there is always a plan: mapping my weekly meal strat

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Saturday night I spent four hours at a tony beach club, scanning the room for gluten-free food. I’ll save you the diatribe and tell you that while the cocktails looked grand, the chow situation was woeful and limited. I was in a world dominated by flour taco bites and quarter-sized burgers on crostini. Everywhere I turned I was faced with a reminder of the one molecule I dare not consume: GLUTEN.

For those of you whom are interested, I am no longer a walking hive. I’m off the steroids, and a semblance of the woman I once was–before the cacio e pepe blitzkrieg–is slowly returning. Never will I take a body free from itch for granted.

Before you lament my situation, know that I was prepared; I had a plan. In fact, my life as of late requires quite a bit of planning to make eating virtuously a conversation that always starts with YES. It makes navigating a gluten-infested work cafeteria palpable (How is there gluten in a black bean burger? A woman is FLUMMOXED!). While these tips are Captain Obvious, they’ve been extraordinarily helpful to me in terms of planning meals + grocery shopping for the week.

1. Planning: Every week (Monday-Wednesday), I scan my five top cookbooks, recent food magazines, and my gluten-free and vegetarian boards I’ve created for myself on Pinterest, in search of 2 “big” dishes and 2 sides that can be recycled. Big dishes will include a meat/poultry-based dish, where I can make the dish once and have it supply me with 2-3 meals. Examples include a chicken + sausage tray bake, beef tacos (I’ll re-use the meat in cold salads and gluten-free sandwiches), stir-fry beef (great with cold rice and salads) or this almond-crusted chicken. I always make a dish that I know I can chop it up, toss in a salad, pair with healthy legumes for the following day.

In addition to my BIG meals, I also scan for sides. Not only are these great accoutrements to a meal, but they serve as a lunch sides (I brown bag three days a week) or for healthy snacks, easily accessible in the fridge. I tend to go with veg-based options. Whether I’m making sweet potatoes that I can mash up later, or a roasted vegetable salad (my fave as of late) or a tub of roasted chickpeas, I commit myself to 2 sides + 2 big meals to supply food options for the week.

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2. Shopping: I hate shopping except for when it comes to food. Food? I can shop all day, multiple times a week if need be. However, once I’ve got my big meals + sides mapped, I make a complete grocery list in Evernote of what I need to order. I also scan my fridge/pantry weekly to see if I’m running out of staples (eggs, almond milk, olive oil, etc) to compile one master list. I use this list to make a weekly order on Fresh Direct. I usually place the order for delivery on a Friday or Saturday, so I can make my meals for the week.

I’ve also accepted that I will pick up items at the grocery/market every other day, mostly gluten-free breads, fresh produce or cuts of beef that I’ll buy from a specific market. This forces me to buy in-season when fruit is ripe and delectable and it also inspires a relationship between me and my butcher. I tend to buy beef/poultry from the Union Square market (I LOVE Flying Pigs Farm, btw) or the USQ Whole Foods.

3. Unpacking: As soon as the groceries arrive, I’m ready with Ziploc bags, markers and Tupperware. I wash all my greens in one shot, dry, label, and secure them in airtight bags. I devote an entire shelf in my fridge to produce and herbs, and everything has a label. I also have Tupperware or smaller snack bags at the ready so I can open, chop, portion and drop. A bag of mixed veggies or fruit on the go? DONE AND DONE. This may sound like a look of effort, but 1-2 hours of prep saves you so much time during the week. I also use this time to check expiration dates on my products, do a clean wipe down of my fridge before the new guests arrive into their home.

4. Meal + Snack Prep: On Sundays, I spent 2-3 hours cooking and portioning my meals for the week. Sometimes I’ll split this between Saturday and Sundays, but usually with meat dishes I like to cook them as close to consumption as possible. The bottom shelf of my fridge is devoted to my stockpiles. I have two Tupperware (or 1 Tupperware, one Ziploc) per day. Meal is on the bottom, snacks are on top. Every day, all I need to do is open the fridge and dump my meal in my purse. Easy-peasy.

