I share with you some healthy recipes on my Mediterranean Mondays, but I thought it might be nice to share with you how I plan out my week in food. I have two sons, plus a boyfriend and his six-year-old (who he has every other week) that I cook for regularly, so planning out our meals and creating a corresponding shopping list to stay on budget for a family of five is crucial. I have to plan meals that are healthy, and also budget friendly, which can be tough when you’re buying good quality, health conscious products.
So, here is how I do it:
I start off with lunch for the week. My kids eat at school, because we are fortunate enough to have our school district cover the cost of all kids’ lunches, and there is no way I could keep within the $525 monthly budget for food if I had to buy food for the kids to take to school for lunch, too. So for lunch I’m covering myself and Michael. Whatever I decided to make, I double it so that we have enough for each of us for at least most of the week.
The primary criteria for lunch — I almost always make it something plant-based.
For the upcoming week, I am going to make a kale salad with black-eye peas and roasted sweet potatoes, served over couscous.
I also plan something for breakfast for my kids (and sometimes Michael, depending on what it is) each week. Michael and I do not live together, so if I decide to do something like whole wheat pancake batter or waffle mix, he doesn’t get to benefit from that since I’m making it at my house every morning. I will mix up a double batch of pancake mix, for example, and store it in a large jar in the refrigerator, then simply pour some into a hot skillet to make pancakes for the kids.
For the upcoming week, I am making the Blueberry Lemon Muffins I shared on the blog a few months back.
My breakfast is pretty much the same every day — I make ahead a few jars of oatmeal on Sunday food prep day, and grab one to take to work with me each morning. Around 9:00 I pour it into a bowl and heat it up for 90 seconds in the microwave. I use rolled oats (I just got a thing of gluten free rolled oats from Azure Standard to try next week), either walnuts or sliced almonds, chia seeds, either raisins, dried cranberries or diced apples, cinnamon, stevia and almond milk.
I come up with two dinner ideas for the weeks when Michael does not have Gabriel and my boys are with their dad for that weekend, and three dinner ideas for the weeks that Michael does have Gabriel and all three of our boys are home for the weekend. I will choose something that makes enough so we get leftovers and I don’t need to cook every single night, and also don’t need to buy a wide range of ingredients that would set me over budget. I also have to try to come up with things that are healthy, but a six-year-old will still eat, which can be challenging too since he’s not adjusted to having a healthy diet quite yet.
Dinner next week:
Next week is an all-boys-on-deck week, so I have three dinners planned with some kid-friendly recipes.
- Quinoa Pizza Burgers — plant based burgers topped with mozzarella (I am going to practice with making a vegan mozzarella later this week or weekend, so if that’s successful I will be using that instead), served with side salads.
- Roasted Chicken Breast and Fall Vegetables — the fall veggies being roasted sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts, inspired by a side dish from Red Lobster that I had on our date night last night.
- Mushroom and Sundried Tomato Rotini — a recipe I picked up from Pickup Limes on YouTube last week that looked delicious and simple. A one-dish meal is always a plus for me, and can make plenty for leftovers without spending a fortune!
You know a meal plan can’t be complete without snacks, especially when you have kids, especially when you have teenage boys! I have definitely figured out some staples for us that we all love, and what snacks go on the plan each week depends mostly one what we’re out of and need to replace.
Cranberry Chocolate Low-Carb Granola Bars are Michael’s favorite snack, so I make these regularly.
Veggies and hummus — I recently started making my hummus homemade to avoid the preservatives in the store-bought variety. We all love roasted red pepper hummus! So much so that I measure it out (2 tablespoons into a 4oz jar) to make sure my kids eat the right amount and not the entire container at once.
Chips and salsa — I buy the organic mutli-grain chips from Aldi for my house, and also buy the organic black bean chips from Aldi for Michael. I also measure out 2 tablespoons of the salsa into the 4oz jars like I do the hummus.
Fruit — mostly apples and grapes are the favorites, although I personally love raw cranberries (yay for those being in season right now!) and grapefruit.
Organic plain Greek yogurt — I like to minimize dairy as much as I can, but yogurt is one of Logan’s favorites. So I buy it plain and organic, then sweeten it with a little stevia and some vanilla extract. I scoop it out into 8oz jars and sprinkle a few dark chocolate chips on top.
Nuts and cheese — another dairy snack that my other child likes. Hunter is my super picky kid, so it’s strictly roasted peanuts for him, plus an ounce of cheese — usually white cheddar. I measure the peanuts out (1/4 cup in a 4oz jar) for him, otherwise he would eat the entire container in one sitting. And I cut up the cheese into 1oz chunks so he can grab one to eat with his jar of nuts.
Celery and peanut butter or ranch — I wash and chop up the celery, and put as many sticks as possible into an 8oz jar, then measure out the appropriate serving size of either peanut butter or ranch into 4oz jars.
Noticing a trend? I use a lot of glass jars! If you have teenagers, then you know that they have absolutely no concept of portion control. So in order to make the snacks last a week instead of a day, I do this to make sure they a) are not overeating, and b) aren’t making me blow my budget on snacks!
When we don’t have the kids, I don’t plan anything. We usually have enough leftovers and ingredients around to throw something together, but we also have date night on Saturdays when all of the kids are away so we will eat out or pick up supplies to make something fun at home. Our last date night, for example, we went by an Asian grocer in town called Pacific Rim and picked up some things to make sushi, plus a bag of frozen veggie dumplings.
For next week
Chili! This is one of the few foods my oldest picky child loves, it’s cheap, it’s easy to make, and it lasts the whole weekend. I probably make this about once a month during the cold seasons. Our weeks are busy, and I spend a few hours on Sundays prepping breakfast, snacks, and lunch for the week, so I refuse to spend any more time than that cooking for every meal all weekend long!
Since I’m the only one who would probably be almost entirely plant-based in the family if not for feeding everyone else, I will keep part of the chili meat-free for myself, but the rest will have a small amount of ground turkey in it to please the others.
The Shopping List
As I add meals to the plan, I list out the ingredients needed for each meal. I then put the ingredients on a list in the order that they’re in at the grocery store (to keep my shopping trips quick and efficient), and list out the rounded-up prices of each item to the side, with a total at the bottom. This way I know how much I can expect to spend before I go to the store and keep on-budget.
So how much are we spending next week? $148, which includes a few items I’m buying in bulk from Sams Club for the month, like walnuts, almonds and dried cranberries which I use both in my oatmeal and in Michael’s granola bars. The rest of the weeks of the month are usually between $100 and $125.
I also will usually place an order through Azure Standard for an item or two that we use often, and if I do that I allocate $50 of the budget to that. This month I just bought a 5lb bag of gluten free rolled oats and a 6-pack of Ezekiel bread to get us through the next month, so I won’t need to buy either of those things on our shopping trips.
With this being a holiday week, things are pretty abnormal this week so I’m taking a brief hiatus on meals and photos. Next week, however, I’m looking at doing a post on snack and food prep, with photos of how I divide and store them. I’m also considering doing weekly meal plan posts, shorter in description than this one has been, but with more details of ingredients and links to any recipes if I’m using something from online.
One of the biggest struggles in learning to eat healthy, I’m noticing, is figuring out how to cook and shop in a different way than people are used to. My hope is that sharing meal plans and ingredients can help simplify that for people who are transitioning into a healthy way of life. If this is something you would like to see more of, please let me know!
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!