Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to make a commitment to “stay on the horse” of meal planning during the hectic summer months.
Level of Commitment: Baby Steps?
Menu planning might look a little different in the laissez-faire, grilling/picnicking/traveling/swimming/sunning/ETC. season, but that doesn’t mean you have to fall back on convenience foods or eat junk. Make it your goal to plan simple meals, build in flexibility, and do work ahead of time to give gifts to yourself.
Plan Simple Meals
Just because dinner might be “grilled chicken, boiled new potatoes, and a crudite platter from the garden” doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan it out. You may still need to thaw chicken or marinate it, and if you plan well, your stress level at dinnertime will be far less. You can also plan double meals, thus making a super easy night later in the week (see below under “work ahead”).
Or you might decide you’d rather have potato salad, one of my favorite summertime dishes, which definitely takes planning. If you make a big batch, lunch practically presents itself to you the next day. (Or breakfast. Tell me I’m not the only person who would ever eat potato salad for breakfast!)
Ultimately, it’s just pleasant to have some simple meals in the summer, like:
- grill everything
- cold salads you can make ahead
- raw veggies and dip
- green salads with cooked meat, hard-boiled eggs, or cold beans on top
- breakfast for dinner
- cold wraps or sandwiches
- smoothies and popcorn
- what else?
I’ve recently decided, after a few years of mourning the loss of chicken breasts because they’re just too expensive to buy organic, that I should splurge on them sometimes. Chicken breast on the grill (extravagance) or in a stir fry heavy on the veggies (the pauper’s organic chicken) are two of my most simple meals, and when I’m tempted to just go out to eat, I’d rather spend the money we’d spend eating bad food out and have good food “in.”
I realized that when I was spending huge dollars on nitrate-free lunchmeat, which wasn’t even organic, just to have a quick convenience meal, I could do so much better per pound and for my culinary tastes by grabbing and cooking up chicken breasts.
So yes, buying chicken breasts is my form of “convenience food” that makes my life easier from time to time…
Build in Flexibility
You know the days.
Those days, where nothing goes as planned, and no matter how perfectly you prepared your to-do lists and dinnertime lists, things just don’t fall into place.
They can happen any time of year, and I’m always caught a little off guard. I usually have about a half hour where I’m despairing, certain that we will have nothing at all to eat and the whole family will starve, and it will be all my fault. (Yes, melodramatic to be sure, but everyone can have a half hour of drama on “one of those days,” right?)
The amazing thing? No one has ever actually starved.
I can always pull something out of the hat, partly because I have lots of food in the house at all times, and partly because I’ve thought ahead about emergency meal plans, for those times when I have to throw one meal out the window (metaphorically 99% of the time, sometimes because I dropped the pizza on the bottom of the oven and then I really DO want to throw it out the window, literally) and replace it with another.
Last week I had meatloaf and baked potatoes in the meal plan. The meat was thawed, the rice had been cooked the day before, and the recipe was pulled up on my computer.
But one thing after another got in the way of me actually getting anything done, and by 5:30, I realized that, especially with an oven that won’t go over 300F most of the time and the kids needing baths, it just wasn’t. going. to. happen.
We had some lovely leftovers instead (sausage zucchini bake, mmmm – photo above) and fresh creamed cauliflower, ate by 6:30ish, and I had the meatloaf and meatballs done by 7:00 as well, making dinner the next night a breeze (plus 2-3 more dinners in the freezer, halleluiah!).
Other times when this happens, we might end up with:
- scrambled eggs and sausage omelets (frozen in 1/2 lb. packages)
- grain-free pumpkin pancakes and green smoothies
- sliced nitrate-free sausages sautéed with bell peppers and other veggies (the high cost of the sausages has the same justification as the chicken breasts above…)
- gluten-free pasta with sauce and sausage (see above) or meatballs, when we’re lucky enough to have some in the freezer
- nachos or quesadillas, when we’re lucky enough to have frozen tortillas on hand
Here’s where planning well really pays off. When you can make a double batch of something and freeze it or ensure that you have simple meal parts ready to assemble with very little lead time, your actual dinnertime prep is stress-free and painless, and your family ends up eating better than if you fall back on something quick and easy that someone else makes for you (i.e. eating out).
- fill the grill – grill up a bunch of chicken breasts (bone-in if you want, then make the bones into chicken stock later) and hamburgers, then you have easy sandwich/wrap/salad fixin’s all week long
- stock the freezer – make double batches
- make large cold salads – potato salad, cold grain salad, or pasta salad are best made ahead by 12 hours or so, and if you plan to make them when you have time, you’ll be happy you have them when you’re rushing
- have homemade bread or crepes or tortillas on hand – again, just plan when to make them so that they’re readily available when you need them
- wash and cut veggies – before it’s 10 minutes to dinnertime. You’ll likely find your family eats more veggies when they’re easy to grab before dinner, too.
- make snacks on rainy days: bake up pumpkin muffins, try the new protein bar recipe (pictured above), or whip up homemade granola bars or your other favorites from Healthy Snacks to Go (plenty of no-cooking recipes there)
- Do some “connected meal planning” where you might make a big batch of homemade dry beans and use it in 2-3 meals during the week; or make stir fry one day with a double batch of rice because you’ll need cooked rice for, say, the black-eyed pea casserole from The Everything Beans Book; or maybe you have roast chicken one night, chicken rice soup the next and California chicken wraps and chicken rice-a-roni using the last of the chicken and more stock the third night.
The Key = Planning
I’ve talked a lot at KS about my own mad meal planning skills, which dangle in the balance between unorganized and super type A, if that’s possible. Here are some info posts if you need direction:
- Katie’s Basic Meal Planning Overview
- Meal Planning for Alternative Schedules (crazy busy times!)
- List of Fast Meals
- Sample Simple Menu Plan for the Holidays
- “Cream of” Casseroles – an example of three meals at once
- Grain-Free Meal Planning Ideas
And a great giveaway to get you inspired and keep you going all summer long with meal planning- two winners will get a year’s subscription to Plan to Eat by entering right HERE, and anyone can get 20% off just by visiting the new KS/PTE group (current members are automatically enrolled in the “group” just by visiting the page and can see other members’ recipes).
My ultimate favorite summer recipes are coming later this week, so be ready to pin on Pinterest for inspiration or save to your PTE recipe book!
Now…what’s for dinner tomorrow?
If you missed the last Monday Mission, click here.