Nov 11, 2013

Menu and Meal Panning 101

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Well that sounds rather morose, doesn’t it? But it’s a maxim that I live by and have found to be true. Especially when it comes to meal planning and even more so when I’m helping someone transition to a plant-based diet.

Meal planning takes the frustration out of standing in front of your refrigerator or cupboard with the heart-sinking question of, “What the heck am I going to make to eat today?!” Have you done this? When you’re hungry?? It is so not fun. Planning your meals will save you money as well. Because when you hit the supermarket aisles armed with a shopping list that is specific to your upcoming meals, you won’t be tempted to buy things on a whim… items you won’t use right away or some fancy piece of fruit or produce that will become a science experiment in the back of your fridge.

It’s not really that hard. I ordinarily plan my upcoming weekly menu the day before I do my food shopping. The only tricky part (if you’re wanting to stick to a nutrient-dense eating style) is ensuring that you include at least a cup of beans each day, some mushrooms and onions, a good amount of cooked and raw veggies and some fresh fruit.

Smoothies are a great way to get a good dose of nutrients in the mornings!

When creating my weekly menu, I work on one meal at a time. In other words, I do breakfasts first. They’re pretty easy. Lots of smoothies. Some oatmeal and perhaps something fancy on the weekend. Then, I tackle lunches. Also not so hard as I make a lot of soups and/or salads for lunch.

Dinner is sometimes not so easy. I have to juggle different time constraints on different days of the week. But I manage to include a diverse amount of fruits and veggies each week, along with my beans and a few desserts to keep things interesting. And having a food blog on which I post a recipe almost EVERY DAY is challenging, let me tell you! So if I can do it, you can too…

Remember… the salad is the main dish! 

Here is my actual menu plan from this week so you can get an idea of what I eat and how I plan. As you will see, there are usually beans, raw and cooked veggies (including cruciferous veggies) in each day’s menu. And not more than one cup of whole grains per day. It’s not always perfect, nor do I adhere to my menu 100% of the time, but it’s a fantastic guide and I’ve gotten so accustomed to it, that I can’t imagine not having one…

Saturday
B – Smoothies
L – OUT (Asheville)
D – Leftover Veggie Soup, Salad

Sunday
B – Banana Blender Pancakes w/fresh fruit
L – Green Bean Casserole, Hummus w/ veggie sticks
D – Curried Kidney Bean Stew, Salad

Monday
B – Baked Stuffed Apples
L – Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan Stacks, Salad
D – 5-Bean Chili, corn muffins, Guacamole

Tuesday
B – Creamy Grits and Shiitake Breakfast Sausage
L – Beans n Greens Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
D – Big Salad w/ Bleu cheeze dressing

Wednesday
B – Super Q Chocolate Smoothies
L – Swedish No-Meatballs w/ Apricot Sauce, Roasted Brussels Sprouts
D – Creamy Cauliflower Leek Soup, Salad

Thursday
B – Oatmeal w/ fresh fruit
L – Chickpea of the Sea Tuna Salad
D – Bok Choy Asian Stirfry

Friday
B – Smoothies
L – Green Mountain Soup, GF dinner rolls
D – Broccoli Pesto Pizza, Salad

Okay, now don’t get frustrated thinking that you couldn’t possibly make all these meals. You just don’t have the time! I know how that is. I was a single mom working two jobs for many years. But the best part about being on the Fuhrman (nutritarian) plan is that your menus don’t have to be as involved as this. I’m a food blogger, don’t forget! I need to come up with interesting recipes. It’s a challenge. But I work at home which makes it much easier to do all this prepping and cooking.

Here is a menu that has just as much nutrient-load and is MUCH quicker and easier to do. You can find the recipes on this blog. Of course, some of the meals are just “a salad” which you can create with whatever greens and veggies you like.

