Guest Blogger: Nicole Eats! – 10 Tips and Tricks on How to Menu Plan for the Week

28 Feb

Always a pleasure to have repeat contributors on Vegan Bloggers Unite! One such writer is Nicole. “My name is Nicole Leigh, I’m twenty-six years old, I live with my three wonderful cats, and work for the sake of paying bills. I eat more than any normal person should and I photograph everything. I’m a foodie, cat lover, panda girl, photographer, geek, nerd and coffee enthusiast.” Nicole’s previous posts include a recipe for Apple, Sage and Mushroom Sourdough stuffing. 

Follow Nicole on her: Blog, Facebook, G+ and Twitter. Please welcome back Nicole! 

groceriesblog

Okay ya’ll. I have a problem. You see, when I go to the grocery store I go with the intention of getting a modest amount of food that will carry Jason and I through the week. Being vegan that should mean produce, some nuts and seeds, maybe dried/dehydrated/frozen fruits and veggies. Perhaps a few oddities- I do like my snacks- but other than that it should be a simple shopping trip. I buy what I think I need, want or will use. Somewhere in my head I am convinced that will use it all- I have recipes dancing in my head, thinking about what I’ll cook, photograph, eat and blog. I get so excited!

…well, what I end up doing is buying half the produce in the store, a bunch of canned and dried goods and even a few frozen products. When I get home I realize things like: I already had three cans of chickpeas, or a bag of eggplants that I haven’t used yet and now I have more everything and this leaves no room for all the new food I have. Not to mention there’s only two of us to eat through the army sized round of groceries.

I end up throwing away way too much food. According to the National Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture department Americans throw away 65 billion annually. That is mind blowing. I find myself throwing out half a cucumber here or there, a jalapeno that’s gone off, or the last two bell peppers in the bottom of my crisper drawer when I bring the new groceries in. I justify this in my head thinking it’s only a few cents here or there. It adds up, and fast.

I decided at the beginning of this year I wasn’t going to let that keep happening. So, taking some of the tools I used from other planning services, research and my own years worth of calorie counting I started applying my skills. Quickly I learned a few things that are really, really, really helpful that I would love to share with you guys. Please read on and let me know what you think or if you have any questions!

Tools I find helpful:

1. Wunderlist – grocery shopping lists (see photo above)
2. Google Drive – spreadsheet for planning and inventory
3. My Fitness Pal – calorie counting and nutritional information
4. Healthy. Happy. Life. – recipes
5. Oh Ladycakes – recipes
6. Vegan Yack Attack – recipes
7. Seasoned Advice – cooking resource; Q and A format

The 10 Tips and Tricks (that work for me)

1. Plan every meal- including snacks

I used to just plan my “main meals” (that’s breakfast/lunch/dinner for me). I figured I’d just “grab something” whenever I got hungry in between. Then I started tracking what I ate. Consistently the snacks I was choosing were terrible, horrible, no good and very bad for me. It was gas station food or things out of a vending machine at work. Even at my best choices I was still eating really awful things to tide me over between the times I would get a good, nutritional meal. I add my snacks to meal plan now. I have it set at six intervals. Breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and evening snack (also known as dessert). Snacks are carrot sticks, half an avocado, grapes, an apple, handful of raw walnuts or almonds, etc. The important part is they are all planned.

2. Weigh all of your foods

One of the best pieces of kitchen equipment I have ever received was a ($12) food scale. Not necessarily to restrict myself or to make myself feel badly, but instead to learn what proper portions are. A twelve or fifteen ounce New York strip is not a healthy portion. Nor is a two and a half cup serving of ice cream for dessert. When you look at a nutritional label and see “15g” of a sauce is the serving size or “1oz” for a serving nuts but you don’t know what that means it won’t help you when you eat half the jar. I have learned to eyeball most of my food items but it takes a while and I highly suggest familiarizing yourself with your favorite foods and the proper amount of them you should be having.

3. Pack lunches the night before

Possibly the most important item on this list (in conjunction with #4). The more convenient a meal is for you to grab and go the more likely you will be to eat it. If you have to spend an hour in the morning getting your food ready you probably won’t. That cafe around the corner is so much easier- even if it’s more expensive and less healthy. Lunch is a very important meal. It’s the point in the day where you’re up, you’ve been moving around for a couple of hours and now you need energy. Unlike with breakfast, where you roll out of a motionless night, lunch is the pinnacle of your day, and I’ve found, should be the biggest.

**When I lived overseas we did not use dinner as this gigantic nom-fest. Dinners were lighter, easier to digest and were prepping you for the long night ahead. Heavy, late and large evening meals (at least for me) make me sleep far worse than I would have if I’d lightened it up a bit.

4. Prep as much of dinner as you can

As with #3 convenience is key and coming home to the idea of forty-five minutes (or in many cases longer) worth of prep and cooking is not the most exciting for a lot of us. To negate that lack of motivation this weekly meal planning is essential. Knowing what you’re eating the following days means you can get a head start (either on the weekend or nights before a meal) to knock out at least some of the prep work. For example: if you’re making a stir fry on Thursday night but you’re also cutting vegetables for a salad on Tuesday night just cut them all and store the prep for your later meals in air tight containers so they’re ready to go when you get in on Thursday. It’s that simple!

5. Add to your grocery list as you run out- and only shop once a week

I use Wunderlist to keep track of the groceries I need. As I run out of items I add them immediately and go to the grocery store once a week. It used to be that I’d end up stopping every single night on the way home from work. I didn’t know what was in my fridge or pantry, I’d buy things I already had and then never use it all. More waste. Totally unnecessary. If you know your grocery list is up to date and you know what you’re making for the week you know that you shouldn’t need to stop other than your one stop grocery day (I do my shopping on Sunday).

