10 Tips and Tricks on How to Menu Plan for the Week

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Okay ya’ll. I have a problem. You see, when I go to the grocery store I go with the intention of getting a modest amount of food that will carry Jason and I through the week. Being vegan that should mean produce, some nuts and seeds, maybe dried/dehydrated/frozen fruits and veggies. Perhaps a few oddities- I do like my snacks- but other than that it should be a simple shopping trip. I buy what I think I need, want or will use. Somewhere in my head I am convinced that will use it all- I have recipes dancing in my head, thinking about what I’ll cook, photograph, eat and blog. I get so excited!

…well, what I end up doing is buying half the produce in the store, a bunch of canned and dried goods and even a few frozen products. When I get home I realize things like: I already had three cans of chickpeas, or a bag of eggplants that I haven’t used yet and now I have more everything and this leaves no room for all the new food I have. Not to mention there’s only two of us to eat through the army sized round of groceries.

I end up throwing away way too much food. According to the National Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture department Americans throw away $165 billion annually. That is mind blowing. I find myself throwing out half a cucumber here or there, a jalapeno that’s gone off, or the last two bell peppers in the bottom of my crisper drawer when I bring the new groceries in. I justify this in my head thinking it’s only a few cents here or there. It adds up, and fast.

I decided at the beginning of this year I wasn’t going to let that keep happening. So, taking some of the tools I used from other planning services, research and my own years worth of calorie counting I started applying my skills. Quickly I learned a few things that are really, really, really helpful that I would love to share with you guys. Please read on and let me know what you think or if you have any questions!

 

Tools I find helpful:

1. Wunderlist – grocery shopping lists (see photo above)
2. Google Drive – spreadsheet for planning and inventory
3. My Fitness Pal – calorie counting and nutritional information
4. Healthy. Happy. Life. – recipes
5. Oh Ladycakes – recipes
6. Vegan Yack Attack – recipes
7. Seasoned Advice – cooking resource; Q and A format

 

The 10 Tips and Tricks (that work for me)

1. Plan every meal- including snacks

I used to just plan my “main meals” (that’s breakfast/lunch/dinner for me). I figured I’d just “grab something” whenever I got hungry in between. Then I started tracking what I ate. Consistently the snacks I was choosing were terrible, horrible, no good and very bad for me. It was gas station food or things out of a vending machine at work. Even at my best choices I was still eating really awful things to tide me over between the times I would get a good, nutritional meal. I add my snacks to meal plan now. I have it set at six intervals. Breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack (also known as dessert). Snacks are carrot sticks, half an avocado, grapes, an apple, handful of raw walnuts or almonds, etc. The important part is they are all planned.

2. Weigh all of your foods

One of the best pieces of kitchen equipment I have ever received was a ($12) food scale. Not necessarily to restrict myself or to make myself feel badly, but instead to learn what proper portions are. A twelve or fifteen ounce New York strip is not a healthy portion. Nor is a two and a half cup serving of ice cream for dessert. When you look at a nutritional label and see “15g” of a sauce is the serving size or “1oz” for a serving nuts but you don’t know what that means it won’t help you when you eat half the jar. I have learned to eyeball most of my food items but it takes a while and I highly suggest familiarizing yourself with your favorite foods and the proper amount of them you should be having.

3. Pack lunches the night before

Possibly the most important item on this list (in conjunction with #4). The more convenient a meal is for you to grab and go the more likely you will be to eat it. If you have to spend an hour in the morning getting your food ready you probably won’t. That cafe around the corner is so much easier- even if it’s more expensive and less healthy. Lunch is a very important meal. It’s the point in the day where you’re up, you’ve been moving around for a couple of hours and now you need energy. Unlike with breakfast, where you roll out of a motionless night, lunch is the pinnacle of your day, and I’ve found, should be the biggest.

**When I lived overseas we did not use dinner as this gigantic nom-fest. Dinners were lighter, easier to digest and were prepping you for the long night ahead. Heavy, late and large evening meals (at least for me) make me sleep far worse than I would have if I’d lightened it up a bit.

4. Prep as much of dinner as you can

As with #3 convenience is key and coming home to the idea of forty-five minutes (or in many cases longer) worth of prep and cooking is not the most exciting for a lot of us. To negate that lack of motivation this weekly meal planning is essential. Knowing what you’re eating the following days means you can get a head start (either on the weekend or nights before a meal) to knock out at least some of the prep work. For example: if you’re making a stir fry on Thursday night but you’re also cutting vegetables for a salad on Tuesday night just cut them all and store the prep for your later meals in air tight containers so they’re ready to go when you get in on Thursday. It’s that simple!

5. Add to your grocery list as you run out- and only shop once a week

I use Wunderlist to keep track of the groceries I need. As I run out of items I add them immediately and go to the grocery store once a week. It used to be that I’d end up stopping every single night on the way home from work. I didn’t know what was in my fridge or pantry, I’d buy things I already had and then never use it all. More waste. Totally unnecessary. If you know your grocery list is up to date and you know what you’re making for the week you know that you shouldn’t need to stop other than your one stop grocery day (I do my shopping on Sunday).

6. Go grocery shopping with cash

I don’t do this anymore, but it was hugely helpful for me in the beginning. I would write my list, estimate the cost add about $10-15 to make sure I had enough and then take that money in cash to store. I couldn’t buy extra things, I couldn’t talk myself into needing that one other thing I thought I wanted. My debit card was at home and I was limited to what I had with me. I got what I needed and then I got the heck out. I saved time, money and calories. Simple, clean and efficient.

