Actually, we left Las Vegas and I’m here to tell all. It was a nice change of pace for us, a re-set for body and mind. For three weeks we were able to focus on nutrition, fitness, and business. Rob and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent with my sister and her two dogs, Zoe and Zeus. It certainly didn’t hurt that for a good two plus weeks the skies were blue and the temperatures ranged between 85-93 degrees.
Even though I was ready to ditch the suitcases and get settled into our new home in Bend, I was sad when it came time to pack, load the car, and say goodbye to Chris.
As you know, I’m working towards becoming a health coach. I offered to help my sister on a “reboot.” She wanted to become healthier, and I wanted to help someone become healthier. And on a side note, our condo in Bend would not be available until the first of April. So, off to Vegas we went.
I arrived in Vegas, or more accurately Henderson, with one simple question. Would a plant based, “real” food nutrition program help someone feel better, have more energy, and lose weight?
Nutrition with Real Food
My primary goal was to guide my sister on a path to better nutrition and to help her feel better by preparing three real food meals every day. When I say “real food” I am talking about foods that are in their most natural state possible without added sugar, preservatives, or artificial ingredients and with the least amount of human intervention. At the end of three weeks I hoped that Chris would notice a big enough difference in how she felt that she would be motivated to continue eating real foods.
In addition, the stresses of moving had thrown us off course. We were eating out more frequently, consuming fewer fresh veggies, unwinding at the end of the day with a glass of wine or a pint of beer, and my coffee consumption had doubled. Rob wanted to shed a few pounds and I secretly thought I could get him to change a few of his eating habits. I knew we needed a course correction.
Zeus vs Penny
I wasn’t sure we would be able to stay after our first night there. Zeus, a seven year old lab-shepherd mix, was overly rambunctious in his welcome. He was so excited to meet Penny, our small Silky Terrier, that he wouldn’t leave her alone. She was not amused and told him off quite firmly. He cried and scratched at the locked door for hours that first night. In the morning he was pouncing on Penny and chasing her all around. She lashed out and caught Zeus’s ear in her teeth. Even with blood dripping from his ear he was not deterred. As Chris left for work she said, “Please don’t drive back to Oregon today while I’m at work.” I took Penny and Zeus for a walk. With both of them on leashes and the distraction of smelling they pretty much ignored each other for the hour. When we got back to the house they were fine and soon settled on a way to coexist. It’s a good thing they did, because I did not want to leave.
My basic plan was to hydrate first thing in the morning, prepare three meals a day, include healthy snacks, and educate and motivate with video documentaries each night after dinner. I used the recipes that came with the 21-Day Food Matters Program found on the membership site FMTV. A membership also gives you access to a plethora of documentaries, recipes, yoga videos, and extended interviews. There is a wealth of information available for $9.95 a month. I felt that the motivation and education was worth it. It’s like Netflix for health-related documentaries that cover topics like:
•Food & Nutrition
•Detox & Weight Loss
•Depression & Anxiety
•Mind & Body
We started each morning with 12 ounces of lemon water. Our bodies need hydration after sleeping and before consuming anything else. Since lemons were also an ingredient in some of the recipes we probably used 60 lemons in three weeks. I wished that I had a lemon tree like my nephew has in California. Although it is recommended to abstain from coffee while on the 21-day program, I didn’t think we had to go through caffeine withdrawals to achieve the goals I wanted.
I brought my Vitamix with me and used it five mornings a week to make green smoothies for our breakfasts. There was a smoothie recipe in the 21 Day Program and I got inspiration from Simple Green Smoothies, but most mornings the smoothie was my own concoction. My basic formula is 2 cups liquid, 2 large handfuls of greens, a scoop of plant based protein, a greens powder that includes spirulina and chlorella, a healthy fat like coconut oil, 1-2 cups of frozen fruit. This is Chris’s favorite smoothie.
2 cups coconut water
2 cups greens (spinach and/or kale)
1/2 TBS coconut oil
1-2 pitted dates
1 peeled orange
1 scoop (~ 2TBS) plant based protein powder or hemp seeds
To make menu planning easy I used the Food Matters 21 Day Program for our lunch, dinner and weekend breakfast recipes. I used my menu planning sheets to map out our weekly meals and create a grocery list. After my first trip to Whole Foods I learned that I would need to shop twice a week. There wasn’t any way to fit all of the produce for an entire week into Chris’s fridge. I found that using two different colors of ink helped me know what to buy for the first half of the week and what to buy mid week.
