Meal Planning – Not Fun, but Worthwhile

GroceryListbyMegStewart

Image by MStewartPhotography on Flickr

As Saturday evening approaches, I start to prepare myself for the festivities ahead. Party with friends? No. Out to the bars? Nope. A little time in the casino? Nuh uh. Movie and popcorn? Hardly. Saturday night is meal planning and groceries. Oh yeah, I know how to live it up!

Meal planning and grocery shopping are not my two favorite chores. I don’t actually know anyone who has them on that list (though I am sure some of you are out there). But, they need to be done and my life goes much more smoothly when they are.

Without meal planning, my grocery shopping strategy is to go through the sale ad, see what is a loss leader that we need to stock up on (far fewer than I used to when I was buying more prepared foods), catch a few other things on sale, and then try to remember everything we’ve run out of recently and restock. Some weeks, that works fine. Others, I get the groceries home on Sunday and realize that, while I have purchased $200 worth of groceries, I don’t seem to have anything to make for an actual dinner.  Ooops.

The better plan, for me, is to start my Saturday night fun by coming up with 5-6 dinners for the week. I consider what we haven’t had for a while, what seems fitted to the weather or to the most recent crops in my area, what I’m in the mood to make, and whether anyone has written something on the “Dinners that I Hope Happen Soon” board on the refrigerator. I only select 5-6 dinners to make because there will almost certainly be leftovers for 1 night, and there may be a pizza night or an event in there that takes up the other one. I try to vary the prep time across meals, so that I have some flexibility.

Once I have an idea of what I plan to make that week for dinner, I can then create a shopping list that includes all of the ingredients that I need. It also allows me to start making some tentative decisions about which meal to serve which night, though I leave those pretty loose, so that I can adjust based on how a day unfolds and the amount of time available. If I buy items that I worry will spoil quickly (though those are usually things for the omnis and not the vegans), then I know that the meal that involves them will probably be Sunday evening (grocery pick-up day) or Monday at the latest.

For breakfasts and lunches, because it is “serve yourself” around here, I don’t plan specific meals. Instead, I just keep a general list of things we should have available and try to replenish each week.

Once I make my list of dinners, and buy what I need for those, I can fill in the rest of the shopping list around that.

This process makes my week so much easier. Each day, I come home from work and look at the list and figure out what I am up to making that night, and what I have time to get done. If I am out of the house for a night and Mr. VeganAsana needs an idea, the list is available on my desk. Sometimes, I switch it up as I go, because I decide I want something different, I end up with a fresh ingredient that I didn’t plan for, or time becomes an issue. But, the plan is there, so I have a starting place.

Using this system also allows me to look at each meal for nutritional purposes and determine what I need to adjust. It’s easy for me to make too many carbohydrates and not enough of anything else if I just throw together meals at the last minute.

So, that’s my basic strategy for meal planning. What’s yours?

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Meatless Monday for the Omnivore Family

If every American went vegetarian for just one day per week, the effects would be startling, on the animal kingdom, the environment, and potentially even the health of those involved.

Eliminating meat from the diet for 1 day reduces saturated fat intake by 15% according to a study from Yale University. It’s true that this reduction may not make a huge difference in overall health, but then again it might, as it could be enough to make subtle changes in cholesterol levels and heart health.  Studies also suggest that reducing meat intake can be associated with lessened cancer risk.  While a once a week vegetarian diet may not have dramatic impacts, eating this on Monday may serve as a gateway to a more consistently herbivore diet.

In 2010, over 10,000 million land animals were killed in the U.S. for food.  Aquatic animal deaths are harder to estimate, but appear to be over 53,000 million per year.  By simply eliminating meat/fish from the diet for one day per week, that number would be reduced by 1,477 million land animals or 7,830 million aquatic animals (or some combination thereof).   The average American eats over 60 pounds of beef per year.  1 meatless day per person per week would reduce that consumption by around 8 pounds of beef per year, saving more than 14,000 gallons of water used for cattle livestock (based on a number of 1,750 gallons per pound, which is a mid point between the estimate given by cattle ranchers and that produced in environmental studies).    A family of 4 could save 56,000 gallons of water in a year.