Saturday
B – Superfood Blueberry Smoothie
L – Minestrone Soup (make a BIG pot so you’ll have leftovers)
D – Big Salad w/ Walnut Dressing


Sunday
B – Buckwheat Pancakes
L – Homestyle Lentil Soup (make a BIG pot so you’ll have leftovers)
D – Black Bean Hummus w/ veggie sticks, Salad

Monday
B – Hardcore Green Smoothie
L – Leftover Minestrone Soup, Salad
D – Buddha Bowl with Karma Kream    (make Overnight Oatmeal)

Tuesday
B – Overnight Oatmeal
L – Leftover Lentil Soup, Carrot Cashew Salad
D – Big Salad w/ Vegan Ranch dressing

Wednesday
B – Superfood Blueberry Smoothie
L – Big Salad with Kidney Beans
D – Fiesta Bean Soup, Sliced Avocado

Thursday
B – Chopped fresh fruit with vegan yogurt and hemp seeds
L – Cream of Broccoli Soup, Salad
D – Zucchini Pad Thai    (make Chickpea of the Sea Tuna Salad)

Friday
B – Smoothies
L – Chickpea of the Sea Tuna Salad in green bell peppers, Leftover Fiesta Bean Soup
D – Simple Vegetable Curry, Brown Rice, Citrusy 3-Pea Salad

I ordinarily just type out my menus in MSWord, but there are many free menu planning templates online, like these from Money Saving Mom. Choose a template that you like if you want to use one for your plans. However you plan your weekly menu, when you’re done, print it out and put it on your fridge. I find this helpful as I can look at it the day before to see if I want to prep anything for the next day ahead of time.

Crunched for time during the week? Then soups are your friends!
Make a big batch on the weekend and have it for lunches.

You didn’t see any desserts on my menu, did you? If you’re a follower of my blog, you KNOW that I make desserts. But I omitted them from the menu. I usually have a separate note on what specialty items I will be making for my blog. And I don’t eat a lot of sweets. About twice per week I will indulge in a small treat, usually after lunch. Everyone loves desserts. At least most people I know. And with the holidays around the corner, many folks are scouring the internet for recipes. But even sweetening desserts with dates or date sugar still gives you a good dose of sugars. I say “sugars” not sugar, because even carrots and apples have a high amount of naturally occurring sugars. And I try to keep my intake of sugars on the low end. Honey, maple syrup, agave… all high in sugar content. All to be eaten in moderation, if at all. I prefer using dates to sweeten as they are a whole food and are high in minerals.

Ideally, we should aim to get our sweets from fruit. Did you know that primates (that’s us… and apes) are the only species that can taste sweets? But most people’s taste buds these days are completely overstimulated by too much concentrated sweeteners and salt. For more information about sugar vs. fruit, see Dr. Fuhrman’s interesting article here: Sugar: Enough is Enough!

Whole food sorbets and quick ice creams are a great way to handle a sweet tooth! Just put some frozen bananas and another frozen fruit of your choice (strawberries, cherries, raspberries, etc.) into a food processor or blender with a little non-dairy milk and blend until puréed. It’s fast, delicious and another good way to get your daily dose of fruits, besides smoothies.

Date-sweetened pumpkin pie… a popular item on my blog!
Yes, it can take a bit of work and planning to put your menu together for the week, but think of the time and hassle it will save you in the following days when you’re too busy to try and figure out meals. Just make sure to include each day:

  • at least 1 cup of beans
  • about 1 pound of fresh veggies (including crucifers!)
  • about 1 pound of cooked veggies
  • fresh or frozen fruit
  • mushrooms and onions at least 3x per week
  • 1-2 ounces of raw nuts and/or seeds

That sounds like a lot of food, doesn’t it? That’s one of the best things about a nutritarian eating style. No weighing of foods, no counting of calories. Just EATING nutrient-dense, delicious meals. Smoothies, soups and salads are the basics on this plan. Work around them to make your planning and preparing easier and to ensure you are getting the nutrients your body needs. Make sure to eat a few raw nuts when you have your greens, too. Nuts will help your body to better utilize the nutrients in the green vegetables. And they are your best source of essential fatty acids, which is a vital part of a nutritarian diet.

So how do you decide exactly what dishes to put on your menu? That’s simple. Choose the foods you enjoy! Hunt around online. Look at various, plant-based, whole food blogs and see what looks good to you. Save the ones you want to make. Create a Pinterest account if you don’t have one. This is a great way to organize recipes from other websites to save for future use. On the right panel of this page you will see “my favorite hangouts.” These are some of the sites that I visit to get inspired when I run out of ideas. They’re all great blogs with wonderful recipes. In particular I recommend: Straight Up Food, Carrie on Vegan, Fat-free Vegan Kitchen and Wendy over at  Healthy Girl’s Kitchen who is working on a really cool project of making ALL of the recipes from Dr. Fuhrman’s new cookbook, The Eat to Live Cookbook with a new review every day. Go, Wendy!

