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The Secret to Meal Planning: Part 4 “Teamwork”

By Shanna Demers, neighborhood market manager:

Teamwork makes the dream work! Five words that never fail to bring my family smiles and remind us that we are in this together. But if teamwork is so important to our family, why was meal planning and cooking ALL on me?! Involving my family in the planning process was a game changer.

I was selecting all the meals when I was following prefabricated meal plans. It was easier this way, but I found myself frustrated when my family (mainly my daughter) wasn’t interested in eating what I had prepared. We all have unique palates and I was only cooking to mine. Meals became more enjoyable for everyone once I started asking my husband and daughter for their input. This is yet another example of why following someone else’s meal plan is not always sustainable. Simple changes really do make big differences.

My family helps plan meals each week, which keeps us on track because we are all invested. Involvement gives ownership. This is important for children as well. Including children in the planning process helps them to learn healthy eating habits and will make them more excited about what’s on the table for meals. They’re more likely to try new things if they helped choose them.

My daughter helps me choose the items in our basket every Friday when the Seasonal Roots menu comes out. Not only is she helping me plan, she is learning where our food comes from. Many children are not aware of how our food production system works. Food doesn’t come from the grocery store — that’s simply a place where we can purchase it. When we order from Seasonal Roots, we can choose our items and see which family farm it’s coming from.

Knowing where our food comes from and how to prepare it are important life skills. I’m helping my daughter learn by inviting her into the kitchen. In turn, she’s more willing to try new foods and eat what we prepare together. A win-win situation!

So this week I’m challenging you to get everyone involved with as much of the planning and cooking as possible. Teamwork makes the (meal planning) dream work!

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The Secret to Meal Planning: Part 3 “Know Your Schedule”

By Shanna Demers, neighborhood market manager:

So how did shopping at home go over last week?! Digging through your freezer can be intimidating but hopefully diving in resulted in some inspiration to cook forgotten items and saved you some money at the grocery store!

By the way, if you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, head here
for Part 1 of this meal planning series, and here for Part 2, “Shopping at Home”.

After I finish my home shopping and review my upcoming Seasonal Roots order, I have an accurate idea of what I have on hand and use it to inspire my weekly plan. But there’s one more vital piece to this puzzle: our weekly schedule.

It took me a while to figure that out. Normally families have the same commitments week in and week out, but when I assumed I could follow a plan that had a predictable daily themes, like meatless Monday, taco Tuesday, and so on, I failed again. It didn’t work.

Once a week batch cooking — a.k.a. cooking up a storm one day and using the pre-cooked items throughout the week — also didn’t work. No one in my family is ever stoked about leftovers and it felt like that was all we were eating!

I felt trapped. Yet again, these “tried and true” meal plans were not working for me. I was either trying new recipes on my busiest days, or winding up with a large amount of cooked food that had to be eaten whether or not we felt like eating it just to avoid having to throw it away.

Then it finally hit me. Every week is unique. Duh! It seems so obvious now: If I was going to be successful, I had to plan meals that actually fit our schedule. Rules were tossed again and so was the recipe for disaster that I was following. After all, tacos taste good any night of the week, not just Tuesdays.

So now, Sunday is my planning day. I take about an hour and sit with a cup of coffee, cookbooks, Pinterest (where every week Seasonal Roots posts new recipes that use the most popular produce items for the upcoming week), and my calendar planner.

Based on what’s actually on our schedule for the upcoming week, I can better decide which nights I should use the crock pot, which nights I can look forward to cooking, and which nights we will need to have leftovers. I enjoy cooking and usually try cooking a few nights in a row. Leftover night is much more fun when you have a choice in the matter. Seeing which meals produce sought-after leftovers and which meals are just no good unless they’re fresh also helps me plan ahead. So your challenge this week is to make your plan fit your schedule, not someone else’s.

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The Secret to Meal Planning: Part 2 “Shopping at Home”

By Shanna Demers, neighborhood market manager:
My favorite way to start meal planning is to take inventory of everything I have on hand. In other words, I shop at home.

