Do you struggle with meal planning? I Do! I don’t find it practical for me, and I don’t think it saves me money. I do like to use Building Blocks to help me reduce meal prep times.
Using Building Blocks Instead of Meal Planning
A Twist on Meal Planning
So I seem to use the word “twist” a lot:) Probably because there are so many great ideas and concepts that ALMOST work for my family and me but not quite. And it’s the not quite part that makes it hard to implement or basically pointless to do. I am talking about meal planning, of course (the clue was in the title). It doesn’t quite work for me.
I have talked before about going grocery shopping BEFORE planning for the week because it is easier to stay within budget when shopping for sales, not shopping for specific items. Then you can plan your meals around what you bought. The problem is that I never get around to the actual planning of the meals part. Or the remembering to prepare it part.
Even when I do plan it, by the time I finish work, I am usually exhausted, and my kids are home and need FULL ATTENTION, so it is not really the time to start cooking dinner with all my healthy ingredients that I purchased. I could plan and defrost the night before, but that rarely happens because, you know, life.
Enter BUILDING BLOCKS
It’s basically meal prep for the week. But not. I don’t make a week’s worth of dinners for my family or lunches for me in advance. What I do is I take a few hours and create the building blocks of a few meals. I don’t need to decide in advance what dishes I will be making- I just prepare ingredients. Then, I can decide every day what I am in the mood for and what works for me time-wise.
Take this week, for example:
On Sunday, I soaked and boiled beans, made a huge pot of rice, boiled some beets, and washed dill and lettuce. These go in the fridge, ready to be used. Here is what happened:
Sunday: Grain bowl. (I do these A LOT). I took some of the beans, some rice, some beets, and added some tomatoes. Healthy meal.
Monday- Took some of the rice and beans and mixed with tomato paste and spices. Sprinkled with fresh dill on top. I ate that with hot sauce.
Tuesday- Grabbed some wraps (OK- actually, my husband made from scratch, but these are easily purchased!). I took the bean mixture and lettuce and made a burrito.
Wednesday- I had the same rice and beans mixture as Monday but added Dill Mayo (just mix dill and mayo) and ate that with a salad of lettuce and beets. It’s totally a different meal because it is not spicy.
Thursday- DH was feeling a hankering for meat, so we bought some cheap skirt steak and cooked that. Cut it really thin and added to bean and rice mixture. He had hot sauce, and I had dill mayo.
Full Disclaimer: This can get boring because you are eating many of the same main components every day. But it’s not exactly the same meal every day.
There are weeks where I prep smaller amounts of different foods (takes longer but more options), but this week was not a week where that was happening.
Why are Building Blocks so great?
There is always something to eat in the fridge! You always have part of a meal started, so all you need is a side or topping to make it into a full meal. You are also much less tempted to buy take-out when most of the work is already done. Additionally, you can always make dinner from scratch if you want and have energy. You are not committed to those items!
I try to make things that stay and won’t go bad- which most things won’t if stored properly for a few days.
Here are some ideas of things to use as Building Blocks:
Rice- any type, and there are many!
Beans- all and any! White beans, black beans, chickpeas, etc.
Roasted vegetables- beets, sweet potatoes, zucchini, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms.
Dressings- hot sauce, dips, balsamic, vinaigrette
Meat Protein- cut chicken pieces, shredded meat
I try to make a few of these at the beginning of every week to have in the fridge- some last even longer, like the dressings and dips. I usually top up my fresh vegetables in the middle of the week, but you can even purchase some canned items to keep around like corn, hearts of palm, olives, etc.
You can add any of these building blocks into a salad for lunch. Take lettuce, a dressing, and put a bean and roasted vegetable in it, and you have a fancy salad to rival any salad bar!
If you are constantly being tempted by those pricey salad bars at Whole Foods or a café near you, then buy some “fun” things to spice up your salad: croutons, nuts, olives, sunflower seeds. The good thing is that those usually last, so it won’t go bad if you don’t eat it that week! They are also not so expensive when purchased in a store, not in a restaurant;)
As a working mother, my goal is to get a decent supper on the table every night. I don’t always have time for a “fancy” home-cooked meal, which keeps me away from take-out or unhealthy, quick, kids-foods like chicken nuggets and hot dogs. I can also customize the dinner based on a kid’s current preferences as my son likes to keep me guessing what foods HE HATES!
I’m the first to admit that this will not make suppers worth raving over, and they are certainly not Instagram-worthy! But it does the trick!