Esther and I were talking the other day about dinnertime and how neither of us are very good at planning the week’s meals out in advance. Esther has always impressed me with her spur-of-the-moment, find-something-in-the-cupboards type of cooking, which she’s very good at doing. I thankfully have a husband who is good at that, which means that as a result I’ve become a bit lazy about planning and shopping for meals in advance. The problem in our house is that we end up returning to the same trusty meals we’ve made over and over again and we rarely try new recipes or get very creative in the kitchen. It can be so easy to get stuck in a cooking rut, and I’m definitely guilty of it.
Esther has already shared a Tuesday Tips post about encouraging kids to eat healthily and how important it is to introduce new foods so children grow to be adventurous eaters, so we thought it might be good to share some tips for how to cook adventurously and how to plan ahead so you avoid the cooking rut.
We decided to ask our ShopUp event manager, Bethie, to share some tips. Bethie is one of the most organised meal planners and mama cooks we know, and I’m excited to share her tips with you:
I try to make meal planning as easy as possible. For me, this means using my smart phone to help me plan and organise. There are three apps I use to help me prepare our nightly meals: Pinterest, iPhone “notes” and my grocery app. I use Pinterest to inspire me to try new recipes (though flipping through favourite cookbooks also works!), my iPhone “notes” to make a list of dinners for the week (with links to online recipes), and my grocery app to make sure I have all the groceries I need for the week in advance (I prefer using my local green grocer for fresh produce).
When I browse Pinterest during the week I keep an eye out for easy, weeknight meals. Pictures can be deceiving, so I always read the recipe to make sure there isn’t anything too involved. If I find something that looks yummy, relatively healthy, and easy to make (or easy to adapt), I’ll pin it to my weeknight dinner board. Then, once I try and like a recipe, I pin it to my “Recipes I Love” board so I can find it again easily! I also follow some fun and inspirational Instagram accounts such as @smittenkitchen, @sproutedkitchen, @hostthetoast, and @biddiekitchen (a new favourite!). These also serve as great inspiration to help me add new recipes into the mix.
Once a week, usually on Saturday, my daughter (Charlotte) and I sit down to meal plan together. We start by looking at the calendar. What does our week look like? Are there any nights where we won’t be in for dinner? Will we have guests? Any nights where we need a really quick meal? From there I go to my “notes” app where I have an ongoing list of our weeknight meals. (I started this a few years ago and now have a big list to browse if I’m stuck for ideas!) Depending on what our week looks like, I choose a few meals to cook from scratch and a few quick meals. Charlotte likes to help me choose meals which is helpful to make her feel a part of the process. She is less likely to complain at mealtimes this way! I try to choose things she can help with, and any given week could look like this:
Monday: sweet potato and kale quinoa fritters
Tuesday: pre-made falafel with hummus, spinach and pita
Wednesday: one pot salmon pasta
Thursday: lentil soup (we like to add spinach to this so it is a one-pot meal)
Friday: homemade pizzas (we purchase the dough)
Tuesday’s pre-made falafel and Friday’s pizza are the quick meals for the week. They can be prepped and cooked in under 30 minutes. The other three meals are also prepped in under 20 minutes or so, but take additional time to cook.
On a side note, we aren’t vegetarians, but we eat primarily vegetarian meals during the week. Vegetarian meals often cost less and take less time to cook which is helpful. I also like that my kids can help with the meal prep more with vegetarian meals (mashing potatoes, adding ingredients, stirring, etc.) where I would worry about helping as much when raw meat is involved.
Once I have a plan for the week, I order everything from my grocery app to arrive Sunday evening. (We don’t have a car, so ordering online is much easier for us!) This way I have no excuses when dinnertime rolls around. We also receive a weekly seasonal box of veggies from Abel & Cole, and this inspires me to try to plan meals around what foods are in season (and be more creative with foods I might not buy otherwise).
There you have it! This is what works for me and my family, but I would love to hear what works for you! Please share your favourite weeknight meals or meal planning tips below or share them on Instagram with the hashtag #babyccinomeals.
(All photos above are from Bethie’s Instagram feed. Thank you, Bethie, for sharing with us!)