Today is a little departure from the usual. My column in the Yakima Herald today is about basic meal planning. Do you meal plan? My version is fairly informal but it’s a system that works pretty well for us. At the bottom of the post is a recipe for our favorite steel cut oats. I make a big batch on Sundays and keep it in the fridge all week for easy breakfasts. We’re almost to the weekend friends.
I have a friend who is an excellent meal planner. She sits down every week with her husband and they decide on dinners for the week. They make a grocery list of the items they need and one of them goes to the store. They assign dinners to each night based on their weekly schedule and then cook their meals according to the schedule. It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But for so many of us, it’s not that simple at all.
For the left-brained creative-types and the flustered, busy, over-tired parents, for those that aren’t sure they even like to cook, and everyone in between, planning an entire week’s worth of meals is more than a little intimidating; it’s downright daunting. At least that’s how I feel most weeks.
But I also know that to make healthy fresh food for my family, I need a plan. Daily trips to the grocery store with three young kids is out of the question and I don’t want to rely too heavily on take-out and frozen pizzas.
What works for me is to spend a few hours on the weekend preparing foods I want my family to eat during the week. I’ve found that having produce readily available, washed, cut-up and in plain view ensures we all have an easier time reaching for a fruit or vegetable first.
Each week I hit my local fruit stand. Right now I’m buying bags of plums and nectarines, peaches, bell peppers, corn on the cob, potatoes, onions, cucumbers, melons, zucchini and green beans. This is where I start with planning meals for the week. After I’ve made my haul in the produce department, I head to the grocery store, list in hand with the remaining items I need.
On Sundays, when I typically have more time to putter in the kitchen, I do the bulk of my prep for the week. I wash and chop fruits and vegetables. I usually make some kind of salad for easy lunches and muffins or a quick bread for easy breakfast for my kids. Sometimes I make an egg dish and roast a pan of vegetables but mostly it depends on what looked good at the store and what I’m in the mood to cook.
Breakfasts and lunches get exponentially easier on busy weekday mornings. The kids choose between cereal and whatever I’ve prepped for the week and they help themselves. It’s the same for packing lunches; they choose from the fruits and vegetables I’ve already prepared, we throw a sandwich together and they fill their water bottles.
This week I made a loaf of pumpkin bread and a big pot of steel cut oats. I also made tuna salad and chicken salad and some whole-wheat couscous. I cut up cucumbers, carrots, broccoli, bell peppers and washed and trimmed grapes. When I open my fridge, these are the items I see first and what I build meals around all week.
Everyone in my family loves oatmeal, so I thought I would share my recipe for steel cut oats. Hearty and delicious, the only downside to steel-cut oats is the time it takes to make them. I get around this by making a big pot on the weekend and storing it in the fridge. On weekday mornings, we spoon portions into individual bowls and pop them in the microwave. We top ours with a spoonful of peanut butter and a handful of frozen blueberries but raisins and cinnamon or a fresh sliced peach and a drizzle of honey is lovely too.
- 2 cups steel-cut oats
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups milk
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
In a pot combine water, milk, salt and oats. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat. As soon as the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat to low. Cook oats at a simmer for 20 to 30 minutes stirring frequently. When oats are finished cooking, gently stir in maple syrup, cinnamon and chia seeds. Spoon oats into individual bowls and top with favorite toppings. Save remaining oats in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to five days.