Let’s face it. Meal planning for families can be daunting. Life gets busy and cooking healthy meals at home can be challenging. Whether you work unusual hours, go to the gym several times a week. or your kids are monsters at mealtimes, cooking at home may feel stressful and sometimes impossible.
But First, What’s A Flexitarian?
Flexitarians follow a predominantly plant-based diet with the occasional meat item on the menu. This is not technically considered a “vegetarian” diet, but it is the easiest and most sustainable of all the vegetarian diets to follow. While the number of animal protein allowances vary for each individual flexitarian, the idea is that you eat primarily vegetarian but include fish and seafood, poultry, red meat, dairy or eggs on occasion.
All moms want their families to be healthy and healthy start with your food choices.
The flexitarian diet has ten benefits and only one potential pitfall. This makes it one of the best diets to follow for optimal personal and environmental health in 2019 and beyond.
The flexitarian diet is a sustainable eating plan that makes you feel freaking fantastic, and it is as flexible as your eating habits. In short: it’s the perfect foodie friendly healthy eating plan.
What Is Meal Planning For Families?
Meal planning is asking “what’s for dinner?” once for the whole week, instead of every night, taking into consideration the nutritional needs of each family member. And then shopping for and prepping the ingredients before cooking.
You make a plan and follow the plan. If you have kids, you can let them be involved in the planning as well, which will help them get excited about the healthy foods you are cooking and be more willing to try them.
Think of meal planning for families like using a GPS to get somewhere you haven’t been before vs figuring out the way on your own. It’s kind of nice to sit back and just follow the directions.
Pro Tip: Print your meal plan and stick it to the refrigerator, or somewhere else in the kitchen, where everyone can see it. This automatically takes care of the daily “what’s for dinner?” question from family members.
The most successful family meal planners approach meal planning with five steps. More on them below:
- Define your family’s needs/goals.
- Plan your week – check in with the family calendar.
- Plan your meals, and their recipes, if needed.
- Shop for ingredients.
- Prepare those ingredients.
What Meal Planning For Families Is Not
The holy grail! There’s so much fanfare about how meal planning can change your life that it’s easy to blow its effects out of proportion. And while it does solve so many problems, you’ve got to tailor it to fit your needs (which means you’ve got to be clear on what those are) and give yourself lots of leeways to experiment and find a system that works for you.
Boring and inflexible. It’s not based on boring dietary dogma and it’s not cast in stone. The beauty of flexitarianism is that experimentation and being flexible is welcomed, not frowned upon.
Counting calories and weighing portions. You are not planning a scientific experiment or a starvation diet. Forget about calories and portions. Flexitarianism is a way of life, it’s not a diet. Focus on eating delicious healthy meals.
According to Dawn Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet, several studies found that you can lose weight on a vegetarian diet without measuring or counting calories.
A lot of work. Not true. You do a bit of concentrated work up front, but it’s plain sailing once you begin to work your plan.
An expensive monthly app membership fee. Nutrition apps and paid recipe websites make your job a whole lot easier and you can’t do proper meal planning without them. But apart from a once-off setup fee, you shouldn’t have to pay a recurring fee to use them.
Just for families of four. Meal planning is for everyone. Obviously, there are different strategies to employ depending on the number of people you’re planning for.
Step 1: Define Your Why
Planning is a vital part of following a healthy predominantly plant-based diet and there are many benefits of meal planning for families. Even if you’re a plant-based eating veteran, I’d highly encourage you to revisit your goals on a regular basis.
Before you start to plan a flexitarian eating plan, figure out why you want to in the first place.
There’s no need for deep soul searching. Simply consider why you’re here. Do you want to…
- Eat healthier?
- Address specific health concerns?
- Save money?
- Prevent food waste?
- Preserve your sanity?
- Relieve menu boredom with more variety?
- Focus on eating sustainable, predominantly plant-based food?
- Spend more time with your family around the dinner table?
- Try new recipes without being overwhelmed?
- Or, have a ready answer to the daily question from your partner or kids of “what’s for dinner?”
With flexitarian meal planning you can indeed have it all. But do it slowly. Burnout is real. So if you’re a beginner, pick just two or three of the things that matter most, and keep them in mind when you move on to the remaining four steps.
Whatever your reasons, don’t lose sight of them. They’re essential to your success.
Step 2: Plan Your Week
Think about what you have going on next week. This will give you a sense of how much time you have on which days to prep and cook. Make note of any events that may affect your family meals. This might include late hours at the office, your kid’s art class, long night shifts, or a planned dinner outing with friends.
Like the guys from Kitchn we’re also big fans of putting this practice into place over the weekend, kicking off the planning on Friday, shopping on Saturday morning, and then using an hour or so on Sunday for meal prep.
Decide how many meals to plan for and what they need to do. Keep your family meal planning window short. Five dinners are the most common, but for some people, three dinners are the sweet spot. Then hone in further. On the nights that you’re cooking, what do those meals need to do? For example, on the nights that your kid has swim class, a slow cooker recipe is a good idea.
Use pen and paper or a Google or Excel document to pen down your ideas. Create a column for each day and a row for each meal you are planning for.