6. Go grocery shopping with cash

I don’t do this anymore, but it was hugely helpful for me in the beginning. I would write my list, estimate the cost add about $10-15 to make sure I had enough and then take that money in cash to store. I couldn’t buy extra things, I couldn’t talk myself into needing that one other thing I thought I wanted. My debit card was at home and I was limited to what I had with me. I got what I needed and then I got the heck out. I saved time, money and calories. Simple, clean and efficient.

7. Allow at least 1-2 hours a week to plan

Menu planning, grocery shopping, prep and cooking all take time. You cannot expect to sit down for five minutes, decide what to eat and write the list that goes with it. That is simply unreasonable. I make a habit of setting 60-120 minutes of my life aside a week (you know, the time I could have been vegging out in front of the television?) to make healthy decisions that save me loads of money. I have learned to shorten this time if I need as I get better and better at it, but definitely in the first month or two you need to make sure to allow yourself enough time to do a good job or you’ll just fall off the wagon.

8. Bookmark your favorite blogs, recipes, sites and cookbooks

It is going to be easiest to start this process if you are basing your meal plan on existing recipes that include the amounts of the ingredients you need. If you pick 3-5 recipes you want in a recipe then you know you need three green peppers for all the recipes rather than going into with a list that says “Green peppers” and guessing that you need five when you only need three. Save those two green peppers and save yourself the $1.50.

9. Try to “re-use” ingredients or make large portions

Piggy backing off the previous point I suggest trying to use ingredients over and over. If you have stir fry cauliflower on Monday think about including some mashed cauliflower or cauliflower puree soup on Wednesday or Thursday. Buying a larger amount of the same produce (especially when it’s in season or on sale) can save you time an money. You can prep all the veg at the start of the week and have it ready to go as soon as you get home to make dinner. It’ll take an hour or so at the beginning of the week but save you upward to one to three hours of prep work throughout the rest of the week.

10. Inventory your pantry, spice rack, fridge and freezer(s)

I keep wanting to start every item with, “This is the most important item!” But what it really comes down to is they all work together. Creating an on going inventory of your kitchen is beyond helpful. I have realized that I no longer buy things I already have. I don’t have three shelves full of canned black beans. I don’t have three large containers of garlic powder when what I really needed was onion powder. It takes a little while, but it’s so worth it- especially if you make sure to keep up with it.

You learn as you go, you find shortcuts that work for you and eventually you get the hang of it (I promise). As with all things those skills that are worth having take time and dedication to develop. Please feel free to reach out to me if you any comments, questions or concerns- I would more than happy to help anyone. 🙂

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13 Responses to “Guest Blogger: Nicole Eats! – 10 Tips and Tricks on How to Menu Plan for the Week”

  1. The Savvy Sister February 28, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    This is most comprehensive post on this subject I have ever read! Great job! I look forward to being less stressed and more organized!

    • Nicole Leigh February 28, 2013 at 9:53 am #

      I’m glad you liked it! It took a while to put together, but I think it saves a ton of time and stress. Good luck getting organized! 🙂

  2. sweetveg February 28, 2013 at 12:57 pm #

    I am with you about feeling better with just a light dinner. What works for me is to eat a light dinner and then do my prep for the next day afterward. It’s not fun to try to cook when you’re starving, anyway. Thank you for a great article!

    • Nicole Leigh February 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      Definitely glad to hear I’m not the only one who feels that way. I lived in Thailand for a year and lunches were big to-dos but dinner was almost an after thought a lot of the time (though, really, we just ate a lot, haha)!

      Also- glad you enjoyed the post. I certainly enjoyed putting it together. 🙂

  3. GFDougie February 28, 2013 at 5:39 pm #

    Awesome information and great Post, Nicole! Congratulations for a great piece of work. 🙂

  4. ellalunda February 28, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Such helpful tips! I’ve recently been revamping my diet so these will definitely be useful, especially keeping an inventory of my pantry! Thanks for a great post 🙂

    • Nicole Leigh March 1, 2013 at 8:59 am #

      I’m glad you enjoyed it- and definitely let me know if you come up with any tips or tricks yourself! 😀

  5. veganmiam February 28, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    awesome article, nicole!

    ♡ rika, vegan miam
    veganmiam.com
    ★ i travel + i eat vegan blog ★

  6. Herbivore Triathlete March 2, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    I agree with every point you made. This is a very thorough post that answers a lot of questions about meal planning and gives great advice. I also learned through MFP that I have to plan my snacks! I pick my dinner menu for the following week on Friday, make my grocery list and shop on Saturday and then do all my prep on Sunday. It’s a lot of work but pays off during the week with less stress and healthier choices.

    • Nicole Leigh March 5, 2013 at 9:46 am #

      It really is amazing how much money, time and health you save just planning ahead a little bit!

  7. brittbot March 3, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    I constantly think I am this organized (in my head) and I know that meal planning is the way to go (in theory) but this article is the perfect kick in the pants I needed to suck it up and BE organized about it! Thinking about it doesn’t make it so. Since I am so lucky to have a husband who works at Whole Foods, I just text him our list everyday, but like your ten cans of black beans example, it doesn’t always make sense, and I usually end up only replenishing staples and we don’t have any FOOD to go with them! I will be following your advice! What a wonderful blog, and a really great post! So glad I found it..(linked from a link from Post Punk Kitchen.)

    • Nicole Leigh March 5, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thanks for the feedback!
      Also, I’d love to see the link from PPK if you have it! 🙂

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