what’s for dinner, mom?
For a working woman, that one innocent question at the end of the day can cause a lot of stress. (Yes, yes, I know men cook, too, but there’s still this gap you may have heard about….)
When I work with clients on meal planning, the first barrier we normally encounter is the idea that weeknight meals should be Instagram-able.
They don’t, so stop shoulding all over yourself.
I teach a number of strategies to make it possible for clients to start cooking from scratch using whole food ingredients, and meal planning is definitely a key concept we dive into around secondary foods.
done-for-you meal plans
One question I often get is, “Do you provide meal plans with recipes and grocery lists?”
No, I generally don’t, and here’s why:
- If you’re looking for a specific meal plan to treat a disease or condition, it’s beyond the scope of practice for a health coach to do so unless s/he’s also an RD.
- More importantly, from my perspective, that type of product is out there already—there are websites and apps that specialize in meal planning for us: so why are many (most?) of us still not cooking from scratch at home on a regular basis?
I view these services—free or paid—rather the way I see meal kits (and “fake meat”)—they’re a crutch that can help get you where you want to be, and they’re going to forever keep you in a state of dependency.
So can I provide done-for-you meal plans, recipes, and grocery lists if you’re not looking for a specific diet? Yes.
And instead, I promote done-by-you meal plans.
More work? Certainly.
More reward? Definitely.
It takes a while to learn how to meal plan successfully, and another hurdle we normally encounter is that we try to take on too much at once: we expect ourselves to create a meal plan for an entire week right out of the gate.
I encourage clients to be gentle with themselves and start by creating a meal plan for 2 days, then 3, then 5.
If you’re eating 5–7 meals out a week, cooking 1–2 times is already a victory!
It’s all about consistently taking baby steps toward your goal and creating good habits along the way.
One exercise I take clients through presents recipes in a new light.
Once we identify a recipe that feels manageable for a weeknight, we pick it apart to see how it might fit into a weekly meal plan. What we’re really looking for is:
- What can be done ahead?
- What needs to be done at the last minute?
- Can this recipe be made with something that’s already on hand, so the grocery store can be skipped?
- Can this recipe be made with some leftovers in the fridge?
- Can any elements of this recipe be used later in the week if extra is made?
- Are there any similarities between recipes? (Check out my post about deconstructing soup to see what I mean by this.)
A situation I encounter more and more is a family in which there is a variety of eating styles: it may be due to food allergies or sensitivities or just preferences, and irrespective on where you fall on the spectrum of tolerating/accommodating the latter, the struggle is real: nobody wants to cook 2–3 different meals for a family of 4, and if you’re trying to eliminate processed food from your table, frozen chicken nuggets are definitely out.
As a result, one more criterion for weeknight recipes is whether they can be made to suit more than one eating preference.
If you’re just starting to deal with this situation (the teen who announces s/he’s now vegetarian, a child newly diagnosed with a food allergy, an adult trying out a new eating style), I recommend thinking back to how we ate as toddlers: think of it as a balanced week rather than a balanced day and create a meal composed of a number of elements—one day, someone can eat the sides, another s/he can eat the main and a side, etc. There’s always enough to make a meal out of even if s/he doesn’t eat everything on the table.
If you’re ready to dip more than a toe in that water, there are two types of recipes that accommodate eaters that can’t agree:
- Meals that allow diners to “chef” to a certain degree—see my post about bellying up to the bar for more on this.
- Meals that allow for variations “on the fly”—you can make them a certain way, portion out some of the food, then finish it in a way that would make another diner happy.
make the connection
In addition to the fact that adding meat to the soup is optional and using vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock would easily make it vegan, there are a number of variations that allow you to make substitutions based on your eaters.
If you have a vegetarian or vegan or sodium-sensitive eater in your household, skip the sausage for them and add it directly to the bowls of those who don’t have that concern.
This recipe also works irrespective of where you are on your cook-from-scratch journey and how much time you have this week: you could buy cooked beans and stock or you could have these ingredients on hand because you’re preparing them at home from scratch.
And finally, the recipe can be made ahead of time and finished in minutes on a busy weeknight.
Soup. It’s what’s for dinner.
Curious about meal planning? Check out Meal Planning Made Simple, an online course that can accompany my cookbook or stand alone.
And let me know in the comments what your favorite weeknight dinner recipe is and why.