5. Purse snacks and side-eye events: Since I’ve learned that KIND bars are the spawn of Satan, I’m packing very healthy, virtuous options for on-the-go snacking (for the days when I’m not in the office) or in the event I have an event where my gluten-free options are limited. I usually pack homemade bars, Think Thin bars (look for really low levels of sugar), fruit, nuts (don’t get crazy with the portions) freshly-cut veggies or a protein shake I’ll make in the morning. This weekend, I carted a glass, lightweight tub filled with fresh apricots, figs, 2 protein bars and my avocado chocolate mousse. Not only was I sated at the event, I didn’t pick at snack trays. I wasn’t even TEMPTED.

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I’m sure there are a ton of apps and programs that I could use which would make this process infinitely more efficient, but I actually like the tactile feel of going to kitchen, taking inventory and writing down what I need. If you have any meal prep tips, sites or other cool ways to map out your eats for the week, let me know!

15 thoughts on “there is always a plan: mapping my weekly meal strat

  1. Out of curiosity, what makes Kind Bars spawn of satan vs. ThinkThin bars? I tend to avoid both because of the sugar substitutes and other processed ingredients. Regarding your question, I do the same as you with cookbooks, but I’m a fan of CookSmarts for extra meal planning inspiration. Jess writes four meals each week (and you can select gluten free, paleo, vegetarian versions). I also really love the insight in Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal”, and Jenny Rosenstrach’s Dinner: A Love Story. I’ll also look at Nigel Slater’s general week of the Kitchen Diaries and see if anything matches my cravings for that time of year.

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    1. Sam,

      First off, thanks for the great tips– so helpful!

      You’re likely right about the bars– anything that I haven’t made myself feels suspect, but if I’m comparing the sugar and protein %, TT wins in my opinion. But watch Dana tell me I’m insane when I share my opinion on TT this week :)

      Cheers, Felicia

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  2. I just love hearing people’s routines- the mundane things (i.e. grocery shopping) are what I find interesting. Your approach is definitely continuing you fuel your change (sorry, couldn’t help the stupid pun!). It’s tough, and I’m certainly struggling lately as I’ve got a husband to contend with who thinks that lasagna is good for you…

    Good on you for preparing while you were out over the weekend- that’s so hard. You’ve been serving up quite a bit of inspiration lately!

    Also, you looked fab in your dress at the party- meant to tell you that on Instagram.

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  3. I meal plan religiously, so hopefully some of these tips will help.

    I use an app called Pocket for my browser and phone to save recipes I want to make at some point. I also carry a small moleskin notebook around in my purse, which I use to write down ideas for the next week’s meal plan. I actually write my grocery list down on the opposite side of the page too, so I can see my meal plan on one side and my grocery list on the other. It makes it really easy to add to throughout the week. Also, it’s easy to look back on, and sometimes I’ll look at previous entries to get inspirations for that week’s meal plans. I also keep a Google doc of healthy, easy standby meals so if I’m completely uninspired that week, I can at least pull from my standby list.

    Some of my favorite standbys:
    -Baked sweet potatoes with giant handfuls of sauteed greens, black beans, a tiny amount of a melty cheese like Fontina, and a fried egg. You can easily add more veg if you are feeling up to chopping.
    -Brown rice, black beans, sauteed greens, pico de gallo or salsa, avocado. Again, you can add more veg like zucchini, corn, eggplant, tomatoes, pretty much anything, if you’re feeling ambitious.
    -Tuna salad (bulked out with herbs, grated carrot, diced celery, diced shallots), a bunch of spinach, and nut crackers like Blue Diamond Nut Thins (eek, hope those aren’t spawn of satan because I love them)
    -Meatballs of any kind over greens or a salad (actually, this is one of the top ways I try to mix comfort foods with good nutrition…put a small amount of whatever the comfort food is on top of the healthier stuff)
    -Greens and polenta, with any protein–leftover meat, a poached egg, or beans

    My meal plans are a always a mix of things I’ve been craving, recipes from blogs, recipes from cookbooks, and standbys. Like you, I always spend a few hours on Sundays prepping my foods for the week.

