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Saturday, August 24, 2013

How and Why I Meal Plan (Gluten Free and Locavore-ish), and ‘What’s Cookin’ Sunday?’

I’m finally getting around to putting this post together in the hopes that it will force me to get back into my meal planning routine. This summer, with all the traveling we’ve been doing, I’ve been lazy with my meal planning, but I did it all last year and it was extremely helpful.  So by planning to post my meal plans every week and What’s Cookin’ Sunday I hope to push myself to meal plan every week again. 

We’ve made it our goal to buy as much as we can from the farmers market, and then meal plan around that.  We’re not 100% locavores, but we do our best to be as locavore-ish as possible, for the reasons I state below. Here’s why and how we do it, and a sample meal plan.   

The Benefits of Meal Planning

1) Meal planning saves money, for a few reasons.

a) By doing a quick mental (and occasionally visual) inventory each week of what’s in the fridge, freezer and cupboards I can ensure that nothing goes rotten or gets forgotten. That helps save money.

b) If I know what food I have, I won’t accidentally buy it again that week

c) I don’t buy food I don’t need if it’s not on my meal plan (unless it’s on sale and I know I will use it. Don’t impulse buy just because something’s on sale).

d) By planning ahead, I can bake or cook a few things at a time, saving electricity. That’s where What’s Cookin’ Sunday comes in.  So if I have to bake beets to make Beet Chocolate Muffins on Sunday, and I want to have Organic Blue Cornmeal Salsa Bread on Tuesday, I can bake them both in the oven at the same time, minimizing electricity. In hot summer months, this is a bonus because no one wants the oven running!

e) Going locavore-ish means you can sometimes get better deals at the farmers market (or CSA boxes) than at the store. I can get 3 ‘cide free (i.e. pesticide and spray free) zucchini or a giant head of ‘cide free cabbage for $1 at the farmers market. The supermarket can’t beat that deal.

f) Plan to use leftovers. For example, if I make Gluten Free Irish Boxty, I can plan to use the leftover mashed potatoes in Gluten Free Lefse, and eliminate the chance of throwing out potatoes.   

2) Meal planning prevents dissent. 

a) Seriously. By including my husband in the process and discussing it with him after I’ve created a basic draft plan I can ensure that there will be things he likes, OR that he’s willing to try some of the new options I’ve included. There will be no surprise “I don’t want to try that” scenarios. Anything he doesn’t want to try I will make for myself for lunch.

b) Also, on weeks when I haven’t meal planned, there is too much time spent last minute (as hunger sets in) debating what to make, which can lead to crankiness all around. 

3) Meal planning saves time. 

a) As mentioned above, too much time is spent at the last minute deciding what to make. Spending a bit of time meal planning once a week can actually save time throughout the week.

b) Meal planning can also save time in the grocery store, because once you have your base veggies from the farmers market or CSA box, you can make a list of the rest of the necessary items you need from the grocery store and zip in and out.  

c)  I can do a bunch of cooking at once. That’s where What’s Cookin’ Sunday comes in. Based on whatever I’ve meal planned, if there are a couple of things I can do at once in the kitchen, I will. I.e. if I have a bunch of sweet potatoes and want to make Winter Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad on Monday, I can plan to boil a few extra sweet potatoes to use on Wednesday in Spiced Scones in place of the butternut squash.

Or, if I’m baking beet and sweet potatoes to be used at different times in the week, I can pop them into a baking dish together in the oven and then store them in the fridge for use later.

4. It helps save the environment

#4 and 5, probably the two most important reasons I can give, are more about being a locavore than meal planning, but meal planning can help you to be locavore, or at least locavore-ish.  

Tons of pollution is caused by trains, planes, and trucks transporting food thousands of miles to your grocery store. By planning meals around farmers market finds, you make use of food transported over shorter distances, meaning less pollution.

By planning, you yourself will probably make less last minute trips to the market, causing less pollution and less likelihood for impulse buying. Also, at the farmers market you can usually find organic produce, spray free produce grown using organic practices (not certified organic, but grown in the same way, this is a great budget option. Some farms don’t have the time, energy or ability to get certified, but are GMO and chemical free), or regular produce. Less chemicals in our soil and waterways means less environmental waste and destruction.  

5. It supports the local economy.  

 Giving money to local farmers mean that money stays in the community and you’re not contributing to poor working conditions in other countries managed by large corporations thousands of miles away. Corporations run by men in suits on the top floor of a sky rise in another state have no concern for your local economy, their employees working conditions, or your well-being. Chances are your local farmer is a little more invested in all these things. A corporation only exists on paper. I like being able to see the face of the people I’m giving my money to.


