How do you get dinner on the table so quickly Gemma? That question has been asked time and time again by family members, friends and from our followers. It is not simple, but I am getting better at it. Here are 5 of my most important tips when planning weekly meals.
What is meal planning?
Before diving into what meal planning is, are you familiar with my seven ways to make cooking easier every day of the week? If not, take a few minutes to read it by clicking on the highlighted link. You will find some great tips to apply to your routine.
Meal planning is a way to organize your meals for the day, the week and month. Whether you are planning a healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner, you are putting order into your life. You are creating habits to help you stay on top of your game.
Meal planning will only work if you make it personal. There are several tools online and offline that are very tempting to try. Some of them are paid and others are free. Many of these tools are easy to use and many are not. There are also different types of apps that claim to help you organize your time, make food shopping more manageable, and meal planning effortless. Do you believe meal planning can be effortless?
If you answer yes, then you are not close to accomplishing your healthy eating goals. I will be lying if I say that meal planning is effortless. Meal planning must be personal, efficient and enjoyable.
A simple task I do very often is making sure that I have my favorite spices on hand. I have many dried spices, some mixed and others not mixed. What if I share my six favorite spices or seasoning with you:
- Essential herbs and spices blend: this blend is made with fresh herbs and spices and mixed with lemon juice for preservation. I usually use it to marinate my poultry, meat, and seafood.
- Gemma’s Gourmet Hot Sauces: I use my hot sauce to add more flavors, that kick I need to make me go ummmm! I got tired of buying hot peppers and wasting money because they would spoil very quickly. I got more tired of purchasing hot sauces that did not deliver the bold flavors they promised. So I created my hot sauce line with locally grown products, and I am very proud to say that my customers are 100% satisfied with the taste.
- Mrs. Dash Original: I always have a jar of this beautiful blend. I am not kidding! I prefer the original mixture over the others because it gives me more freedom when creating different types of taste. It is a versatile blend, and it has no salt. Just what I need.
- Herbs de Provence: let me start by saying that not all blends of this spice are the same. Many brands claimed to deliver the real savory taste. It took me a while to find a brand that I enjoy. A brand that is similar to what I usually get from Canada during my summer travels. I had to find a spice blend brand that was close or better because my health does not allow me to travel far anymore. Le Gourmet Collection is my favorite brand for Herbs de Provence. You can easily find it on Amazon or at Homegoods.
- Italian Seasoning: this spice is a life savior. It is perfect for anything! I would advise staying away from a cheap brand. I am serious! Similar to Herbs de Provence, an excellent Italian Seasoning blend is not affordable. You can also choose to make your own, but make sure you have a good recipe and an airtight container to keep the flavors fresh.
- Oyster Sauce: this is another life savior. When you want something a bit sweet and salty, oyster sauce is the answer. It also adds excellent flavors to meat and poultry. I prefer this sauce over soy sauce because the flavors are stronger and tasteful in my opinion.
My list is simple
My list is simply because I figured out what I needed to do to simplify my life. I found ways to inspire myself. I am not a technology junkie, and I like pen and paper. Yes! I am old school.
When you write things down, you are training your brain to remember.
Here are my five tips for better weekly meal planning:
1. Know what is in season
Learning and knowing what is in season makes shopping a lot easier especially with vegetables. Browse the internet, ask Google this question. “what is in season?” This information will vary depending on where you live.
You must do this because you don’t want to select a recipe for a vegetable that is not in season.
2. Spend time looking for recipes
You have several options to choose such as a magazine, television cooking show, the internet and your cookbooks.
This may seem like a tedious task if you are not searching or looking the right way or direction. The internet is full of food blogs and food websites with delicious recipes. Heck, browse Caribbeangreenliving.com for recipes. I am sure you will find a recipe you like.
Get inspired by browsing your cookbooks. If you don’t like the cookbooks you currently have, Food and Wine Magazine and Williams-Sonoma have great and easy recipes you can try. Don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, most of them are easy to find
You may say why these two websites? Isn’t this a Caribbean website? Caribbeangreenliving.com is not a “proclaimed” Caribbean website. My sisters and I cook with a taste of the Caribbean, meaning that we add our personal touch to our dishes.
We love using fresh herbs and spices, the same way it is done in the Caribbean. By the way, many cuisines are similar. The names of the dishes may be different, but the methods and ingredients are the same.
For example, a fan sent me an email about my Easy Rigatoni Pasta with Meat Sauce, saying that it is similar to an Italian dish. She is right. Many Italian meat sauce recipes contain carrots, celery, and peppers. In the Caribbean, a meat sauce is created with tomato paste or sauce, spices, and the meat. If we were to add veggies, it would be a stew dish. We don’t typically blend our sauces in a blender to change the consistency.
Lastly, a great tool to use is Pinterest. It houses tons of recipes from all over the world. Ask your family members or roommate what they like to eat and don’t forget to tag your recipes.
3. Keep a Weekly Meal Journal
I use a weekly meal journal instead of a monthly because it is easier to plan and I mostly buy what’s on sale and available. This way I can control my food expense and I am not forced to eat what has been scheduled for a month. I am in control of my budget.
I created my weekly food diary with Google Docs. It helps me stay on track with the recommended portions I need to consume daily. I use it to control my nutrients needs. I can control what I eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snack.
I also keep a separate log of the favorite recipes. It’s an excellent way to remember dishes you used to cook and still love.
4. Make a shopping list
While you are browsing for recipes, make your shopping list. Write down all the food items you need. When done, shop your pantry and refrigerator first. You may want to keep a notepad or a sheet of paper or list of required items on your refrigerator’s door for everyone to keep track and write down the missing food items.
I use paper instead of an app. I am old fashion. If you receive a phone call while using the grocery app, it is easy to forget something or delete an entry.
While making your list, don’t forget to check the circulars. Sign up for rewards with your favorite supermarket and load the coupons to your card before going to the store. Many supermarkets are offering that option now. I have used it and is very helpful.
5. Prep your food as soon as you get back from the store
If it is time to make my seasoning blend, I clean all the herbs and spices and let them dry. You don’t want to blend them when they are wet.
For fresh seafood, I re-clean my fish if whole or cut into. I don’t trust any fishmonger to do a good. I use freezer bags to store the portions for meals.
For meat and poultry, if buy in bulk, I will divide the portions. I make sure that I have enough for each meal and also if I want leftovers.
For vegetables, if I buy fresh without packaging and depending on the veggies, I wash them, dry and store in freezer bags. Vegetables such as carrots and chayote do not need to be cleaned. Just place them in the right compartment of your refrigerator.
Meal planning doesn’t have to be so stringent. It should be fun and mentally stimulating.