    For breakfasts, I like to plan a few smoothies and a few egg dishes.
    For snacks other than fruits/veggies (and as a side to smoothies), or sometimes just for dessert, I have gotten pretty addicted to these grain-free muffins: http://fitnessista.com/2014/05/grain-free-chocolate-chip-muffins/
    I alter that recipe by subbing out the chocolate chips for some sort of no-sugar-added dried fruit. I also add some kind of extract (vanilla, coconut, mint, etc.) and a pinch of kosher salt to the recipe. And I sometimes swap out the almond meal for hazelnut meal or pecan meal. Some of my favorite combos have been: coconut extract, goji berries, lime zest; cocoa nibs and mint extract; dried figs, ginger, and vanilla extract; dried strawberries, hazelnut flour, and vanilla extract.
    For lunches, I like to plan things that are easy to pack up at the beginning of the week and use up all week. I often follow a “snack plate” type format, and try to create some kind of theme because it makes it seem more fun. Last week, I made brown rice, an Asian cabbage slaw, stir-fried green beans, and stir-fried celery with beef (Fuschia Dunlop’s “send the rice down” dish).
    For dinners, I often like small-ish, flexible things, because I’m never sure if I’ll be hungry right after work, or a few hours after, and I also fit in working out after work. So I like really quick and easy things mostly prepared from what I cooked during my meal prep day. Sandwiches, tacos, the like.

    You also asked for cookbook recommendations the other day, and I’ve got some of those too! Sprouted Kitchen, Super Natural and Super Natural Every Day, La Tartine Gourmande, The Lemonade Cookbook, Every Grain of Rice, and Jamie Oliver’s 30 Minute Meals. And I second Sam’s comment about An Everlasting Meal.

    Sorry for the crazy-long comment, but I’m weirdly passionate about meal planning!

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    1. Nicole,

      Honestly, I really needed this comment today. I just learned that I have a trifecta sensitivity to gluten, dairy and yeast, so my options, at first blush, feel pretty limited. And while I know so many folks want to be supportive and tell me that there ARE SO MANY OPTIONS, I would rather just settle into sadness for a bit, because the big component of who I am, a baker, is being compromised.

      Then I saw your comment and got excited! Because you offered ideas, creative solutions, fun recipes. You honestly made my afternoon and I want to thank you :)

      Warmly, felicia

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      1. Oh, I’m so glad it helped you. If I think of more things, I will be sure to let you know! I have a cookbook called Good to the Grain, which might be interesting to you for baking. Everything in the book is made with whole-grain flours, although I think only about half are gluten-free.

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      2. Oh, oh, oh, I just thought of two more cookbooks you might be interested in! The Blender Girl cookbook is gluten and dairy free and although all I’ve tried from it so far is smoothie recipes, the rest of the recipes look fantastic too (and the smoothie recipes were DELICIOUS and are now weekly staples). The writing’s not so good in that one, though, so don’t expect to lay in bed with it.

        The other cookbook is Salad Samurai, a vegan salad cookbook. I’ve made a few of the dressings and salads so far, and they have been really tasty. The author encourages bulk food prep too, so it should go along well with your meal planning. The author also has a super popular vegan cookbook called Veganomicon, but I’ve never checked that one out.

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      1. Yay, I’m happy my meal-planning-craziness was helpful to someone else! I often try to brainstorm more nutritious ways to make a lot of my favorite foods (such as the baked sweet potato recipe above instead of the usual bacon & cheddar & sour cream potato I grew up with), and that’s where I come up with a lot of my combos.

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  4. The control freak in me LOVES this type of planning- and of course the peak into someone else’s lives. Would larabars be considered the spawn of Satan as well? Haha. I guess the protein count is not the focus. Just add that to your list of qs for Dana this week :) Kidding! Sort of!

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    1. I remember when I first saw Dana she was against bars, in general, with very few exceptions. I know she didn’t dig Larabars because of the high-nut content (fat is fat). I’ll ask her when I see her tomorrow. After I weep over the fact that everything in America contains gluten, dairy or yeast.

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