One of the best ways you can support your own health and the health of your family is actually by being prepared. Perhaps you’ve learned what you should eat for optimal health, namely a properly prepared nutrient dense diet, that includes grass-fed meats, wild seafood, good fats, whole foods, fermented foods, low starches, minimal sugar and perhaps you are gluten/grain free to reduce inflammation and heal your gut.
Great! Now, it’s time to plan. Planning is key to your success in eating healthfully and not sabotaging your dietary needs with undesirable convenience food items. One of the biggest things I help my clients with besides specific guidance for their health concerns is the planning aspect of it all. That’s why I’m sharing some basic principles of meal planning in this post.
Sourcing Your Food
By now you may already have worked hard at sourcing the best quality foods you can find in your area. If you have not yet done so this is the first place to start. Start by sourcing out the best high-quality fats, then grass-fed/pastured meats and wild seafood, and raw dairy products. Also, when you find your meat sources make sure that includes bones, chicken feet or beef feet/ox hooves. You’ll need these to make bone broth on a regular basis. These will be the most challenging to find. After that figure out where you will buy your produce year round. For example, I buy from the farmer’s markets in the late spring through early fall, then in the winter I have to buy it at the health food store when I can afford it and at a local produce market when the budget is tight, even though it’s not all organic or local.
Do your best to learn what is in season each month in your area and focus your purchases on those items. Eating real food requires some level of flexibility and far less predictability. Once you find all your sources you can plan monthly or quarterly, then you can begin to plan on a weekly basis. For example, I know try to buy my pork and beef in bulk at least twice per year. I’ve also found a source to order whole ducks and turkeys and place an order for those once per year, along with a whole lamb. Since I’m able to do this around the same time each year I know for the most part I have plenty of meat on hand to prepare meals and may not need to add much meat to my weekly shopping list. I can do the same thing with the quality fats I purchase. I stock up on coconut oil, olive oil, lard, and ghee when I find sales or availability. This way, I always have at least 2-3 varieties of good fats to cook with.
Helpful Posts for Sourcing Quality Real Food:
- How To Ditch Processed Foods: What Fats Should You Be Consuming
- How To Ditch Processed Foods: Choosing Healthy Meat, Dairy & Seafood
- Real Food on a Budget: Stockpiling Fats
- Why I Eat Local Organic Produce
Once you have your sources scouted out, you will want to plan. To give you an example here is what I do on a weekly basis:
- Take inventory of what is on hand in pantry and freezer and try to come up with meals to utilize those items first.
- Use a meal plan template or list and start writing down the meals you know you can make with what you have. I always fill my template in with a pencil, then on the back, I create 4 columns or divide the page into fourths. In one section I write my shopping list, in one section I write items I’d like to stock up on if it fits the budget, in another section I list recipe ideas that I’d like to try out but are not the core recipes of my meal plan just extras or a recipe I’d like to develop based on what’s in season, and the fourth section I save for random purposes – I may use it to create a different list for a different store or I may use it to list the recipes I am using for the week, or for household goods I may need.Find what works for you. I also save my meal plans and date them and keep them in a binder so I can look back on that month the following year and get ideas on things we liked for the new meal plan. I try to recycle my work as much as possible. I also keep a binder of recipes that we liked, that I may want to try that are fitting for each month of the year. I clean this binder out once a year.
- Each week spend some time deciding what meals to fill in the gaps. Keep in mind flexible meal ideas help -that way you can see what is available for fresh produce at the market. Figure out your protein source, then what you will pair with it. Also, figure in some items for snacks. You can do this before you shop, or after -it all depends on what works best for you. Read more: How to Create a Menu Plan
- Plan your shopping trips to fit into your schedule. If you work full time, plan to shop on the weekends. Try to go early at the least busy times and go with a list or a plan. There is nothing worse than shopping in a rush or hectic time without a plan. My shopping trips fit into my hectic schedule and I try very hard to plan to do them when I won’t have any kids at home or have to take them with me. I go to my farmer’s market every Thurs. and another one at least one Sat. per month. Then I fill in with the bulk of my purchases for the week usually on Sundays, but preferably on Fridays so I have plenty on hand for the weekend.
- Next plan when you can do any extra food prep.Bone broth – make a batch weekly for your needs or twice per month in larger quantities if you have the room to store. No real food kitchen should be without bone broth. Use it for soups, cooking vegetables or rice, thinning out sauces and more.
Ferments – Find time to brew enough water kefir for the week, kombucha and any other fermented beverage such as beet kvass or milk kefir. It only takes minutes to make a batch – and a little time to bottle up. I brew water kefir twice per week in the summer, kombucha 3 times per month, beet kvass once per month and kefir once a month (just to keep my grains active). Next, I make sure to ferment one veggie ferment per week if I can find good produce. Find what works for you.