How to Make a Meal Plan, and Meal Planning Around the Farmers Market

Making a meal plan can be as basic or complex as you want / need it to be. You can make detailed plans with breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day of the week. You can find templates online, make Excel charts or add pretty pictures.

My plans are simple, in large part because I don’t have kids, and my husband and are in agreement that we’re each on our own for lunch, but do breakfast and dinner together. 

First: I make a list of the basics I want/need from the farmers market on Friday night or Saturday over breakfast. This is based around the types of fruit and veggies we can always use. My basics are usually: tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, potatoes, kale, Swiss chard, cucumber, onions, garlic and then whatever else I see at the market that is new, interesting, or that I know I can make use of. I’m always careful of impulse buys.

I go shopping at the farmers market, then go home and take inventory. To take inventory I either do a mental or visual inventory of what’s in my fridge, freezer and cupboards. This way I won’t forget anything and nothing will go bad and get thrown out. If you have a CSA box you can plan the same way around that in conjunction with the farmers market.

I make a list of possible meals based on my inventory. I go through old meal plans and recipes (and my own blog of course!), and search online for ideas. 

I fill in the blanks. I add in what meal I want on which day, based on how long produce will last, how much time I have to cook, etc.  I just do this in Word.

I decide what to cook on Sunday (here’s the What’s Cookin’ Sunday part). I usually set aside about 2 hrs on Sunday afternoon when I make a couple of the meals on my meal plan, if they happen to be more time consuming ones. If I plan carefully (as I described above in various places), I can cook a few things at once or cook some things ahead of time for use later in the week. This saves me times and money throughout the week.     

I make another shopping list, for things I might need from the grocery store to complete my meals. We go make it a habit to the grocery store on Wednesday, when the market has a discount for students, so I have to plan to make use of whatever’s in the house between Saturday and Wednesday. A good time to clean out the cupboards! Otherwise I have a couple of specialty shops I hit up once or twice a month for things I can't get elsewhere.

Here’s what my meal plans look like:

Week of - - -

In the freezer: 1 container chicken noodle soup, 1 container black beans, 1 container cooked brown rice, chicken thighs, one chicken burger, beet chocolate muffins, chocolate applesauce cake, frzn veggies, frzn peas,

In the fridge: Kale, purslane, squash leaves, zucchini, 4 ears GMO-free ‘cide free corn, peppers, carrots, mini Thai eggplant, pickles, one patty pan squash, Swiss chard, tomatoes, cooked brown rice, broccoli, cabbage, fingerling potatoes, apples

In the cupboard: chickpeas, white beans, lentils, flours, organic corn tortillas, canned tomatoes, tuna, pears, peaches, sprout seeds

Ideas: stir fry, sushi, pad thai, veggie pasta, thai wraps

Saturday: Sushi rolls and miso soup

Sunday: veggie pasta & then out for happy hour drinks with hubby!

Monday: Something Asian with Thai eggplant and rice

Tuesday: roasted fingerlings and carrots with steamed broccoli and kale?

Wednesday: Ground meatball pasta to use up the one chicken patty

Thursday: Hubby wants to cook something

Friday: Pizza

Snacks: corn, steamed kale, green juice, rice cakes, apples, chocolate applesauce cake

What’s Cookin’ Sunday?  Chocolate carrots scones, Pizza crust to pop into freezer for the week

As you can see, it’s sometimes a little loosey goosey, but that’s ok. You can add breakfast and lunch for each day, too, depending on your needs. 

Do you meal plan? How do you plan ahead? 


  1. Meal planning works well for us because my partner is happy to cook--and our schedule works better if he makes weeknight dinners--but his ability to work through complex details is not like mine, so we use our food more efficiently when he's following my instructions rather than trying to figure out what to make.

    I usually plan just a few days at a time to account for new ingredients that have come into the house and to make sure we use up leftovers. We get a CSA farm share every summer, so we can't predict how much of what vegetables we'll have until we see them! I completely agree about the value (and fun) of eating local foods in season.

    1. Good point about going local being fun, Becca, I totally forgot to mention that! We've found so many great new things at the farmers market that never make it to the grocery store because they're seasonal or demand is low and people have never heard of it so they don't buy it. Being able to talk to the farmer gives me ideas for using things so I'm more likely to try something new :)

      Thanks for linking to your post, too!

  2. These is an excellent post with some great ideas! I've shared it on Facebook as well as pinning it to my Menu Planning Board on Pinterest. I try to choose local produce wherever possible, and it really does make a huge difference to my menus, how things taste and to the local economy.

    1. Thanks so much, April, I'm so glad you liked it and thanks for sharing :)


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