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In the first article (Part 1), I provided an introduction to meal planning, and introduced the first (“Supplies and Accessories”) of a list of 5 Fundamentals of meal planning and batch cooking. Meal planning and batch cooking can be motivating, though especially intimidating at first. Because this activity is so essential to having a lifestyle of healthy nutrition, I want to provide you some resources and tools that will help you make meal planning and batch cooking effective, efficient, healthier, and a routine part of your lifestyle, while providing wonderful benefits, such as:
- Results in eating healthier and sticking to your dietary plan
- Avoids decision paralysis (what do I make or what can I have?) & free up your brain space for other things
- Provides healthy “ready made” meals and snacks
- Saves money
- Reduces stress
- Improves dietary variety for greater nutrition consumption
- Reduces waste
- Aids in weight loss
Meal planning and batch cooking is an investment in your health and the health of your family. If you are able to hire someone or a service to do all that is necessary for meal planning and batch cooking for you and your family, that’s awesome. Like most of us, we are responsible for all or most of this activity as a part of our daily living and having a healthy lifestyle. It is essential to do in order to save time and money, and to commit to having good nutrition and being well.
This article, Part 2 of this series, is going to focus on the second Fundamental, “Recipes and On-The-Go Ideas.”
- Supplies and Accessories – click here for the details of this in Part 1 of this article series
- Recipes and “On-The-Go” Ideas
- Calendar With Weekly Menu
- Grocery List and Shopping
- Batch Cooking
RECIPES AND “ON-THE-GO” IDEAS
You want to have a fridge, freezer, and pantry stocked with foods that will nourish you, you will appreciate, and will be available for you when you need it. So, when it comes to the food you will prepare ahead of time, you will want to have a collection of recipes to start with, and you can create a menu for meal planning and batch cooking.
When I say a collection of recipes, I don’t mean having several cookbooks and printing out 50 pages of recipes you like from the Internet. Sure you can do that, but it is absolutely not necessary, and not even recommended. To save time and make the most out of your meal planning and batch cooking, you want to have a small selection of recipes that are a fit for you and are those that cover the various meal types (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, “on-the-go” choices). It is also very helpful to be willing to eat leftovers, mix-and-match different foods from different meals, and alternate with a few recipes in each meal type category rather than every single meal of every single day being something unique. I’ll explain each of those and another tip for helpful ideas.
- Leftovers: Most know what leftovers are. The same meal you eat for lunch is what you had for dinner the night before or one of the previous nights. That is what many think of as leftover, and it is a good idea to plan that on your weekly menu. When batch cooking (we’ll get into more in depth in another article), since you are making numerous servings of a particular recipe or food item and freezing the extra servings, you can plan the same dinner on Friday that you had on Monday and even have servings for the following week. That is also considered a leftover.
I realize that after storing things in the fridge or freezer after making large batches of recipes and foods, you may consider anything from that work as a leftover. That can certainly be true. When creating a meal plan, however, the first time you have a meal/snack you previously made and stored, you don’t have to indicate as leftover on your calendar. Any time you plan it for after that on the calendar, you can consider a leftover. It is merely for documenting and clarity purposes. For instance, you may have made your Monday dinner recipe on Saturday and stored it in the fridge. Then having it Monday would actually be considered a leftover even though you didn’t eat anything from it on Saturday. Your calendar would show the recipe on Monday, and then maybe Tuesday lunch shows the same recipe as a leftover. Of course, document it on your calendar in a way that works best for you.
For some, though leftovers may not sound so appetizing, don’t knock them. Many believe, and it is very true, that leftovers taste better than the first time around. The flavors have had more time to set in. Leftovers are the gift that keeps on giving.