Lunch, Dinner & Snacks
I packed a lunch for Chris to take to work with her each day. Mason jars made an easy to-go container for salads. The dinner recipes were easy to make and, with the exception of the chicken soup, took less than 30-45 minutes. We had our favorites, but everything was tasty. We enjoyed a large variety of fresh, colorful vegetables. The salad dressings, hummus and gluten-free bread were all made from scratch. We incorporated nuts, seeds, quinoa, beans and brown rice into our meals to complement the vegetables.
Off to work with her lunch bag.
What was Different?
Before I arrived this was Chris’s typical meal plan:
Breakfast – Cereal and banana
Snack – can of onion soup
Lunch – Salad or frozen Lean Cuisine
Snack – nuts or hummus with crackers
Dinner – 1 or 2 frozen lean Cuisine
Snack – peanut or almond butter or lemon cookies
Breakfast – tuna sandwich and raspberries or left-over pizza
Lunch – Take-out
Dinner – Pizza, take-out or slow cooker beans and sausage variations (Wine)
Snack – peanut or almond butter or lemon cookies
The Standard American Diet (SAD) is based on speed and convenience. It is made up of foods that come from a drive up window or are packaged up in factories with a host of chemical additives. Big food companies use chemists to create the perfect combination of sugar, fat and salt to get consumers hooked on their products. Meals are void of bright and varied colors with little that comes in it’s natural state. White flour, white rice, white potatoes, white sugar and salt are staples. It is also often lacking in variety. People will eat the same ingredients or foods day in and day out which leads to some nutritional deficiencies. What would happen if we avoided the SAD and ate more real food?
The End Results
At the end of three weeks the results were in. Rob and Chris completed before and after surveys that showed a positive change in their perceived wellness. Chris found that she felt better, and she lost 8 pounds. She reported that she felt healthier, happier and wasn’t struggling with hunger. One of the things we learned in the documentaries is that you can eat and eat and eat, but if you aren’t feeding your body the nutrients and minerals it needs you will still be hungry. She said that with an increase in energy she was starting to think of things she wants to do instead of thinking, “what can I put off.” What did she learn? “Eat better to feel better, to live longer, and to live healthier.”
Rob had more energy and lost 9 pounds. He’ll tell you that he didn’t go hungry or have cravings that couldn’t be cured with a healthy snack. His biggest aha was learning that more exercise was not the answer to weight loss. When he gave his body better fuel he was running faster than he has in years and his recovery time was significantly shorter.
What Happens in Vegas Doesn’t Stay in Vegas
In the end it was an awesome three week re-set. Rob and I joined a nice yoga studio called Hibs Yoga in Henderson. We succeeded in going two times a week. Thank you Roxanne, Joey and Rachel for the great training! We found a bike trail to run on and a killer hill route. We even ran in a 5K race out near Hoover Dam where we finished 5th and 7th in our age groups. Rob could have done better than his 7th place finish if he had cut loose from me, but he says he was there to run with me not break any records. You’ve got to love a husband whose running goal is to run with his wife.
Two Saturday day trips took us into the Red Rock Canyon and Grand Canyon West. Both were beautiful areas to hike and take pictures. I made multiple trips to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for groceries. Chris was amazed at how I filled her refrigerator with fresh produce. Thankfully there was time left in our days to get some work done as well.
The three weeks in Vegas slipped by quickly, but the balance we felt is something we want to hang onto. We want to take this with us and not leave it behind in Vegas.
On the Horizon
As I continue to coach Chris remotely and continue to experiment with new recipes and menus I am starting a list of potentially interested friends for a small beta (trial)? group that I can coach through a similar 21 day healthy eating experience. Leave your name below in the comments or send me an email if this intrigues you.
March is National Nutrition Month! I have had an acute interest in nutrition for nearly 16 years, and as a result I’ve devoured books, magazines, shows, and websites to gain more information. This month I’m sharing my knowledge and enthusiasm with my husband and my sister. Since we had a few weeks before our move to Bend, I offered to be a health coach to my sister who wants to get healthier before an incredible European vacation planned for September. My goal is to make a big enough impact on how my sister feels while eating whole, real foods that she will want to continue eating after I leave. Follow me (Vitality in Focus) on Instagram or my Facebook page to see what we have been eating for dinner.