General Prep – I try to make at least one double batch of coconut flour muffins per week, a batch of homemade dip and one batch of dressing. Those are my guaranteed items that I always find time for. Bulk
Cooking/Prep– I don’t do a lot of bulk cooking but when I do, I really go to town. It’s usually in the late summer early fall. Find what works for you. For example, in late August, I prepare tomatoes for storage to try to get through the winter. I render lard or tallow after I get a side of beef or pork to make sure I have enough fat on hand. Posts to read more: A Week of Real Food on a Budget, Eating Enough Protein on a Tight Budget, Divine Dinners: 5 Meal Ideas to Inspire Your Menu Plan
- Try Freezer Meals, Crockpot meals, Pressure Cooker Meals and 1- 2-hour cooking blocks weekly. I try to use my crockpot at least once per week. In the fall/winter, I’ll add a pressure cooker meal to my regime and double at least one meal per week to put in the freezer for later. On the weekends, I do batch cooking of some form (though not so much in the summer months).
Dinners in my home consist of meat or seafood, vegetables, a safe starch (usually just for my kids since I am healing my gut) and rarely a dessert (fruit or homemade ice cream, coconut flour baked good, healthy popsicles or gelatin). We usually always have water kefir or herbal tea in small amounts as well. Please refer to my recipes page for more Main Dish Ideas. I like to have one night of leftovers per week if possible.
Lunches are easy for me, I usually eat leftovers, soup, eggs and veggies, canned seafood and veggies or smoked salmon and a salad. Sometimes if I’m really busy, I’ll go with a smoothie or just some beef jerky.
For the kids, it’s a bit trickier. I pack their lunches and it really varies though my goal is to include a protein (sliced meats/cheeses or yogurt, sometimes a thermos of leftovers), a fruit, a vegetable with dip or sea snax, a drink (either raw milk, chocolate milk on rare occasion, or herbal ‘fruit’ punch), something salty and rarely a sweet treat. Here’s a post of Lunch Ideas to check out.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It will set your whole day up for success. I always include some protein and something raw or fermented at breakfast. Examples would be Sausage links, small side of pan fried potatoes in coconut oil and fresh fruit, coconut flour muffins and fresh fruit or water kefir/kombucha, smoothies or healthy popsicles/ice cream/yogurt. Sometimes I make it as simple as a bowl of fruit and whipped cream or some nuts and cheese slices.
Leftovers sometimes go over well for the kids and my oldest will eat soup for breakfast. Unfortunately, my kids do not really like eggs, so I only get away with scrambled eggs once in awhile and have to serve them with bacon or sausage. I try not to serve starch by itself as a breakfast like the majority of Americans do. Always include fat and protein to keep your blood sugar stable and give you the long burning fuel you need. Find what works for your family, be creative and try not to get stuck in a rut. Here is a post of Breakfast Ideas to check out.
Snacks and Desserts
Snacks are a must with 4 boys in the house, but I don’t personally find I need to snack much at all to be satisfied. If you are working on keeping your energy stable, your sleep managed and blood sugar stable you will likely need to eat snacks. Some good snacks are veggies and dip, cheese/sliced meats, fruit, nuts (if you tolerate them, but in small amounts and not every single day), baked kale chips or sweet potato chips, beef jerky, homemade popsicles, homemade ice cream and more. For more Snack Ideas, check out this post.
Even if you are not diabetic, I believe this to be a good rule of thumb -‘don’t drink your calories or carbs‘. Water is important -clean filtered water should be the main thing you drink. Half your body weight in ounces per day is a good rule of thumb. Read more on water consumption here: Hydration, The Role of Water in the Body. Herbal teas are great as well. Fermented beverages can fill in too – small portions with meals are okay. No fruit juice, sweetened teas or daily alcohol in quantities larger than 6-8 ounces. We drink a lot of herbal teas in my home, here are our favorites: Cranberry Nettles Tea,
Sample Meal Plan
Here are THREE sample meal plans to use as a resource when planning a weekly menu.
- Sample Menu for a Blood Sugar Handling and Overall Health #1
- Sample Menu for a Blood Sugar Handling and Overall Health #2
- Sample Menu Plan – Paleo/GAPS Dairy Free
Meal Planning Help
If you’re interested in using a meal planning service, I highly recommend Real Plans. I have been using them lately and they have been a true lifesaver. It’s a meal planning service that you can join (monthly or annually) and have access to their amazing database of recipes. Each week, they map out a meal plan for 5 breakfasts and 6 dinners and some extras to have on hand. It’s very customizable and user-friendly.
What’s on your meal plan for this week? Share in the comments….
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