Don’t attempt to go flat-out plant-based from day one. Start with just one meatless meal per week, working towards one meatless day per week. Once you’ve reached that milestone work towards two meatless days.
We can classify flexitarians based on their meatless days or meals:
- Beginner flexitarian: one or two meatless days, or three to six meatless meals per week.
- Advanced flexitarian: three to four meatless days, or nine to twelve meatless meals per week.
- Expert flexitarian: five or more meatless days, or fifteen or more meatless meals per week.
The beauty of the flexitarian eating plan is that it bends and molds to your lifestyle instead of you having to twist and contort your life to fit it. – Dawn Jackson
Step 3: Plan Your Healthy Meals and Recipes
Based on your upcoming week, pick recipes that will work for you. If you have a busy week coming up, focus on recipes that take less than 30 minutes to make, can be prepared ahead of time, or can last several meals (e.g. crockpot recipes). Save leftovers from dinner for lunch the next day. Choose recipes that share the same ingredients to shorten your grocery list, and possibly cut down on prep work.
Pro Tip: Go through your refrigerator and pantry before you start picking recipes and list any ingredients that you first need to use up. “Shopping” your home first can help you decide on recipes and avoid wasting food. This is the money-saving aspect of meal planning in full effect.
Choosing your recipes puts the philosophy of meal planning and the reasons why you’re doing it into action. It’s a critical step since it sets this whole process in motion.
Here are some tips for picking recipes:
Cook recipes you know + one new plant-based recipe. This is another pro move! Create a master list of recipes you know by heart — the ones you make week after week and know your family loves. Then add one or two new plant-based recipes each week, to move towards your healthy flexitarian eating goal.
Choose meals that bless you with leftovers. They’re the gift that keeps on giving.
Cook things you really want to eat. The goal is to eat more plants. You might have to spend some extra time uncovering recipes that are right for your family, but it’s worth it. Don’t start with broccoli if you hate it. Only cook things you want to eat!
Plan for variety and balance. Here are the ground rules for healthy flexitarian eating.
Where to Find Flexitarian Recipes
The guys at Kitchn share details on how to pick recipes, but here’s the gist of it.
Before you go searching for recipes, write down a list of what you want the recipe to do for you. It might look something like the following:
- I need a recipe I can make for less than 10 bucks.
- I need a recipe that’s vegetarian.
- I need a recipe that’s got sweet potatoes because I need to use up the one I have sitting in the pantry.
- I need a recipe that I can make in one pan.
That narrows down what you’re looking for. Now you’ve got to find that recipe. You can visit any one of the top 50 plant-based blogs, comb through The Foxy Flexitarian Pinterest Boards, or flip through a magazine or cookbook with your criteria in mind.
You won’t be making a physical list like this every time you begin searching for recipes, but this technique illuminates a way to think. Eventually, you start doing all this in your head! And you will absolutely feel like such a rockstar when you do.
Cooking with plant-based ingredients, apart from being good for your health, is all about cooking with the seasons.
It’s a clever gift of nature that foods that ripen at the same time inherently taste good together, and it follows that herbs and vegetables that share the same soil make good partners when they share the same cooking pot.
Seasonal meal planning is as simple as focusing on cabbage when it is in season and under a dollar a pound or choosing more zucchini and cucumbers in the summer when they are widely available.
Step 4: Create a Shopping List
Create a master shopping list. To make your master list, start by going through each recipe’s ingredients to make up the master list of things you’ll need for the week. Then, with keen eyes, go through your kitchen and cross off anything you already have. Now you’ve got a very accurate list you can turn into a grocery list.
Make your shopping trip more efficient by organizing your items into categories such as fruits, vegetables, frozen, canned, etc.
Step 5: Follow The Plan
You’ve picked your recipes, made a grocery list, did your shopping, and now you’ve come to the point where the plan truly becomes dinner.
Pro Tip: Do some prep! Set aside an hour on Sunday for batch cooking and chopping. It will help you beat cooking fatigue during the week.
What you should do depends on the recipes for the week, but dicing up garlic, chopping veggies, washing lettuce and herbs, and even cooking up some chicken thighs ahead of time is always a massive help.
Involve Your Family
Eating, and feasting is an important focus of social interaction. Some of our fondest memories are of meals cooked and enjoyed with family and friends.
We hope that meal planning will do the same for your family. It can be a great bonding time, especially if you have kids. Cooking, and eating engage all of a child’s senses. And most kids just love learning new things. By experiencing these magical moments in the kitchen and around the table, they will learn how to include fresh, simply prepared seasonal food in their lives and they will have the skills to do so forever.
If, by any chance, your kids absolutely hate cooking they most probably still like eating. So at the very least, get them to rate your new dishes. Ask them for ideas on improving their favourites. Or do meal planning as a family. You get my drift – make a deliberate effort to involve your family.
Take it easy. Healthy meal planning for families can be overwhelming at first.
You do not have to change your entire life all at once. Take small steps toward better food choices. Go at your own pace and be gentle with yourself. Remember that no one is perfect and everybody’s journey looks different.
Get The 3-Day Foxy Flexitarian Face-Lift Meal Plan
Whether you are new to this whole plant-based eating thing, running short on time, trying to save some money, or trying to lose some weight – this quick and easy flexitarian meal plan is for you.
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