Vegetable fritters are amazingly flavorful. I paired these with a green salad.
Respite or Reprieve
With my husband in tow, I am spending the month of March in Henderson, Nevada with my sister. She is the middle girl in our family and older than me by 17 years. While that may not matter, I think it helps paint a picture if you don’t already know us.
The drive to Nevada started off very snowy. We couldn’t wait to find sunshine and dry roads.
It’s an incredible opportunity to get warm and dry and a chance to focus on our health and our work with fewer distractions. Especially since February was a huge distraction that, as a result, put this blog on a back burner. Read Moving and Mounds of Memorabilia to find out why.
This picture was taken on a day hike at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area near Las Vegas. The weather here is unseasonable warm. We are getting our wish for warmer, dryer weather.
3 Weeks to Build New Habits
One of my goals while we are staying with my sister is to help her cultivate healthier eating habits. You may know that research supports the philosophy that it takes 3 weeks to build a new habit. As luck would have it, that’s exactly how much time we have here.
I think that Romanesco is quite possibly the most beautiful vegetable. I chopped it up with zucchini, lightly steamed it and served it on top of quinoa with a dollop of satay sauce.
The fact that March is National Nutrition Month is serendipitous. Whether you call it “clean eating” or “real foods” or “whole foods” the idea is the same. Cut out the crap! Eliminate all of the processed foods with additives, artificial anything, preservatives and ingredients you don’t recognize or wouldn’t stock in your pantry. This is the foundation for our healthy adventure.
A really good chicken soup starts with homemade bone broth.
We are implementing the menus and recipes from the 21 Day Food Matters Program. The meal plan is based on gluten-free, highly nutritious recipes with a balance of alkalizing greens, proteins and healthy fats. In general, it’s a guide for those who want improved health. We each have our own goals. I’d like to experience better focus and clarity, increased energy and reduce the headaches I get almost every day. My sister wants to improve her fitness, focus and resiliency. We are both looking to be joyfully alive. Rob’s goals are to be fit, focused and energized. Focus appears to be on all of our lists. Did you know that what you eat has a correlation to how well you can focus? Eating a diet full of additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients can cause brain fog.
A lovely lunch with homemade gluten free bread and homemade hummus. We topped it with watercress and cilantro with carrots and celery on the side to dip into the extra hummus.
Half Way Point
We are half way through our 21 day eating journey.
The meal plan, recipes and shopping lists provided in the 21 Day Food Matters Programmake the planning easy. I’ve made a couple adjustments to fit our schedules, but we have kept to the recipes given in the program. We start every morning with a tall glass of water enhanced with the juice of half a lemon. I send my sister off to work each day with a lunch box packed with a green smoothie for breakfast, lunch, snacks, four bottles of water and a couple of detox tea bags. Dinner is nearly ready in the evening when she comes home. This morning as she left she said to me, “I’m down another pound and I’m happy!” While she has a weight loss goal, I hope she discovers that eating a diet of foods as close to their natural state as possible makes her feel better. I know it works for me. While not knowing that he was going to have a health coach, Rob has fully committed to the program. His body fat percentage has dropped 1.5% in just nine days.
For easy to-go lunches pack your salad in a Mason jar.
Quinoa Tabouleh is one of our favorite lunches on the Food Matters 21 Day Program.
Essential Kitchen Tools
My sister has a well equipped kitchen with many of the necessary tools of the trade. However, when I started cooking in her kitchen there were a few items missing that I couldn’t cook for a month without.
A good sharp chef’s knife. This essential for all the chopping required when cooking with fresh ingredients.
A fine mesh sieve for rinsing beans, rice, quinoa.
Ball mason jars. I’m using a 32oz wide-mouth jar to pack salads for her lunch. I also like these small jars to portion nuts & seeds, hummus and snacks.
My Vitamix blender came with me. I couldn’t get through three servings of smoothies every morning without it. It is the best blender I’ve ever owned. It can be used for salad dressings, soups and more. I like this one (6500) because it has the automatic “smoothie” option.
The other tools that I use daily when cooking are ones she had.