7. Allow at least 1-2 hours a week to plan

Menu planning, grocery shopping, prep and cooking all take time. You cannot expect to sit down for five minutes, decide what to eat and write the list that goes with it. That is simply unreasonable. I make a habit of setting 60-120 minutes of my life aside a week (you know, the time I could have been vegging out in front of the television?) to make healthy decisions that save me loads of money. I have learned to shorten this time if I need as I get better and better at it, but definitely in the first month or two you need to make sure to allow yourself enough time to do a good job or you’ll just fall off the wagon.

8. Bookmark your favorite blogs, recipes, sites and cookbooks

It is going to be easiest to start this process if you are basing your meal plan on existing recipes that include the amounts of the ingredients you need. If you pick 3-5 recipes you want in a recipe then you know you need three green peppers for all the recipes rather than going into with a list that says “Green peppers” and guessing that you need five when you only need three. Save those two green peppers and save yourself the $1.50.

9. Try to “re-use” ingredients or make large portions

Piggy backing off the previous point I suggest trying to use ingredients over and over. If you have stir fry cauliflower on Monday think about including some mashed cauliflower or cauliflower puree soup on Wednesday or Thursday. Buying a larger amount of the same produce (especially when it’s in season or on sale) can save you time an money. You can prep all the veg at the start of the week and have it ready to go as soon as you get home to make dinner. It’ll take an hour or so at the beginning of the week but save you upward to one to three hours of prep work throughout the rest of the week.

10. Inventory your pantry, spice rack, fridge and freezer(s)

I keep wanting to start every item with, “This is the most important item!” But what it really comes down to is they all work together. Creating an on going inventory of your kitchen is beyond helpful. I have realized that I no longer buy things I already have. I don’t have three shelves full of canned black beans. I don’t have three large containers of garlic powder when what I really needed was onion powder. It takes a little while, but it’s so worth it- especially if you make sure to keep up with it.

 

You learn as you go, you find shortcuts that work for you and eventually you get the hang of it (I promise). As with all things those skills that are worth having take time and dedication to develop. Please feel free to reach out to me if you any comments, questions or concerns- I would more than happy to help anyone. :)

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Breakfast Bites – Cranberry Lemon Bliss

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Simple breakfasts and snacks. That’s what keeps me going throughout the day. And beer at night, but that’s a completely different story. Anyhow! Lately I’ve been eating the Two Mom’s in the Raw nut bars from Starbucks but they’re so expensive. I can’t keep a habit like this for long so I decided to find an alternative. The above is my solution. Presenting: Cranberry Lemon Bliss Bites. Four ingredients, they’re cheap even when it’s all organic, and they keep me plenty full for the long haul. I was so excited to share this one and hope you enjoy them as much as I do. :)

 

Cranberry Lemon Bliss Bites

• 3/4 cup pitted dates
• 1/4 cup dried cranberries
• 1/2 cup raw cashews
• 1/2 cup raw almonds
• the juice of half one lemon (more if you’re like me**)

1. Blend fruit and nuts in a blender
2. When crumbley add lemon juice and blend a touch more if needed
3. Form into balls or bars and place on parchment paper
4. Freeze or refrigerate for at least one hour

** I used the juice of one whole lemon. Some of the people that tried them liked it, some said they wished there was a little less. I leave the choice to you.

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Whole Foods to the Rescue – Valentine’s Day 2013

* Alright. I’m going to start by saying that locking myself into five posts a week with specific topics just won’t work. I have a busy, active life and the moment this project becomes too much of a job I disappear for weeks at a time. I’d rather post 2-3 times a week with solid material than show you photos, events or recipes I don’t care about.

So in the spirit of being as true to myself as possible here is how I spent the weekend before Valentine’s Day with Jason. We went to Whole Foods for a Chocolate, Wine and Beer Extravaganza. They had many tables set up with tons of tastings. In the spirit of being accommodating and wonderful store they are they were sure to pull out a box of vegan chocolates for me to have with the pairings- it really was a lot of fun. We made sure to sign up for an upcoming beer class too.

I am still getting used to having my new camera. I absolutely love it but there is a large adjustment period from the XTi I used to have and the 5D Mark II. Bear with me while I get back on my feet. :)

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Sample Thursdays – Mellow Mushroom!

What can I say about Mellow Mushroom- except that they’re awesome! When I lived in Brandon I used to go here when I could, but that was pre-vegan days. It’s only recently (as in the last six months or so) that I realized they serve Daiya cheese! With the addition of a vegan cheesey topping I have found a safe haven for my pizza cravings. Not to mention they make one of the best spicy bloody marys, with extra olives, that I’ve ever had.

Honestly, I’d love to write a long, drawn out review of this place, tell you some ins and outs, etc. but there’s not much more to say than: they are effin’ amazing and you should check them out!

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Weekly Wednesday – Attending High Tea

*Well, ladies and gentlemen, it has finally happened.

I BOUGHT A CANON 5D MARK II!!!

Whew. I have been waiting to blog that ever since last Friday when I made the purchase. I have been waiting for this update for nearly four years. I have been ready as a photographer but too poor to make it happen. This year is different for me. I am seeing the fourth year of my maintained weight loss, I have made my debt manageable, switched to a new (higher paying) job, etc. It was time- especially since I heard Canon is discontinuing this model.

I could go into the details of how and why but they’re boring and ultimately the important part is that it happened! I am still getting used to all the new settings (and reading (and re-reading) the manual). I could not wait to take photos though, so Saturday morning Erika and I headed to Empress Tea Room for some high tea and photos. It was a blast.

I’m not one hundred percent thrilled with all the photos and like I said, the settings are new to me. I had Dante (my old XTi) for going on six or seven years. This is a big change for me. One I couldn’t be happier about, but it’ll take some getting used to. Look forward to sharing my progress and enjoy the view of our tea time. :)

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