The first rule of planning your menu is to decide how often you want to go shopping. I hate grocery shopping. If I had the storage space and a larger kitchen for prep and cooking, I would only do it once a month, but since I don't, we shop once a week, for the most part, so our menu is set up to get us through 7 days.
The next thing is to decide how many meals you'll be eating a day. We eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, two snacks, and a little bit of dark chocolate every day. Our first snack is usually something a little more filling, and our second snack is usually fruit. If you work or go to school, and you plan on taking food with you, which is both economical and helpful when trying to stick to Paleo eating, you'll want to consider what to take your meals in and where you can store them. I have an insulated lunch box. It's not ideal, but it is something I had on hand because we bought it years ago. I hope to replace it soon with something a little nicer, but until then, it will do. I have ice packs that I use to keep my food cold because I keep my lunchbox in my car. I eat in my car every day because I really have to take that time away from work to relax and unwind and take a short nap, and my car is my haven, since I live so far from my job. My husband packs my lunches and snacks everyday, and we mostly re-use glass containers that we've bought other foods in because plastic can cause worsening of allergy symptoms.
The third thing you should think about is how much prep time you have and want to spend on food. If you don't have a lot of time, you might want to make quiches for breakfasts and salads for lunch the night before. Then you can throw something in the slow cooker in the morning so you have a hot meal waiting for you when you get home from work. As I mentioned before, I'm blessed to have a husband who packs my lunches and snacks. He also fixes my breakfasts and dinners, so I don't have to cook when I get home. But we still do pretty simple dishes because his back and legs start to hurt really bad if he has to stand in one place for long, so we eat a lot of stuff that can be left in the oven to cook, so it doesn't have to be watched like quiches and roasted chicken, or stuff that can just be thrown together like salads.
The fourth thing is to decide how you want to incorporate seasonal foods. Seasonal foods are almost always cheaper, so they're a great value way of boosting nutrition without breaking your budget. If you've noticed the app at the top of my blog, you've found that it displays the food that is in season. You can change the location to find the seasonal food for where you live. Mine shows that in early January in Alabama, the foods that are in season are pecans, greens, and sweet potatoes. Greens are a very important part of staying healthy. They are full of nutrients, detoxify and alkalize the body, and they help keep uric acid from forming in the body. That's important since the increase in protein can increase uric acid which can cause gout. And as I've said before, I love sweet potatoes. I am allergic to pecans, though, but I do know of several places where you can just pick them off the ground. In fact, I spent a lot of my childhood picking up pecans for family members who knew I wouldn't eat them, so they could make candies, baked goods, and pies, and sell the rest of them.
The next thing to do is to decide a way to streamline the process. This can be done in one of several ways, so I'll just tell you some of the ways that we've tried.
- Cultural theme days: Mexican Monday, Tropical Tuesday, Indian Wednesday, Mediterranean Thursday, Far East Friday, American Saturday, Italian Sunday
- Family member days: Daddy Monday, Mommy Tuesday, Lydia Wednesday, Victor Thursday, Alex Friday, Daddy Saturday, Mommy Sunday
- Rainbow food theme days: Red Food Monday, Orange Food Tuesday, Yellow Food Wednesday, Green Food Thursday, Blue Food Friday, Purple Food Saturday, Satvic/Vegetarian Sunday
- Comfort Food Make-over Themed Days: Mexican Monday, Burger Tuesday, Chinese Wednesday, Italian Thursday, Pizza Friday, Fast Food Saturday, Southern Sunday
- Carb-Cycling days: Low Carb Monday, Mid Carb Tuesday, Low Carb Wednesday, Mid Carb Thursday, Low Carb Friday, Weigh-In/Mid Carb Saturday, Cheat Day Sunday
- And for all the nerds out there the Random Food Generator using a 20-sided die to roll up a menu. With this option, you need at least one twenty-sided dies, but it's better to have as many different ones as number of meals you plan to roll, so our family would have 5D20, 1D20 for breakfast, 1D20 for lunch, 1D20 for dinner, and 2D20 for snacks. Then you write a random table with 20 different choices for each meal, such as below. Then you roll up your menu with the dice.