That pretty much covers it. Be creative and have fun! Send me an email if you have questions or need help. I’d be happy to guide you.

Healthy trails,

11 responses to “Menu and Meal Panning 101”

  1. Maggy says:

    As usual, a totally helpful entry. I think the best thing on this page is the picture of that beautiful salad. I would love to see a picture page full of your salads, just like that — seen from the top in that big bowl. They look so delicious, and I don't think I've ever seen a salad presented like that. I see you have a Sauces Dips & Dressings category with 25 items, so I think it is time that I make my way through those entries. Thanks again for your beautiful blog!

  2. Helyn says:

    Thank you so much, Maggy! Have fun with the dressings! 🙂

  3. Carla says:

    I have a very important question: WHAT is that delicious looking picture on the top of this post?

    I just started meal planning about two weeks ago, and I'm shaving money off my grocery bill every week. I've found that, being young, active and single, it's easiest to make the same thing for breakfast every day (tofu scramble with kale and mushrooms and a piece of fruit) and lunch (salad with beans and onions, and sometimes soup) to cover some of my bases. Then, I make one big entree with one or two sides on Sunday and eat it all week with a smoothie. I know that's too boring for some people, but consistency makes me eat a lot healthier and feel better (and it's cheaper!).

  4. Helyn says:

    Carla, sounds like you have the perfect meal planning going on for you! Well done!!

    That photo is from my post: Cauliflower Steaks with Sweet Pea Puree! Check it out. It's really easy to make! 🙂

  5. What a wonderful post Helen. I am so glad you included a simplified menu plan as well as the more involved one. I tend to eat nearly the same thing for breakfast through out the week as it just keeps things easier for me. Since I have only been eating a plant based diet since March I am still getting use to it all. We have several dishes that we enjoy and are happy to eat again and again. I cook up the large batches of soups and veggie burgers and then freeze them in smaller containers. It makes for easy heat and eat meals whenever we need them.

    When we still had kids at home I was so good at meal planning but in the past year we became empty nesters and I have gotten away from it. I always have a general idea in my head about what I want to make for the week and do shop with that in mind. Of course there is always room for improvement!

    Thank you for sharing your tips and ideas – it sure does help.

  6. Helyn says:

    You're welcome, Tami! Oh yes, veggie burgers! Thanks for reminding us of that. I do the same… it's great to have some on hand for a quick fix! Sounds like you're on the right track!!

  7. Another helpful post. Thanks so much for sharing, Helyn. My absolute favorite app and web page is Pepperplate, which is the best recipe saver and meal planner I've ever seen. It's easy to copy and paste recipes (with pictures!) from any webpage, and equally easy to put them into the planner. Some of the big recipe sites automatically suck into Pepperplate when you click on your Add Recipe applet, but none of my favorite vegan sites do that. I don't use the shopping portion of the app, but I suppose that is easy, too. (I use AnyList for that and just add the things I need. Both it and Pepperplate are synced between all my devices and therefore are always with me. SO convenient. For a recipe addict who rarely cooks the same thing twice because I'm constantly seeing something new I want to try, these two apps keep me organized with little effort. Along with your site, I HIGHLY recommend them!

  8. Helyn says:

    Great! Thanks for sharing that info, Suzanne. I will check out Pepperplate and AnyList.

  9. Let me know how you like them!

  10. CW says:

    AWESOME…VERY HELPFUL! Question: 1 pound fresh veggies & 1 pound cooked veggies – what is the best way to measure? Do you use a scale? Before or after cooking? Or how many CUPS make up a pound of veggies?

  11. Helyn says:

    Hi CW,

    Thanks for the feedback. I don't measure now but did in the beginning… it really varies depending on the type of veggies but doesn't take a lot to make a pound of raw. For example, 1 shredded beet, a couple of carrots, half a cucumber and a small tomato would be at least a pound. That could easily be put in a salad (lettuce is light) to give you your pound of raw. Another great way to get a pound of raw is to have some veggie sticks dipped in hummus (celery, peppers, cucumber, carrots, zucchini, etc.– really makes a nice meal). I usually get my cooked portion by steaming a bunch of broccoli and other veggies or in a soup. If most of what your'e eating is veggies then you will be getting at least a pound of each daily. If you want to be sure, you can get a small kitchen scale–they're cheap. It's always good to have one on hand anyway. And I would weigh before cooking. Hope this helps!

    Best,
    Helyn

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