My first e-book, The 30 Day Heartburn Solution: A 3 Step Nutrition Program for Stopping Acid Reflux Without Drugs, is almost ready! As a little preview, I want to share with you one of the last chapters in the book. It’s about weekly meal planning and cooking.
What does meal planning and cooking have to do with heartburn, you might ask?
Both weekly meal planning and cooking are so important to stopping heartburn over the long term. Of course, I could say that for most health issues. Because let’s face it – continually eating out, ordering out, using the microwave, eating frozen meals and quick-prepared food out of cans and boxes is a slow, albeit sure route to poor health.
But I know what you’re thinking. When you think of cooking and meal planning, you think of this:
But not in my book (pun intended).
Weekly meal planning and cooking more doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life in the kitchen!
In fact, in my chapter on meal planning I reveal a confession. This is a confession that is perhaps sacrilegious in the world of nutritional counseling.
Here it is:
I hate meal plans.
Actually that’s not entirely true. It’s more like this:
I REALLY hate meal plans.
Yeah, that’s more like it.
For starters, I look at most weekly meal plans I see on the internet and shake my head in absolute disbelief. The majority are just so UNREALISTIC. You’d better be retired or independently wealthy and not working to make these meal plans doable.
Seriously, they are just ridiculous. Most have you cooking 21 different meals from scratch to account for 3 meals for each day of the week. Who has time for that?!
I sure don’t.
My next issue with weekly meal plans is that anytime I write one for a client, I’ve learned there’s very little chance they will follow it. So I write out a detailed personalized plan (which takes a lot of time) and then they start telling me all the reasons why they can’t follow it:
Oh, but I don’t like that.
Oh, but my kids won’t eat that.
Oh, I forgot to tell you, I have a slight sensitivity to that.
Oh, we’re going on vacation next week so we won’t be able to do this.
So instead of highly detailed weekly meal plans I give my clients lists of meal ideas that they can work from. I tell them to pick and choose whatever works for them from the list and to create their own weekly meal plans from the lists. This has the added benefit of motivating them to do their own planning.
And then I give them some tips for making a weekly meal plan that won’t make them end up in an insane asylum.
That’s right, THREE. That’s usually all I plan for each week. And most weeks I can make it work with just two. This simplifies things tremendously.
Seriously, most weeks I sit down with my handful of trusted cookbooks, look through what I got in the fridge and freezer and then think of two meals I’m going to make for the week. And I usually can get through the entire week on that.
First things first – forget breakfasts in your meal plans. Can you scramble an egg? Fry bacon? Make a smoothie by putting some fruit, veggies, yogurt or milk of some sort in a blender and then click “blend?”
Do you really need a written plan for breakfast?
Next, forget the weekends as well. Travel plans, family outings, holidays and social events make weekend meal planning consistently unpredictable. If you know you’ll be home and want to plan, well, then go for it. Just do the best you can on the weekends.
So that leaves just ten meals to plan for – five weekday lunches and dinners. And then factor in a meal or two out (business lunch, family night out, etc.) and it’s even less than that. Isn’t this sounding more manageable already?
So here’s how I do things and here’s what I recommend in my book:
Think of 2-3 dinners that you can cook in bulk each week. Soups are ideal for this. I usually cook one big pot of soup every week. There’s nothing better than coming home when you’re exhausted and having dinner ready in a matter of minutes via a simple re-heat. Stews, roasts, whole chickens and other larger cuts of meat are great for cooking in bulk as well. Freeze whatever you won’t use throughout the week.
When you’re thinking of your meals for dinner, think of meals that can be used for lunch. For example, leftover meats can be used for salads. Soups can be warmed up in the morning and put in a thermos. Leftover chicken or fish can be diced and mixed with some mayo and veggies. Obviously this will be a little more challenging if you’re cooking for a family as opposed to just yourself. But you’ll be so thankful later in the week with a little up front planning and prep.
You might not want ALL of your meals to come from just two to three. I admit that if I cook a big pot of soup I’m pretty sick of it by the end of the week. So you might have to plan out a lunch or two that won’t come from dinner. But keep it simple. So for example, a fruit and vegetable plate with some cheese, some hardboiled eggs with cucumbers and avocado slices or some canned tuna or salmon over a salad.
