Menus: Do You Need Them?

By Robyn Priebe on 07/25/2012
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As a dietitian, I find people commonly ask me for meal plans or menus.  Often the assumption is that to eat well, one must sit down every week or month and plan out all their meals.  I disagree.  If you find it’s helpful to have an idea of what you are making for dinner most nights, try this method of meal planning that is a little more flexible and perhaps more realistic:

  1. Start with a chalk board or large sheet of paper on your fridge broken down into a few categories, based on what you need to plan.  Ex. starch ideas, protein foods, vegetable ideas, fruit/dessert ideas, snacks, bagged lunches, breakfast ideas, etc….
  2. Prioritize – only focus on planning the meals (or food groups) you struggle with the most.  Bagged lunches might be tougher than breakfast, vegetable ideas might stump you more than starch ideas.  Don’t plan everything you’ll eat.
  3. Start with a family brainstorming session if you are cooking for more than one.  Ask family members to contribute ideas so you don’t feel so pressured to come up with 21 fabulous ideas/week.
  4. Use grocery store sales to force variety in your planning.  Identify a sale item to purchase and search online for a new recipe that includes that ingredient.  If it goes over with flying colors, add that to your list of meal ideas.
  5. Plan on the fly – especially when you are hungry.  When we are hungry, it’s easy to think of things we’d like to eat.  Perhaps on the drive home from work, reflect on what you’d love to eat for dinner.  You probably won’t be able to make that food that evening but the ideas you generate on the drive home should all be included on your list of meals/recipes to make.
  6. Before grocery shopping, check your chalkboard/list on the fridge and pick 2 or 3 things you’ll prepare that week.  Make a few servings so you can get multiple meals out of that item (or freeze some) and yes, it’s OK to eat the same thing a few days in a row.

What methods do you use for generating meal ideas? 

5 Responses (Add Yours)

  • Great post Robyn! At my house we’re fans of reinventing leftovers, using the sautéed peppers/onions from a pasta topping one night as an addition to chicken salad the next. It helps ease the burden of creating brand new dishes from scratch & saves time!

  • Michaela says:

    Very helpful post–thank you Robyn! I am often asked to prepare meal plans for a specific patient or even for a group, and I tend to offer them advice similar to what you have given. I don’t want them to turn off their own taste buds, hunger signals, and cooking style just to follow a standardized meal plan. I think that we can actually hinder the progress of our clients on their journey of mindful eating when we provide them with specific foods (and amounts of those given foods) to eat at set times. How much better if they can listen to their bodies!

  • julie says:

    I’ve started to keep a few options for semi-precooked (heating or assembling still needed) meals around. I don’t know much about sales at markets, but I do something I call “strange veggie of the week”, at my farmers market. This market caters to a different culture, and after 10+ years of going, there is still stuff I can’t identify. I pick up a random unidentified bunch of greens or root or ???, see if they can tell me what it is and how to use it, and if not, I just experiment.

  • Robyn says:

    Thanks for the feedback everyone! @ Marion – reinventing left-overs is a great idea. @Michaela – nice to hear someone else feels the same way about too much planning. @ Julie – “strange veg of the week” I LOVE IT! Much more fun to say that versus “dietary challenge.” :)

  • Denise Lucas says:

    Hello! As co-creator of the StickToIt! Magnetic Menu Planner, I am thrilled to see someone like yourself who takes a flexible attitude toward meal planning. We are always telling our customers that your menu planning efforts don’t have to be perfect–just do something. Even just planning a meal or two will go a long way toward helping tame some of the mealtime chaos and eventually they will get into the swing of it. And by all means enlist the family. No reason to have the entire burden of the menu planning fall on the shoulders of one person. Thanks for keeping it real and not adding to the stigma that meal planning has to be overwhelming. We know firsthand it doesn’t have to be!

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