Alternative Menu Planning

Trust me when I tell you I’ve tried every sort of menu planning out there, including paid subscriptions with handy store lists and painstakingly creating my own. I’ve even tried two meal kit deliveries and ended up more frustrated while cooking than if I’d planned the menus and bought the ingredients myself. Besides overspending on groceries every single trip, we also dealt with unnecessary food waste, coming up a few ingredients short because the store I went to didn’t have them, and any number of snares. I’ve never had more success than the several years I followed this method I’m returning to now.

First, stock your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator with all the staples. You can read one of my ancient columns about that here. Things have changed a lot since then with countless diet lifestyles such a plant-based, vegan, keto, paleo. If you’re following a specific diet, most importantly, stock up with a few cookbooks and all the pantry staples you need to successfully follow that diet.

Here’s where the secret for success happened. Instead of planning a week’s worth of specific meals, I designated nights like this. Sunday a big bowl of popcorn with fresh veggies, fresh fruits, and snacks. Monday, poultry or fish. Tuesday, beef or pork. Wednesday, leftovers. If we end up not having leftovers for Wednesday evening dinner, it’s a quick night of tomato or potato soup and grilled cheese or quesadillas, or something to that extent. Thursday, vegan/vegetarian. Friday, breakfast for dinner. Saturday to be determined. If you are fully plant-based you could designate a bean dish for one night, a soup night, a potato night, a casserole night, and a hearty salad night. If you are keto, paleo, or low carb, designate nights for beef, turkey, chicken, fish, then build your sides around that plan.

Turkey Parmesan Meatballs I served with a rice blend and fresh vegetable platter.

How It Works

Here’s an example of how this works. I know its beef or pork night. I take stock of what I have on hand, ground beef, pork loin I bought on sale, and venison. I take the ground beef out for a meatloaf and think about what sides I’ll make to go with it. If I have potatoes on hand, maybe mashed or scalloped potatoes. But if we’ve just had potatoes, maybe I’ll make rice. Rice blends are delicious as a main course for me and enjoyed as a side by the rest of the family. You can buy some of my favorites locally at the Cheese Shoppe in Stuarts Draft. I also look at the veggies I will include with the meal. If its summer, I’ll have lots of garden veggies to choose from. We also enjoy fresh greens with homemade ranch dressing (see recipe below this post) as an addition to any meal.

Following this plan allows for one person to follow a particular eating plan while the rest of the household eats as they wish. For example, I eat very little meat. I can make plant-based sides to go with whatever meat I’m serving, and we all enjoy the food, I just leave the meat off my plate. I also eat few processed carbs. If I make a Stromboli for the family, I’ll make a hearty salad to go with it and just eat that.

I’m not a scientist, but I think the reason this works so well for me is that it offers basic planning without locking me into a specific dish. I always know I need to have poultry thawing or fish in the freezer for Mondays. Then I build a meal around the main dish using ordinary ingredients I have on hand, not a list of specialized items I would only use once. This system also allows you to easily incorporate seasonal ingredients.

What About Breakfast and Lunch?

But what about breakfast and lunch? We’re pretty flexible for those, but often include leftovers for lunch. Keep bread or wraps (if you eat them) in your pantry or freezer and build any number of fun creative sandwiches. I love a half of banana on a whole wheat hotdog bun with almond or peanut butter. You can add jelly or honey if you wish. The family enjoys ham, sliced granny smith apples, and cheddar cheese on a bun or refried beans, sliced roast beef, cheese, and lettuce in a wrap. You can also make lots of creative salads such as tabbouleh, almond green bean salad, and quinoa salads for a quick lunch.

Breakfast is seldom the same for a single person here. Some like eggs. I often drink an almond smoothie. Others just want a piece of toast. Fresh berries are always available, too.

A fresh stack of pancakes the kids helped make for our Friday night breakfast for supper.

Whatever your diet preferences, an unending supply of fresh fruits and vegetables help fill in any gaps, including snacks. Chopping, cutting, peeling, slicing, dicing, and preparing fruits and veggies for the week ahead makes them a snap for a snack. Homemade dips like hummus, bacon cream cheese, and ranch, for vegetables, and all-natural peanut butter/unsweetened yogurt for fruits make them stick a bit longer and helps get the kiddos eating them, too.

I’m happy to put together a few suggestions for menu-planning, but chances are, you’ll still tweak it to your own needs. I’d love for you to give this alternative menu plan a try for a month and let me know how it worked for you. I’ll be adding lots of recipes here on our website you’re welcome to use as a springboard for ideas.

Quick and Easy Homemade Ranch

½ cup mayonnaise

½ cup plain unsweetened yogurt OR sour cream

1 Tablespoon dried parsley

2 teaspoons dried onion flakes (can use onion powder)

1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon granulated garlic (can use garlic powder)

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice

Milk or buttermilk to this to desired consistency

Mix well. Best if it sets an hour or more before serving to let the flavors blend. Keep an unending supply of this in your fridge. (I have yet to create or find a suitable plant-based alternative to this recipe. If you have one, please share! I just use it lightly when I want some ranch for my dish.)

Cheers to Healthy, Easy, Eating in 2020!

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