head to the store.

Finally, pick a way of keeping track of your weekly plan of meals. Try a special meal calendar, your daytimer, a sheet of paper in your cookbook binder, or a dry-erase board attached to the fridge. Jot down the name of the meal and if necessary, which cookbook it comes from and the page number. Also, find a way to remind yourself of pre-preparation steps. Personally, my meals are included right along with my list of daily tasks. This way I know when I need to marinate meats, soak tomorrow’s oatmeal, or start thawing out a frozen pre-made dinner for the following evening.

When preparing food using traditional methods, a useful habit to get into is to think about what you will be fixing for dinner while cleaning up from breakfast and pondering the next day’s breakfast plans before you hit the sack. Staying one step ahead is half the battle!

For some, it may be helpful to plan breakfast, lunch, and snacks for the entire week in addition to the evening meal; this can be particularly helpful with little ones at home. This habit also takes the guesswork out of what to send in everyone’s lunch boxes for either work or school. One idea is to keep a master list of all your easy prep or favorite recipes for these additional meals. This way, when you are planning, you can simply plug these meals into your list with minimal effort. Now sit back with a refreshing glass of raw milk or kombucha—it’s time to personalize your meal plan!

Time Saving Meal Prep Methods

Try incorporating one or more of these preparation methods into your meal planning routine.

Purposeful leftovers: The first trick to making each meal go the distance is bulk cooking, or what I like to call purposeful leftovers. Begin with one of your top family favorites that freezes well. Instead of making one batch, make two or even three. Large pieces of cookware or multiple pots are useful here. You are already in the kitchen chopping, mixing and cleaning, so why not mass produce? It takes a bit more time initially, but the leftover rewards will be priceless on those days that feel more like 12 hours long instead of 24.

Purposeful leftovers work well for meals such as meatloaf, casseroles, sloppy joe mix, lasagna, tortilla stuffing like chimichangas or tacos, soups, empanadas, granola, waffles, pancakes, muffins and cookies. Once your extra batches have cooled, keep the leftovers you want for the next few days in the fridge and transfer the rest to a glass storage container or freezer bag and freeze. (See the side bar for inspiration.)

The same concept can be useful on a smaller scale. For example, make more oatmeal than you need for breakfast and save the rest for yummy oatmeal pancakes for the next day. Use the extra sautéed veggies from last night’s dinner in the blended soup tonight. While cutting cabbage, onions, and tomatoes for a taco dinner, cut extra for an egg burrito or omelet the next morning.

Base ingredient doubling:
 When roasting one chicken, do two instead. Same goes for a meat roast or fish. This will give you plenty of leftover meat for other dinners and make a nice addition to breakfast and lunch menu items. Let’s say tonight you have roasted chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, and sautéed veggies. You can stop there and freeze the rest in desired portions or start making different dishes right away, such as chicken soup, egg scramble with chicken pieces, chicken salad and chicken potpie. Don’t forget use the carcass in your next batch of homemade chicken stock.

Multi-Batching: Take a day and mass produce several dishes all at once. Maximize the use of your kitchen equipment and appliances. For example, have a roast in the slow cooker, brown rice and a pot of chili on the stove, baked sweet potatoes in the toaster oven, and two casseroles in the main oven. Freeze in meal size portions and save for later. This method is great for families with both parents in the workforce coming home right when tummies start to rumble.

Try this multi-recipe arrangement on for size one weekend morning. Plan on putting together some Nourishing Traditions waffles, but quadruple the recipe (overnight soaking is involved, so plan ahead). A waffle maker with a timer, or just a separate timer, allows for multi-tasking with other recipes since constant attention is not necessary. Once cool, store the extra waffles in freezer bags for a quick breakfast item that can be toasted at a moment’s notice. When making the waffle mix, save those extra egg yolks to add into a smoothie made with frozen mangos, bananas and kefir or yogurt. Now make a double batch of ice cream and use the extra egg whites to make either coconut macaroons or the Coconut-Almond Kisses found in Eat Fat, Lose Fat for a nice little after-dinner treat or lunch box meals. Finally, throw together the ingredients for Apricot Butter in Nourishing Traditions to use on all these fabulous waffles, using fresh, refrigerated whey from a previous kitchen session.

Share with friends/cooking groups: Cooking with friends is becoming a popular trend. Get a few of your closest pals together who share your same dietary principles and pick a day to cook three or four batches of several dishes. Share the shopping responsibilities, get some meals made, and enrich your friendships at the same time. Another idea is to simply swap extra meals with others to spice up your menu.