I could go on with the stats, but my goal here is less to convince people than to support those who might already be thinking about adopting a meatless day in their lives.  While the change may seem like a challenge, it’s not as hard as it appears, because many foods that omnivores enjoy can be easily made vegetarian and create a good option for a meat-free menu.  I’ve listed a few options below for each meal.  I controlled myself and only listed six items for each, but there are many other options to explore!  Note that I haven’t attempted to make these items all vegan; however, even that might be easier than you imagine for 1 day each week.  Vegan items or vegan options are noted with an *


Photo: Health.com


Breakfast ideas

Breakfast usually isn’t too bad to switch up, as many omnivores eat a vegetarian breakfast many days anyway.  The basic idea is to think of meals that you already enjoy for breakfast, and then simply eliminate the meat sides of sausage or bacon.  You can then begin to move on to more elaborate vegetarian breakfasts if time and desire so indicate.

  • Omelets (with whole eggs or egg whites for reduced calorie and cholesterol content) with your favorite vegetables, cheese, or peanut butter
  • Oatmeal with fruit, nuts, and/or granola toppings (* if made without milk)
  • Yogurt with fruit and/or granola (or other cereals)
  • Cereal and toast (* if made with soy milk and veg butter)
  • Breakfast casserole (use your favorite recipe but remove the sausage/bacon and add more seasoning)
  • French toast or pancakes with bananas, strawberries, or sliced peaches (* use vegan recipe for pancakes)

Lunch ideas

Vegetarian lunch doesn’t mean a plate full of celery.  There are plenty of non-meat lunch items that are probably already part of your family omnivore diet.

  • Peanut butter and jelly/jam/honey/syrup/pickle sandwiches (*if no honey)
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup
  • Chef salad with cubed cheese, diced egg, Bac~os (or other veg bacon bits), and plenty of veggies
  • Veggie dogs (try Tofu Pups or Smart Dogs for vegan options) and macaroni and cheese
  • Cheese pizza and side salad
  • Vegetable lo mein*

Dinner ideas

Dinner might seem like the most complicated meal, if you are used to making meat the focal point.  However, many recipes that contain meat can be adapted for vegetarian cooking, and you may be surprised at how much you don’t miss the  meat part of the dish.  Eating vegetarian doesn’t have to mean all new foods.

  • Chili* (maybe with a veggie dog side or a salad)
  • Spaghetti with marinara sauce and a salad*
  • Bean burritos and Spanish rice*
  • Nachos with refried beans (* if cheese omitted or replaced with Daiya)
  • Sesame noodles, edamame, grilled tofu*
  • Navy bean soup and cornbread (*if made with vegan recipe)

Combining the items above gives you over 200 different “days” of menus, and that is just the very tip of the iceberg for what is available.  If eating a vegetarian diet for only 1 day a week, issues like protein, iron, and calcium are probably less concerning, but even there it’s not too hard to figure out how to manage the day.   Over the entire day, shoot for 2 servings of dairy or calcium fortified items, 3-4 servings of legumes (beans,  nuts, tofu, soy products) or eggs, 6-10 servings of grains, and 5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables.  If that sounds like a lot, remember that a serving is smaller than you might think.  A serving of grain is 1 slice of bread, 1/2 a bagel, or 1/2 cup of pasta or rice.  A serving of legumes is 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, 1/2 cup of beans, 4 oz tofu, or 1 veggie burger.  A serving of vegetables is typically 1/2 cup for most cooked vegetables or 1 cup for uncooked leafy greens.  A serving of fruit is 1 piece of fruit or 1/2 cup if chopped/sliced.

Even if you aren’t planning to move into a full vegetarian or vegan diet, observing meatless Mondays is a good way to contribute to the health of our environment, the well-being of animals, and even your own health. You can learn more about the Meatless Monday campaign, including many recipes, at http://www.meatlessmonday.com.  Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you!