- Mix-and-Match: This means that you can make a large batch of burgers, chicken breasts, salmon fillets, etc. and when you combine them with sides to make up a full meal, the sides may vary so that each meal is slightly different. You may have the same batched cooked chicken breasts in 3 different recipes in a given week. Maybe one night you have the chicken breast with rice and broccoli, a couple nights later you have it with quinoa and asparagus, and a couple more nights later, you have it with sweet potato and salad. You can also do that with side dishes. You use the same side dish, maybe a special casserole you really enjoy, with a couple different meals where the other items in the meal vary. One night you may have it with a grass-fed burger, and a few nights later you have it with a salmon fillet.
- Alternating: This incorporates leftovers and mix-and-match. You don’t have the same thing every day, but you also don’t having something unique either. For example, you may really enjoy a few different breakfasts such: 1) smoothie; 2) Quiche; 3) oatmeal with protein powder and coconut oil mixed in. So, you alternative the days of these few different recipes in a given week. You can even make modifications to your smoothie to add in different veggies or fruits to add variety.
- Recipes With Common Ingredients: Another convenience tip is to choose recipes that have some common ingredients (e.g. animal protein, seasonings, veggies, etc.). This reduces the number of different items you need and can also reduce cost.
All of the above should be kept in mind when collecting the recipes you want to have when planning your weekly menu and the food you will pre-make when batch cooking. Of course, when planning your recipes, you want to plan for what you will not need too. This includes: when you will go out for dinner; when you have a business luncheon and won’t need something pre-made; when you plan to make a special spontaneous meal which means you plan to make only enough servings for that special evening meal; when you are fasting/intermittent fasting and not eating certain meals/snacks on a given day(s), etc. We’ll talk more about planning for those occasions when we get into the “Calendar With Weekly Menu” fundamental in the next article.
Let’s look at some recipe resources and ideas for you to use when pulling your collection together.
Website Recipe Resources
Here are some fantastic website ideas that have healthy recipes for various dietary plan and meal type options
- Real Plans – This is a wonderful subscription-based combination recipe and personalized meal planner resource for as low as around $7/month. You cannot beat that. Real Plans has thousands of recipes to choose from, and they are based on using natural unprocessed ingredients as much as possible. There are hundreds of recipes for each of the provided dietary plans such as Paleo, Gluten and Dairy free, GAPs, AIP, Keto, Vegetarian, and more. In addition, there is a robust feature that allows you to exclude specific food items so the system knows that you do not want recipes chosen for your meal plan that include those particular ingredients. Whatever the reason, whether you are avoiding a food because you have an allergy or you just don’t like something, this feature comes in very handy.
The recipes available will capture just about anything you are looking for as Real Plans includes recipes for: main meals/entrees, side dishes, soups, snacks, and desserts. In addition, there are new recipes added each week. Real Plans also allows you to import your favorite recipes so that you can have your large recipe selection all in one place. This means no more searching a multitude of websites and your personal notes for recipes.
“On-The-Go” and Other Snack Ideas
“On-The-Go” may refer to something you can take while you are out-and-about and need to have something quickly available. These can be snacks or meals, and are generally not items that have to be heated/re-heated. If it is a full meal, it is usually a collection of items that are ok to eat as-is, at room temperature, or cold. Examples of this are the following and you can combine items for a larger snack or meal. A few of these items include dairy so avoid if you are dairy free:
- Food or protein bars: Having some in stock that you have made is great, though healthy packaged versions in your pantry is a good idea too to make up for the gaps in between your preparation.
- It’s always helpful to have hummus, guacamole, and various dressings and sauces on hand (even homemade ones) so you always have them to work with and include. When homemade dressings/sauces include lemon, lime, or vinegar, they last even longer in the fridge as they have natural preservative properties. You can pair hummus and guacamole with veggies to dip into it (e.g. celery, carrots, cucumber rounds, zucchini slices, sweet bell pepper pieces).
- Fruit with one of these: nuts, nut butter, seeds, seed butter (sunflower seed butter or tahini), unsweetened coconut shreds, or coconut flakes. Example: Apple slices with almonds or almond nut butter; Blueberries with some unsweetened coconut shreds or flakes.