- eggs and breakfast patties
- eggs and bacon
- sweet potato hash and eggs
- pumpkin muffins
- blueberry waffles
- sweet potato and sausage quiche
- caramelized onion and bacon quiche
- banana pancakes
- pumpkin waffles
- apple streusel egg muffins
- mini cini scones
- breakfast scramble
- fiesta quiche
- chocolate chip scones
- Paleo Elvis
- BLT quiche
- apple cinnamon pancakes
- green eggs and ham quiche
- bell pepper quiche
The process may seem a little overwhelming at first, but it does get easier. It may seem like a lot of extra stuff to add to your routine, especially if you have kids, but in the long run, it makes things so much easier, especially if you have kids. I personally like themes because they keep everyone from suggesting the same foods over and over again. Once when we were letting everyone pick the meal plan on a given day, the boys kept picking the same foods, so for two days straight we were having sushi for lunch and pizza soup for dinner, week after week.
Finally the most important thing about meal planning is to stick to your plans. If you make the menu and go purchase all the required ingredients and then go out to eat several nights, then you've not only wasted the money on eating out, but the money you spent on food. If you just have to eat out a few nights a week or every lunch while you're working, schedule that into you menu and your budget, and try to find Paleo, or at least gluten-free options.
I'll now include this week's menu, just to give you an idea. Our recent theme is eating the rainbow.
Sunday Jan. 4th (Lydia's birthday)
B Bacon Waffles
S Granny's concoction
L eat at Granny's
S bacon guac sammies
D Marceline's paprika chicken, Rock People biscuits, Flame Princess sweet potato chips, Ice King ice cream, Candy Kingdom chocolate doughnuts
Monday Jan. 5th
B Fiesta Quiche
S bugs on a boat
L beet and carrot salad
Tuesday Jan. 6th
B scrambled eggs & bacon
S carrots and ranch
L leftover chili & mushroom sandwiches
D eating out for Lydia's birthday with Ray's parents
Wednesday Jan. 7th
B butternut quiche
S yellow peppers with honey mustard
L chicken salad
D lemon pepper chicken with veggies
Thursday Jan. 8th
B green quiche
S cucumber spears with ranch
L Caesar salad
D Moc Broc soup with Italian herb chicken
Friday Jan. 9th
B nori quiche with blueberry smoothie
S Capricorn dates
L chicken and cranberry salad with blueberry vinaigrette
D sweet potato hash
Saturday Jan. 10th
B bacon concoction
S carrots with baba ghanoush
L sweet potato salad
S devils on horseback
D chicken zoodle soup
Once you've created your meal plan, write down what you need. Keep in mind that a serving of protein is about 4-6 ounces a person or 1-2 eggs per person. This will help with calculating how much you need. We like to organize our shopping list by store, then by aisle, so we spend the least amount of time in the store possible. And don't forget your essentials, like freezer bags, parchment paper if you plan to bake, coconut oil for cooking, olive oil and vinegars for salad dressings, herbs and spices and sea salt to add extra flavor, and extra eggs for making mayonnaise. And the most important thing of all: NEVER GO TO THE GROCERY STORE WHEN YOU'RE HUNGRY! This will help you stick to your list.
If you mess up, it's okay. I've been doing this for almost 15 years, and there are still weeks that we run out or completely forget to get stuff. Just this week, we ran out of eggs, so instead of scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast today, we substituted bacon concoction because after working a nine hour shift yesterday and getting out after 7:30 because I ran into a friend and we ended up talking a while, I did not feel like getting out in the freezing cold again to go to the secondary grocery store that closes at 8:00 pm to pick up some eggs, so we got creative with what we had left in the house. Now take a deep breath. Take it step-by-step, and remember that it may take some trial and error, but you can do it. I believe in you.