[In case you missed it, here’s last week’s secret.]

This simple step was one I was missing when I tried to use prefabricated meal plans. Many meal plans have shopping lists prepared for you based on meals selected. I would print these nice little lists and head to the store, completely disregarding what I already had at home or had ordered from Seasonal Roots. This was the opposite of budget friendly! I was also buying weird products for recipes and never using them again. Last weekend I threw away an old jar of tahini I used once to make a sauce no one liked because of a meal plan. No wonder I was throwing so much away!

Now, before I decide what to cook, I determine what I have. Not only was I throwing away produce, but I was throwing away things that were buried in my freezer. You never want to find the last pound of that beautiful, pastured breakfast sausage bundle you ordered from Seasonal Roots covered in freezer burn! I was also freezing vegetables to help reduce waste, but… I didn’t know that they should be blanched prior to freezing. The veggies were almost always freezer-burned by time I remembered I had them. Talk about frustrating.

I’ve made some changes, and now let my order from Seasonal Roots and the freezer inspire my meal planning every Sunday. I have found I am saving money and time! One small change can make a big difference. Give it a shot this week. Before you head out grocery shopping figure out what you actually have. It’s often more than you realize.

Stay tuned for more meal planning tips next week. In the meantime, here’s a quick guide on how to freeze extra produce… the correct way, by blanching first!

    • Prepare a stock pot of boiling water.
    • Clean and roughly chop vegetables.
    • Prepare an ice bath for the blanched vegetables.
    • Place vegetables into a wire basket and lower into rapidly boiling water for a few minutes. The time depends on the vegetable. Here’s a good guide for times.
    • After blanching, promptly put vegetables into an ice bath. Once cool, drain and place in a freezer-safe container or baggie.
  • fridge with words

    The Secret to Meal Planning: Part 1 “Throw out the rules!”

    By Shanna Demers, neighborhood market manager:

    It took me a long time to figure out how to successfully meal plan for my family. I kept trying different meal planning systems – trying and failing. I’m a neighborhood market manager for Seasonal Roots’ online farmers market and a busy, homeschooling mom, and I used to be an agriculture research specialist… if anyone should’ve known how to meal plan, it’s me! Why wasn’t it working? What was I doing wrong?!

    The thing is, there are a lot of websites out there that will tell you how to plan a week of meals. I’d get frustrated trying to follow their rules and lose all the joy that came with cooking and eating nutritious food. What happened to meal planning making your life better, right?!

    Well, better means different things for different people. For you, better may mean less time cooking, or less time shopping and more time cooking. Maybe you’re tired of wasting fresh veggies. I was. I would find myself standing in the kitchen at 4:30pm wondering how I could turn a pile of wilty swiss chard and semi-mushy zucchini into dinner. It was often easier to compost it or even worse, throw it away and opt for the broccoli from the freezer. It was NOT working.

    Meal planning IS the answer but everyone meal plans differently. I have diet restrictions and so does my daughter, but my husband can eat anything. Trying to make someone else’s meal plan fit our needs was a recipe for failure. Meal planning only started working when I figured out which rules fit our life. Then I threw the rest away.

    That is my secret to successful meal planning: Throw away the rules (not the fresh veggies)!

    In upcoming posts, I’ll tell you how I meal plan. I’ll also give you tips to help you figure out how YOU can meal plan. In the meantime, check out these free meal planning resources. Just remember: Keep what works, throw the rest away.
    http://realeverything.com/tag/meal-plan/

    http://www.thekitchn.com/danielle-walker-new-york-times-best-selling-author-of-meals-made-simple-tells-us-how-she-meal-preps-for-the-week-229368

    http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/our-free-meal-plans/

    http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/recipe-collections-favorites/month-of-dinner-recipes

    This next one has some sample plans, otherwise it’s a paid service.
    http://emeals.com/meal-plans/?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=meal%20plans&utm_campaign=B_Meal%20Plan