- Fruit with unsweetened/plain full-fat greek yogurt, coconut pudding (see final bullet below), or full-fat cottage cheese. Any of these examples can be sweetened with stevia, monk fruit, or other natural calorie-free sweetener.
- Cottage cheese (full-fat) with some flaxseeds. Add cinnamon and a natural sweetener (stevia, monk fruit, etc.) for additional flavor. Another savory cottage cheese idea is to mix it with protein powder (not sweetened of course) and seasonings (salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder, thyme, etc.). Place this mix along with avocado slices and a mixture of tomato and cucumber or other veggies. For those ok with adding carbs, add on top of crackers, bread, pita bread, a rice or other grain cake, or used with a tortilla. However, since most of those items are processed foods, you may forgo them or add that in infrequently.
- Hard-boiled eggs. Add some veggie slices as part of this snack for additional flavor and texture if desired.
- Prepared & cooked turkey or chicken pieces or slices with some full-fat cream cheese or avocado. For additional flavor, mix some herbs and seasoning in with the cream cheese or avocado.
- Olives (green or black) can be a nutritious and filling addition to any snack or as a larger part of it.
- Coconut pudding: Mix coconut milk (from can not heavily diluted carton) with some coconut flour for a pudding-like thickness (it won’t take much coconut flour). You can save this for many future servings. You can add some unsweetened cacao nibs or cacao powder and sweeten with natural calorie-free sweetener.
- Homemade Paleo Bagels: Couldn’t resist providing this recipe. These are grain and gluten free but full of incredible flavor and nutrition that anyone may enjoy them: https://www.savorylotus.com/paleo-bagels-gluten-grain-and-nut-free/.
- Egg salad or other you enjoy: https://www.trialandeater.com/no-mayo-egg-salad/
- Tuna or salmon salad – You can change up the typical egg salad with mayonnaise for a something new. Mix skipjack light tuna in water or skinless, boneless wild caught salmon (both come in cans) with lemon juice, seasonings desired, ½ small avocado, chopped up carrots and celery and have with the following: crackers, bread, pita bread, tortilla, or even wrapped in large thin slices of mozzarella or provolone cheese.
- Pasta salad: Mix pasta with tomato, cheese (mozzarella, feta, goat, etc.), olives, sun dried tomato, other veggies as desired, chicken chunks. Dressing for salad: Your favorite or make your own that includes Italian seasoning or other desired seasoning, garlic, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, plain/unsweetened yogurt (if you want creamy dressing) or olive or avocado oil.
- Quinoa salad: Here is a great recipe and you can even double it to have lots left over. http://www.foodnetwork.ca/recipe/greek-quinoa-salad/13454/. You can reduce the amount of oil if you are watching calories. Add more veggies as desired such as bell peppers, mushrooms, and chopped up spinach. You can also add a twist by mixing in some rice (white or wild). For more protein content, have chicken and/or hard-boiled egg on the side or mixed in with salad.
- Very popular sweet Keto and Paleo snacks and treats. So easy to make a bunch of and store in the fridge or freezer. You can still have these even if you do not follow a Ketogenic or Paleo dietary plan. A portion can be nutrient rich, yet calorie laden so you want to be careful not to overeat. Here are some recipe:
- Jerky or food/snack bars (this is certainly not an exhaustive list, but many available are not so healthy so it is very important for you to review the ingredients and nutrition label so you make wise choices):
- Savory animal-based items: Though I don’t advocate a lot of this since it is not a whole-food and some may have some processed ingredients you don’t want to over- consume, these are ok to have when you are in a hurry and need a healthier alternative:
- Food or Snack Bars (some are higher protein, some higher carb, so you will have to review the ingredients then macros to determine if appropriate for you)
The next article will include the third fundamental, “Calendar With Weekly Menu.”
To YOU Being Confidently Healthy and Having Joy Filled Living,