A sharp pairing knife
A small cutting board
A set of measuring cups and spoons
A set of nesting prep bowls
A citrus juicer The one pictured is her’s, however, I really like the handheld squeezers. This particular one is stainless steel so there isn’t any paint to chip off like the yellow one I have at home.
Ingredients Not Calories
In honor of National Nutrition Month I challenge you to take the rest of March to focus on your nutrition. The easiest place to start is in the produce section of your grocery store. Increase the amount of fresh vegetables you eat. Make them a larger portion on your plate than any other item. In addition, read labels and eliminate my list of deal breakers. If a product has any of these ingredients listed on its label it will not make it into my shopping cart.
Trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils
High fructose corn syrup
Artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate
Dried fruit with sulfites
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Soy (because I have a sensitivity to soy)
Those are my deal breakers and a good list to start with. Of course when eating out I can’t control this, but I can control what I buy. In general, I look for ingredients I recognize. You know, the ones you might have in your pantry and would use in your own cooking when starting from scratch. As a result, when you focus on eating real foods there’s no need to focus on calories. Finally, my attention has recently been drawn to a few others that should be eliminated. These include, Potassium Bromate, Propyl Paraben, Aluminum Additives, BHT & BHA.
National Nutrition Month
I’ll come back with a report on how we did at the end of the month. Happy National Nutrition Month!
What can you do to up your nutrition game? What are your health goals? Are you a label reader? Do you have any “deal breakers” when you are shopping for food?
Another favorite lunchtime meal is this Waldorf salad. The dressing uses yogurt instead of mayonnaise. Perfect for National Nutrition Month.
Paprika-Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Quinoa Tabouli is Hit Dinner #10 in my recipe journal. I started keeping a journal in my kitchen three years ago. Whenever I “wing” a meal that everyone likes I write it down in my journal. I wish I had started doing this many years ago because my journal would be filled by now. Before starting the journal I’d throw something together for dinner, all of my guys would like it, but I didn’t write it down. I thought at the time that I would remember what I had created, but unfortunately I never did. Even with my journal I’ve missed recording some great meals because I got busy and thought, “I’ll write it down later.” Needless to say, “later” never comes. I am learning that I have to do it in the moment or else it doesn’t happen.
Why Dinner Menus?
There is a reason why I want to record the entire meal. I experiment with recipes all the time, but then I also have to come up with an idea for the side dish. We get bored with steamed broccoli, or I fall into a salad rut. When I make a dinner where every part comes together, I want to remember what I made so I can do it again. My dream is to write a cookbook based entirely on seasonal dinner menus that are simple, fresh and easy to prepare. Of course they have to taste good as well.
Paprika-Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Quinoa Tabouli
This Paprika-Lemon Chicken was our dinner Sunday night. I already had the buckwheat soaking in a Mason jar because I had planned to use it in a salad. However, I had forgotten to thaw the salmon and as a result didn’t have a complete dinner plan. When Rob called me from the market to see if there was anything I needed, I thought for a moment, and then asked him to get a couple boneless chicken breasts. While waiting for him, I cooked the grains and pulled a bunch of veggies out of the refrigerator. I do my grocery shopping on Mondays, so by Sunday it’s time to use up whatever is left. We had a red pepper, red onion, cucumber, parsley and garlic to make a tabouli style salad with quinoa and buckwheat. I also found a bunch of kale that needed to be eaten. Bingo! I had my dinner plan.
I should probably call it Quinoa-Buckwheat Tabouli, but that was too long. You could do this with any grain. I wanted to try buckwheat, which is naturally gluten-free, and I like using quinoa. Quinoa is actually not a grain even though we prepare it like a grain. It’s a pseudo-cereal loaded with beneficial vitamins and minerals, and it’s high in protein.
Cook the buckwheat and quinoa each for about 15 minutes. It’s best to soak the buckwheat prior to cooking to make it easier to digest and allow you to absorb more of its vital vitamins and minerals. Put the buckwheat in a glass bowl or jar in the morning, add warm water and then cover the container with a clean kitchen towel. It can sit on the counter until you are ready to use it. Rinse the quinoa and soaked buckwheat before cooking. I cooked mine separately, but you could try cooking them together. Use enough water in the pot to cover buckwheat and/or quinoa by about two inches, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 15 minutes. The buckwheat should be tender but not mushy, and the quinoa should have little white halos around them. Quinoa comes in different colors. The kind I used was a mix. When done, rinse under cold water and combine in a bowl. I used about a cup of each of the cooked quinoa and buckwheat and the rest I stored to use in a soup later in the week.