And then as far as dinner goes, have some quick and versatile ingredients on hand for those nights when you get home later than expected. For example, eggs. As Jessica Prentice says in her awesome book, Full Moon Feast, “eggs are the original fast food.”
Cook ‘em up any way you like them with any veggies you like and a side of bacon, sausage or maybe some salmon lox. Pop a piece of sourdough bread in the toaster and this nourishing meal shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to make from scratch. I usually make eggs for dinner at least one night a week.
Finally, try to find one day of the week where you spend some time preparing things for the week. Of course, some planning must still happen. You might have to make a stock for a soup, prep some things like hardboiled eggs and/or make a homemade dressing.
But this sure beats making 21 different meals from scratch, doesn’t it?
So let’s take those ideas and hash out a quick plan. Here are three dinner ideas that can be cooked in bulk and used for extra meals throughout the week:
1. Potato leek soup (or any soup that works for you) topped with sour cream or crème fraiche. Top with pastured bacon bits or add some pastured sausage for added protein. Include a side of sauerkraut.
2. Baked chicken drumsticks or wings with sides of your choice – rice and greens work well.
3. Steaks with sides of your choice – sweet potatoes, kimchi, greens, carrots, etc.
Vary up the side dishes when you have leftovers so things don’t get too monotonous.
Here are three lunch ideas from those dinners:
1. Soup is the same! Just bring it with you in a thermos.
2. Dice leftover chicken and put it over a salad. Or chop chicken and mix with diced onions and red peppers. Mix with mayo for a chicken salad.
3. Dice leftover steak and have steak slices with a side of cheese slices and a side salad. Or slice the steak and put it over a salad. Have a steak caesar salad, a steak garden salad or a steak chef salad.
So here’s an example of how we can take the ideas above and sketch out a very basic weekly meal plan. I’ve color coded the three meals so you can see where they fit in the rest of the week.
Lunch – Business lunch out
Dinner – Grilled/sauteed steak with mushrooms and onions, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans
Lunch – Leftover steak slices with cheddar cheese slices (or any cheese you like) and a side salad
Dinner – Potato leek soup topped with pastured bacon bits, chives, sour cream or crème fraiche
Lunch – Caesar salad with leftover steak slices. Include other veggies or protein you like – hardboiled eggs, nuts, sliced onions, tomatoes, peppers, etc.
Dinner – Chicken drumsticks/wings with homemade blue cheese dressing, wild rice, sautéed kale
Lunch – Potato leek soup in a thermos
Dinner – Late night at work – Eggs and Bacon
Lunch – Leftover chicken drumsticks/wings with blue cheese dressing and carrot and celery sticks
Dinner – Leftover potato leek soup OR family night out!
So that’s three meals from the soup and steak, two from the chicken and two unplanned meals. That’s doable, don’t you think?
And yet, there are still those that will be overwhelmed by even the most basic of meal plans. I get it. Modern life is just insane, especially if you’re working a full time job and have kids.
So for those that really need the support, let me recommend Real Food Meal Plans for the Busy Home.
This is a great online service offered by Emily Bartlett of Holistic Squid where you get weekly meal plans delivered to your inbox. Everything is written out for you – your to-do list, your shopping list and recipes for all the meals.
What I like about these plans is that they ONLY involve dinners. So it’s not completely overwhelming. You could even combine some of my ideas and just choose the two or three recipes that you like and can cook in bulk.
But most importantly, Emily understands real food. There’s no processed ingredients and quality is always emphasized.
Also, she just came up with Paleo Meal Plans for those of you looking to avoid grains and dairy.
There are options for monthly, quarterly and yearly plans. And you can download a free sample of both meal plans as well before you sign up.
Regardless if you choose to do it yourself or to get some help from Holistic Squid, make sure meal planning becomes a part of your daily routine. Just make sure it doesn’t drive you nuts!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on meal planning in the comments section. Do you meal plan? What works for you? Do you have any tips and tricks?
Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.