Hi guys! I’m Sarah from The Pajama Chef and I’m so excited to be guest posting for Michelle today while she is on vacation. I love her blog and think she’s just great. I live with my husband, Ben and our kitty, Sheba, in Bloomington, Indiana where I am in grad school at Indiana University. I’m entering the third year (and last year–woohoo!) of a dual Master’s degree program in Library and Information Science and African Studies. When I’m finished, I hope to work at a university or college library. But enough with the introductions… let’s get on with the fun stuff.
Like Michelle, I’m a runner. I ran cross country and track all through 7th-12th grades and while I was in college at Wittenberg University in Ohio. I loved racing every weekend and the camaraderie of training with a team. Now that I’ve been out of school for four (yikes, makes me feel old!) years, I’ve discovered a new passion in my running life: half and full marathons. (Side note: another thing that makes me feel old is that children I babysat for while I was in junior high are now getting married. How crazy! Has that happened to anyone else?) I’ve run two of each and am in the first week of training for my third marathon in October. My husband, Ben, and I are going to be running it together. It’s his first (and he says, “only!!!”) marathon and it should be fun to train for it with him. (And I’m psyched that he actually is running it, after he saw what I was like after both of my other marathons. (Read: Tired. Sore. Hungry. Repeat.)
Okay, okay. You’re probably wondering what this post has to do with menu planning. If you glanced at my blog… feel free to do that now… 🙂 it might be just a little evident that I love food. I’m not a gourmet in the sense that I love adventurous eating and fine dining to the max, all the time–I’m too into good deals and Midwest comfort food for that–but I am a foodie. Some of my favorite things to do are to wander around the grocery store (be it Trader Joe’s in the city or the nice Kroger in town), try a new restaurant in town, peruse the cookbook section at my local library, or make a new recipe for dinner, all in the name of finding new ingredients and food that I love. It’s great when I have a day when I can hit the grocery store after class or a workout and pick up ingredients for dinner that night based on a recipe that I found recently, then head home and cook up a storm.
However (there’s always a caveat, isn’t there?), with school and work and running and especially marathon training, time is of the essence. Depending on the season and time of the school year, I may or may not (usually the latter) have time to do that, even though I want to. Yet I still want to eat well, still want to feed my husband well. So what do I do?
(Bet you didn’t see that one coming :)!)
Menu planning has such a suburban mom stereotype to it, but it’s a tool that I wish I had started using long ago–even before I got married. As a time-crunched wife, student, and runner, it’s a huge lifesaver to my sanity–not to mention to my budget and health. Menu planning allows us to eat healthier and better than we could if I was just winging it every night.
Every weekend, I whip out my laptop, cookbooks, grocery store ad, and coupons and plan away. I think about our weekly schedule–both social and training–and decide what kind of meals are needed when. For instance, if I know we’ll be doing a workout in the evening or that we have plans with friends, that night is great for leftovers or something simple like breakfast for dinner in the form of Sweet Potato Waffles.
If we’ll be home with few plans, I’d be okay spending an hour cooking dinner because African Peanut Pineapple Stew is just plain good.
I also try to incorporate some meals each week that allow me to do some prep work early. This allows for better meals on busy nights, instead of the boring but healthy (salads) or the processed (that Annie’s mac & cheese that just keeps sneaking into the cart). By planning meals that can be made somewhat in advance, I’m much more relaxed about cooking and enjoy the process more. This is especially true when considering lunches, since my husband and I both take ours everyday. Some foods I often prepare in advance are:
- cut up raw vegetables for lunches, portioned in bags for lunch.
- cut up fruit (i.e melons, pineapple), also portioned out for breakfast/lunch.
- egg or tuna salad for sandwiches.
- a cold couscous, quinoa, or pasta salad that can be eaten for brown bag lunches.
- a baked pasta dish (i.e. Roasted Vegetable Lasagna), to throw in the oven in a couple days for dinner
- a sauce (i.e. enchilada sauce, pizza sauce, BBQ sauce) that will contribute to a full meal.
Then, I make a grocery list and go to the store. This usually happens Sundays after church, but you can do what works best for you. Going to the store before the week begins cuts down on impulse buys and also ensures that there are fewer meals that have to be paused in process to go to the store for one ingredient. (I’m not perfect at this. My husband is currently at the store getting tortillas for tonight because I forgot them.)
To wrap things up, I hope that this has give you some ideas about menu planning, how it can be done, and how it’s helpful to me. Every week I post my menu plans here, if you need inspiration. In addition, I’ve shared other meal planning tips here. Be rest assured that I don’t always follow my meal plan 100%. There are weeks where I mix up the meals from day to day based on what we feel like. In my opinion, one of the best aspects of menu planning is the flexibility it gives with other plans, to know that your meals are figured out ahead of time. As I said before, I wish I started menu planning earlier, even when I was single, because it would have been great to make a few dishes ahead of time to eat from all week or to freeze and eat periodically. Menu planning to me is so freeing and such a time saver. I don’t know what I’d do without it!
Now it’s your turn! What do you think of meal planning? Have you ever done it before? Would you ever consider it? I’d love to know what you think. 🙂 Feel free to say hi to me over at my blog too!