Traditional tabouli is more parsley than anything else. I’m not a huge fan of the flavor of parsley but it is a great herb for digestion and detox. Use the amount that suits you. Sweet peppers and cucumbers are among the “dirty dozen” fruits and vegetables that you should absolutely buy and eat organic. This is because they have some of the highest pesticide loads even after peeling and washing. Just to be clear, I don’t peel red peppers, but I will peel and remove the seeds from cucumbers in salads. They aren’t as bitter that way however, you lose some of their nutritional value.
Chop the vegetables and combine them with the quinoa and buckwheat. Stir in 2 TBS of extra virgin olive oil, a TBS of raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar and a TBS of fresh lemon juice. Taste and adjust the oil and acids to your taste. Finish it off with a pinch or two of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
This is going to sit while you cook the chicken and kale. The flavors will have time to settle in and get all happy together. Taste again before serving and adjust the seasonings to your taste.
I used two boneless, skinless chicken breasts for the two of us and we had some left over. Put the chicken breasts between some plastic wrap on top of a non-wood cutting board.
Before you start pounding the chicken with a meat mallet smash three cloves of garlic on the cutting board you used for the veggies. You could do it with the flat side of a chopping knife but, since the mallet is out I like to give the garlic a good bang with it. The garlic will be used with the kale so peel off the thin papery skin and set it aside.
Pound the chicken until it is about a 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap. Season the tops of the chicken breasts with a pinch of sea salt, a tsp of smoked paprika, a couple turns on the pepper mill and a 2 tsp of fresh lemon juice. Turn them over and do the same on the back side.
Heat the avocado oil over medium heat until it will move easily around in your grill pan. Add the chicken breasts and let them cook for 4 minutes.
Start the Kale
While the chicken cooks wash and de-stem one bunch of leafy green kale. Heat another TBS of avocado oil in a separate pan over medium heat. When you can swirl the oil around to coat the pan add the smashed garlic cloves.
It should be time to turn the chicken.
Doesn’t that look good? It will be a nice golden-red color. Set the timer for another 4 minutes for the chicken and start cooking the kale. After cooking the second side, remove the chicken and let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing into strips.
When the garlic starts to brown swirl it around in the oil and then add the kale. Be careful, if your kale is still wet from washing it the oil will spit at you. I try to add the kale all at once to cover the pan surface. Turn the kale over as it cooks so that it wilts evenly and doesn’t burn on the bottom.
The kale will be nicely wilted. Before serving sprinkle it with a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of lemon juice. I’m amazed at how little there is once it’s wilted. Rob and I will eat the entire bunch in one meal. I could eat kale like this every day. I love it! Adjust the salt and lemon to your taste buds.
Paprika-Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Quinoa Tabouli
There’s your Paprika-Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Quinoa Tabouli dinner. Plate it all up and enjoy!. I happened to have some pomegranate seeds that needed to be used, so I topped the tabouli with those and chopped raw almonds for added crunch. These are optional additions.
Yields 2 servings
Paprika-Lemon Chicken with Sautéed Kale and Quinoa Tabouli
1/2 a chopped Cucumber, peeled and de-seeded if desired
1 cup chopped parsley
2-3 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 TBS Raw Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar
1 TBS fresh Lemon Juice; or more to taste
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste; a pinch or two
8 raw almonds, chopped
Pomegranate Seeds; optional
FOR THE CHICKEN
2 skinless, boneless Chicken Breasts; pound to 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick
1 tsp Sea Salt
2 tsp Smoked Paprika
1/2 - 1 tsp Ground Pepper
4 tsp lemon juice
1 TBS Avocado Oil
FOR THE KALE
1 bunch of Leafy Green Kale; washed and de-stemmed
3 Garlic Cloves; smashed and peeled
1 TBS Avocado Oil
1-2 tsp fresh Lemon Juice
a pinch or two of Sea Salt
For the Tabouli, put the buckwheat in a pot and cover it with 2 inches of water. Bring the water to a boil, turn heat down to low and simmer for 15 minutes. The buckwheat should be tender but not soggy. Rinse it under cold water in a fine mesh sieve and add to a medium sized salad bowl. Rinse the Quinoa well and then cook in the same way as the buckwheat. Rinse it under cold water and add to the bowl with the buckwheat. Mix in all of the chopped vegetables. Add the oil, vinegar and lemon juice and stir. Taste to see if you want more lemon juice or vinegar or if you need to add more olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and a few grinds from a pepper mill. Stir and set aside so the flavors can blend while you prepare the rest of the meal.
