[THE TWIN FILES] Meal Planning for Busy Families

There is no doubt that we are busy people, yet we always seem to find time for those activities that we enjoy the most. The fact that you are reading this post tells me that you have free time, and chances are this is not a quick visit to the computer, nor will it be the last time you will play for a few minutes.  Look at what people are doing on Facebook these days… Farmville and similar time wasting games must consume a whole schwack of people’s time, yet they will tell a fitness professional, or their doctor, or their nutrition councilor that they don’t have any time to exercise, eat well, or plan for their week.

I understand that people are busy, especially parents.  Now that I am a parent, I don’t have the time to do some of the things I was used to doing before fatherhood.  Now, I am forced to choose what is most important for me to do in my free time.  Do I choose to chat on the phone, play Mafia Wars, go to pubs, watch television… no.  Does that mean that I am better than you? Definitely not; it just means that when it comes time to chat with my doctor on my yearly check up, I don’t have to worry about them telling me that I need to change my eating habits and begin an exercise program because I am in danger of a heart attack or diabetes.

When I talk to my students about their health, eating habits, and other wellness related topics, they always tell me that they don’t have enough time.  They don’t have the time in the morning to eat breakfast.  They don’t have the time to play a fun game with their friends.  They don’t have the time to exercise, and so on.  Now, I remember when I was in High School… I woke up in the mornings, stoked the fire, got my family up and ate my breakfast, showered and then watched television or played with my siblings, or did some home work and even some household chores.  I was usually running to the bus, but that wasn’t caused by a lack of time, it is because I was a life long procrastinator when it came to all things uninteresting.  If I had a game or practice, I was there plenty early.  If I had to go to work, I waited until the last possible moment.

Today, I am still the same when it comes to doing things that I don’t have on the top of my list, however, when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle and enjoying life, I manage that side of things quite well.  This is the purpose of this article, planning and prioritizing health and wellness.

For some reason, our society seems to go backwards when it comes to exercise, and eating.  We plan everything else, yet we seem to skip out on some of the most important things that will allow us to love long and more importantly, vibrant lives.  Because we skip out on eating well and exercising, we have to make extra trips to the doctor, the dentist, the pharmacist, and we take more days off work.  We multi-task every other aspect of our lives – in fact I saw a woman driving while brushing her teeth this morning! – Yet we seem to think that we need to exercise for hours to gain any benefit from the activities.  We will go out on the front step to have a smoke, but don’t have enough time to walk the dog.

Enough of my rant and back to the purpose of the post…

I want to offer what works for me and for many other of my friends in the fitness industry, or just people I know who plan their meals.  Each Sunday morning I sit at the table and go through my binder which sits in the cup board beside the fridge.  My lovely wife has organized the binder into sections for beef, chicken, vegetarian, casseroles, deserts, breakfast, and so on.  In each section is a bunch of recipes that have worked for us in the past, so we now have about 5-10 of our tried and true recipes in each section to choose from.  When we try a recipe that doesn’t work, we toss it in the recycle bin.

I make a plan on a piece of paper which I divide by day and meal.  I use breakfast and dinner for meals that we plan because we will always make enough for a dinner, lunch the next day, and then dinner the following night.  Breakfasts are a daily thing, and thus I plan for 5 breakfasts and 3-4 dinners per week.  Here is how it would look:

Monday: Breakfast – veggie omelet and smoothie Dinner – Chili & spinach salad

Tuesday: Breakfast – bacon & eggs with veggies & a smoothie Dinner – Chili & Spinach Salad

Wednesday: Breakfast – Waffles with berries & a smoothie Dinner – Salmon with broccoli & salad

Thursday: Breakfast – Open Faced English muffin & egg sandwich with smoothie Dinner – Sheppard’s Pie with Salad

Friday: Breakfast – Egg Scrambler & Smoothie Dinner – Sheppard’s Pie with salad Once I have the plan, then I create my grocery list with the required items and head out to the grocery store.  I generally go to Costco for most of the meat, fruits & veggies, nuts, and dairy, and then head to Safeway on the way home for the things that we only need to buy a few of such as sweet potato, yogurt, English muffins, and so on.

Once I have done my shopping, I look through the list and decide what needs to come out of the freezer.  For example, I should have some chili in the freezer so I will take that out and put it in the fridge for Monday.  On Wednesday I will take out the Salmon, and then on Thursday morning I will take out the Sheppard’s pie.

Why do I have all this food prepared in the freezer?

Because that helps with the planning for the week. I generally like to cook a bunch of meals on the weekend so that we can freeze them and thus do less preparing during the work week.  In the photo at right, I made 2 Sheppard’s pies, 2 bags of Chili, and 2 Bags of Spaghetti sauce which should last a month in conjunction to the other meals we choose. The pie, chili, and spaghetti are great for days when I forget to plan, or when something comes up and we need something quick with minimal preparation. The whole process of the Sunday cookout took 2 hours of prep and 1 more hour of the chili cooking on the stove.  I had everything cleaned up within 2 1/2 hours (except for the pot of chili).

This planning has made a significant difference in the amount of cooking I have to do after work, and because Jen is home these days, the meals that are already prepped can go into the oven about an hour before I arrive home from work! This means more family time and less chaos after a full work day.

I hope that you get the general gist of what goes into the planning department for our weekly meals.  To conclude, all you need is a freezer for your prepared meals, meat and fish, a binder for recipe organization, and a few hours on a weekend to plan the upcoming week. I would love to hear about how you and your family have managed to maintain a healthy lifestyle while raising children.

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