Summer break has been fun, memorable, adventurous, inspiring but also long and hot! My kids are so ready to go back to school, and honestly so am I. I’m not sure how many more projects, fun activities and days I can plan. The kids are anxious to play with their friends and get back to learning.
As ready as I am for the routine to resume, after about one week there will be the “panic” phase. The routine requires discipline and lots of “ahead of time” preparation. As a nutritionist, the most common request I receive is for menu planning. In my new graduate years I would help my clients with menu planning but it wasn’t my favorite thing to do, as I became a mother and had my own family to manage I have grown to appreciate the need for menu planning! After all, once you have a menu set you can do groceries, prep ahead of time and eliminate last minute stressors.
Therefore I thought I’d share with you some of my tips on how I put together menus for clients and my own family so that you can develop your own menu. It is much easier and simpler than you may think, and by doing it yourself you’ll be able to personalize it and focus on things that are important to your family!
Follow these simple steps:
- Make a list of at least 5 of your meals/recipes that you want to make for your family. For this step you may have to find inspiration on the web or cookbooks; or start simple by listing your family favorite recipes that you already prepare often. Try to organize the list by adding the estimated prep/cooking time next to each recipe.
- Make a list of favorite fruits and vegetables for your family, this should contain at least 10 items.
- Make a list of foods you are working on including/increasing in your family’s diet.
- For example: add more fiber = add foods such as flax seeds, wheat germ, beans.
- Add more protein = nuts, nut butters, beans, fish, chicken, meat
- Add more vitamin C = citrus, berries and green leafy veggies
Now it is time to put it together, it will feel quite like a puzzle. Use a large sheet of paper, or use your tablet computer to map out from Monday through Friday. Start with the 5 days of the week and with time you can expand into weekends as well. Pick one meal per day based on which days you have more or less time to cook. The meal should be your lunch, it may require that you make it the night before if you work so that you can take it with you and send it with your family. Each meal you prepare should be doubled so that it will work as a make once, eat twice concept. But keep in mind, you can add or take away ingredients to spice it up for the next meal so that you are not eating exactly the same thing twice daily. Your fruits and veggies should be combined with your “list of foods you need to increase/add to your diet” to make up your breakfast and snacks.
Let me give you an example: Meal: Fish Tacos, and as a family we are working on increasing protein and fiber. Therefore our Monday menu will look like this:
Breakfast: Smoothie (made with Once Again Nut Butter, Lightly Toasted Almond Butter, 2 fruits, Spinach and chia seeds). Boiled Egg and Toast.
Snack: Homemade Sunny Granola Bar (see recipe below)
Lunch: Fish Tacos, loaded with lots of tomatoes, avocados, green peppers and lettuce.
Snack: Carrots and Celery sticks with Tahini Hummus
Dinner: Fish Taco Salad: leave out the shells and just start with greens and top it with crushed chips to add the crunch to this salad. You’ll still use the same ingredients as from lunch but it will be a brand new meal.
Once you have your first week done you can easily write up your grocery list from that. The following weeks will just become modified version of your master week menu. You’ll surprise yourself on how much time you’ll save and how much better you’ll eat as a family! Avoid going to the grocery store when you are starving because you will always come home with some sort of unnecessary junk food that “caught your eye”. Same concept is true for meal times, if you leave it to the last minute to prepare a meal when your family is ready to eat and hungry, it is much easier to look for faster and less nutritious meals such as fast foods.