Personalize Your Plan

While making your lists, consider the following options to give them a personal touch.

  1. How often do you want to go to the store? Once a week is usually the minimum to keep your produce as fresh as possible and save time, unless of course you have a flourishing garden! Another resource is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms, which provide a wide variety of goods, such as grass-fed meats, raw dairy products, pastured poultry and eggs, as well as fruit and vegetable produce. Many times CSAs also make whey, broth, sauerkraut, and other delectable items that may save you time in the kitchen.
  2. Take stock of what you have in the pantry, freezer, and garden before heading to the store. This is an excellent time to also clean out the fridge, which helps cut down on wasted food.
  3. Go through your calendar and make adjustments for days you are short on time or have scheduled commitments. Your meal choices should reflect your available kitchen time.
  4. When deciding what to have for meals during your week, consider these fun options.
  • Involve the family, especially the kids. This makes them feel part of the action, even more if they participate in meal preparation. Moreover, teaching them the value of home cooking is a true gift.
  • “Pizza Fridays” or “Hamburger Saturdays”
  • Some families like to have a food theme for a particular night of the week. Don’t forget to make extra of the base ingredients, for example, if pizza is your theme of choice, make three or four batches of Yogurt Dough at once and freeze the rest for the next few weeks.
  • Share the joy of cooking with all family members. Everyone in the household can contribute to planning, shopping for, and making dinner in some way. Have Dad prepare the feast on a certain night of the week or even give the older kids the reins on occasion.
  • A full meal can be created by just cleaning out the leftovers for a “smorgasbord” night.
  • Experiment with various cooking methods. Try casseroles, slow cooker dishes, and stir-fries in the wok. A method can even be designated for a certain day of the week. For example, say, Thursday is slow cooker night where the meal is prepped in the morning and ready when everyone gets home.
  • Cook ethnic cuisine one night a week—try Mexican, Italian, Greek, Indian, or Asian.
  • Don’t forget to expand your family meal repertoire by skimming through your cookbook collection on occasion to find a new recipe to try. If the family gives it a ‘thumbs up’, add it to your growing personalized family cookbook.

You’re nearing the end of meal planning boot camp! Are you still with me? Hopefully you have taken just a few of the ideas to jump-start your family into more organized meals, which will ultimately save you time. The best part of what you are about to put into practice is that you can often get away with only cooking three or four fresh meals each week as you optimize purposeful leftovers and frozen meals. Occasionally you may have to use some quick thinking for fresh side dishes, but staying organized should make meal time preparations more manageable.

Making “The List”

Get comfy in your favorite chair and get ready to put your plan together. Before going to the store, sift through your personalized cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, or other resources and write out your meals for the week. Then jot down needed ingredients on your main grocery list to coincide with those recipes (be sure to take note of what you have already). Eventually you will create a list system that works for the layout at your particular natural foods grocery. For example, my list has the columns of produce, grocery, dairy, frozen, bulk, and other (toothpaste, soap, etc). Be sure to include ingredients for side dishes, snacks, lunch, and lunch box items. Grab your on-going list from the fridge and add that to this main list and you are ready to head out to the store!

As the old adage goes, a failure to plan is a plan for failure. Consistent home-cooked meals based on Nourishing Traditions principles are possible, even for the busiest of families. Use meal planning techniques to reduce mealtime stress, put more money in the bank from food bill savings, bolster your cooking creativity, and give yourself extra leisure time that you can spend with your children!

Brenda Rogers

Brenda Rogers is a renowned holistic health expert dedicated to guiding her clients towards optimal wellness through nutrition and lifestyle interventions. With a focus on nutrient-dense foods and holistic approaches, Brenda empowers individuals to cultivate a harmonious relationship with their bodies and kitchens, fostering a profound sense of wellbeing. Specialising in addressing issues like emotional eating and hormonal imbalances, Brenda’s personalised coaching has transformed the lives of countless women, enabling them to reclaim control over their health and vitality. 

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Brenda Rogers

With over 25 years experience as a corporate trainer, naturopath, yoga teacher and wise woman educator, Brenda is the head clinician and coach at Quintessence Health.

"A healthy mind and body simply ensures you have the time and energy to fully express and manifest your life’s purpose – it facilitates the unfolding of joy."

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