For the Chicken, mix the salt, paprika, and pepper together. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with the mixture. Then drizzle the lemon juice over the chicken using about 1/2 a tsp per side on each breast. Heat the oil in a grill pan over medium-high heat. When you can swirl the oil around to coat the pan add the chicken. Cook the chicken for 4 minutes on each side. Let it sit for 5 minutes before slicing into strips.
For the Kale, heat the avocado oil in a pan over medium-high heat. When the oil swirls easily in the pan add the garlic. Stir the garlic, flipping it over until it is lightly browned. Add all of the kale to the pan. Be careful because the hot oil will spit at you as the water from the kale hits it. I like to use tongs to turn the kale as it cooks so that it wilts evenly and doesn't burn. It should take only about 5 minutes to wilt down. Drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with a pinch or two of sea salt.
I can think of 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu, but first let me give you a little background on how cooking dinner became important to me. I’ll also share my planning tool that you can get when you subscribe to my blog.
I’m the baby in my family, but I was raised as an only child. My two sisters were a sophomore in college and a senior in high school when I was born in September of 1963. They were 20 and 17, and my mother was 40. It wasn’t common for women to have babies in their 40’s back then. I wasn’t an “oops” baby, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. I guess my parents weren’t ready to embrace the empty nest and for that I have always been thankful.
Family photo from Christmas 1965
By the time I was born Mom had 21 years of cooking experience under her belt. She made cookies, cakes and pies from scratch. I loved the frosted Halloween cookies that she cut out into ghosts, witches and pumpkins and decorated with colorful sprinkles. We were even featured in the Medford Mail Tribune in a story about baking cookies with children.
From August 1970 newspaper story. My nephew and I are helping make cookies while my niece takes a taste and my mom looks on.
LIKE MOTHER LIKE DAUGHTER? YES AND NO
Family and friends thought of her as an expert; a gourmet cook. My parents hosted elaborate dinner parties for their friends, serving fancy dishes like Coquille St Jacques in scallop shells. Mom would plan the entire menu and cook everything from the appetizers to dessert. When I was old enough she employed me to help her serve. I walked among the elegantly dressed guests offering a delicious selection of appetizers, brought plates filled with perfect portions of food to the table and then cleared them away at the end of that course. She used the china she inherited from her mother and had special soup bowls and spoons. The compliments flowed from the 4-5 couples lucky enough to be included that evening. Sometimes she sent out invitations in the mail, but most of the time I remember her calling friends on the phone. There weren’t any kids at her dinner parties because none of my parents’ friends had children still living at home. Her example of a dinner party is something I’ve never followed, but I do love to entertain and have friends to our home for dinner. Over the years our gatherings have been organized through email or texts. We usually include the entire family and they bring something to contribute to the meal. We use our regular every day dishes, and the meal is served buffet style. Even though our dinner parties are more casual, socializing with friends over a good meal has continued. I learned that dinner was important whether it was a special occasion or a regular family meal.
Me and my mom delivering a homemade blackberry pie to a friend. Food was something we shared with others.
CONTINUING WITH A FAMILY TRADITION
As I grew up I saw my mom spend a lot of time in the kitchen on a daily basis. She made breakfast, packed my lunches when I went to school, and always had a home cooked meal for me and Dad at the end of the day. My dad came home for lunch and she’d have it waiting for him when he got there. She didn’t use Hamburger Helper, Rice A Roni, or pull a TV dinner out of the freezer. She collected recipes and tried new things. Dad and I were Mom’s guinea pigs. When she was planning a dinner party she tried new recipes on us first. I learned from the best so, it’s easy to believe that I would follow in her footsteps when it came to preparing a meal for my family at the end of the day.
WHICH CAME FIRST THE GROCERY LIST OR THE DINNER MENU?
I remember that she made grocery lists and cut recipes out of newspapers and magazines. She had cookbooks that she used and marked up with her notes. There were also meals she just knew how to make like fried chicken with mashed potatoes and a salad, or pork chops with apple sauce and steamed broccoli. Surprisingly, I even liked her liver and onions with lots of ketchup! However, I don’t recall seeing her write out a weekly menu. I recently asked her how she planned our dinners before going grocery shopping. She reminded me of the newspaper ads she would look through each week. She looked to see what was on sale, clipped the coupons, and planned around those items, but she didn’t write a weekly menu down on paper. This is where our system is different. It was probably my experience as a teacher, where I made and followed plans all day, that made me feel like I needed to be organized and have a plan at home as well. So, I make a weekly menu first and then make a grocery list. Like Mom, I do all the shopping, and most nights of the week I cook for my family.
Keep reading and you will find the 6 reasons why I create a weekly dinner menu. However, let me focus on my number one reason first.
THE FAMILY DINNER
Sharing dinner together is what I learned from my mom. Our process may be different, but preparing a meal and coming together at the dinner table has remained the same. For my family, eating dinner together has always been important. It hasn’t always been possible, especially when sports interfered with the dinner hour, but it was something we have done most nights of the week.
Our last dinner together before the boys head back to college after winter break.
THE WEEKLY MENU
I started creating a weekly menu soon after I was married. I was scribbling notes and lists on bits of paper until my wonderful husband created a menu and shopping list template using our old Apple Macintosh computer. It was a tool I could print and fill in each week before going to the grocery store. We lost the file for this planning sheet years ago when we made the switch from the Macintosh to a PC. However, I’ve been able to keep making copies and I’ve been faithfully using this wonderful tool nearly every week for 25 years.
the weekly meal and grocery planning sheet I used for 25 years
Above is the tool I use to plan menus and make a grocery list. It lost its complete heading long ago, and the food categories don’t match what I purchase most frequently. Just this week I finally gave it a new look and updated it with more current shopping preferences.
GET MY MENU PLANNING TOOL
Subscribe to my email list and I will send you a pdf of this revised menu planner and shopping list. You will also receive a blank version so you can fill in your own categories and customize it to fit your needs.
6 REASONS WHY I CREATE A WEEKLY DINNER MENU
The family dinner is important and planning the week out keeps me organized. There’s no trying to figure out what to fix for dinner at 5pm. It keeps us from falling back on take-away meals.
With dinners planned out we eat more healthfully. I find it is easier to stay true to my nutritional values while shopping.
I make better use of ingredients and have less waste. How often do you buy something, use part of it and then find the remaining portion has spoiled before you found a use for it?
I can shop once for the whole week. Ever since I quit teaching 18 years ago, Monday has been my shopping and errand day. My menu starts on Monday, but in the blank version you can write the days of the week in any order that fits your schedule.
Over the years of trying recipes from magazines, cookbooks, and websites we’ve had our share of variety. Planning a menu has made it easier for me to follow recipes from different sources. I’ve found dishes we love, and those become favorites that make it to our table again and again.
I’ve learned a lot about cooking through the experience of following recipes. As a result I have developed a passion for experimenting with ingredients and flavors. Now, more often that not, I find myself “winging” it in the kitchen. I’ll leave some days blank and, when I get to the store I can make choices based on what’s on sale and what’s in season. If there’s a new local product I’ll buy it and then figure out a way to use it. When I get home I fill in the blanks on my menu so I don’t forget my ideas for that meal.
SOME CONFESSIONS FROM ME
That all sounds great, doesn’t it? I have to admit that there are times throughout the year when trying to decide on a menu for the week is difficult. I get tired of making food decisions, or nothing sounds good. During those times my menu doesn’t look like much when I head to the store on Monday. That’s when I really rely on my experience to buy what grabs my attention and then come up with a way to fix it. We also have a great grocery store here in Portland, called New Season’s. I love their meat market. They have a good selection of quality meats and they have a variety of them that are already prepared in a sauce and just need to be cooked. It’s pretty easy to come home with some marinated chicken skewers, throw them on the barbecue, and make a salad to go with them.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
I’m curious to know how many others plan a weekly menu? How do you plan your dinners?
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