Shopping and Menu Planning

8:37 AM I’ve made my power protein oatmeal for the day – idea and recipe courtesy of Venice Nutrition who provided the nutrition element of the two Biggest Losers Challenge I did at Knuckle Up Fitness.  The dishes from last night are finally in the dishwasher and now I need to make a menu plan for the week. I was tempted to pull one of the plans from a previous week so I could start writing, but then realized that menu planning was a good  blog topic for a lazy Sunday morning.

Healthy but Thrifty With only one income these days, eating economically is almost as important as eating healthy. I’m lucky that our one salary is a good one, and unlike so many Americans these days, don’t have to sacrifice health for cost. But we have adopted a few great habits in the last 9 months since we became OIOK’s (One Income One Kid) that have really cut down our costs AND contributed to our being more healthy and losing weight.

Eat at Home This one was huge for us. When we looked at our finances in preparation for being a single income family, we found that after housing, our biggest expense was food. Most of that was eating out. We often ate breakfast, lunch and dinner out – even paying for Whole Foods to bring in lunch at my son’s school instead of packing it up for him. We were also spending a ridiculous amount on buying prepared food for fast meals we could put together after work. Any fresh food we bought was likely to go bad because we rarely got around to cooking it, so waste factored in as well.

Meal Planning The next major change was the meal plan. This is not a unique suggestion! Every diet, nutrition, exercise and lifestyle change book I’ve ever read (1000? 1500 by now?) suggests that creating meal plans is one of the best ways to get control of what you are eating. At work, I always believed the adage that you “Plan your work and then work your plan” but I wasn’t applying that to my family’s life until last fall. Now every weekend we sit down and plan out the week’s menu, based on what’s in the pantry and freezer and then make a shopping list for the missing items.

Buy in bulk or on sale and store for later: I keep an inventory of what’s in the freezers -one in the kitchen fridge and another huge standing freezer in the garage. We buy in bulk at Costco and whenever something we use goes on sale at our Publix. They have great BOGO sales (Buy One get One free). Frozen foods are much less expensive in the summer and early fall so we tend to stock up and then use them up over the winter and spring. It’s June now and we are just getting to the end of the frozen fruits and vegetables we stocked up on last year. Just in time for this years sales – so I’m pretty psyched about that. The key is to just buy the things you really use and need. Don’t be swayed by a sale – a good price on something you don’t or won’t or can’t use is NOT a good deal.

Re-Package Bulk Items at Home We buy cases of Ziploc bags at Costco: Gallon and Quart freezer bags and Sandwich and Snack regular bags. We break up bulk purchases of meats into family size portions and label them with the contents and date. (You will start doing this when you accidentally defrost a pound of pork chops instead of a pound of sliced ham -really hard to tell the difference when they are frozen!) Or when you finally get around to using that nice bison filet you bought at the organic market, only to find it old and tough because you kept it too long. The USDA has some guidelines on Freezing and Food Safety if you are interested.

Bread, Desserts and other Treats I don’t eat a lot of bread. Part of that is the surgery and reduction in volume, part of that is trying to eat lower carb and part of that is that I’m a diabetic and I really need to get my carbs from vegetables and fruit for the fiber. But I do eat a piece of toast about once a week. I like the Ezekiel sprouted sesame bread. It comes  frozen, so I split it up into quart size freezer bags, then just pull out a slice and pop it in the toaster when I need it.  I don’t think it lasts as long if you leave it in the bread wrapper. We also buy pound cake at Costco – comes three loaves to a box. We can cut the loaves in half and have 6 weeks of dessert. A serving of 1/20 of the loaf is actually a satisfying size and on 1.5 WW Points at 58 calories/3 grams fat. We add fresh berries for fiber and flavor. If we splurge on any other treats like this, we typically split it up and freeze most of it before we eat it. If you have to thaw something out, it gives you time to think if you really want to add it to your daily points or not.

Cook Ahead I am a big cook ahead fan. Now that my husband is doing the cooking, he is more a cook now and have leftovers man, but about once a week we build something into the menu that we can split up and freeze for a future meal. Casseroles, soups, stews and roast meats are all good things to have on hand for a planned no-cook night or a night when life happens to you instead of your plan. Transforming those frozen goodies into a meal is really fast: defrost soup and a frozen loaf of bread or thaw and shred chicken or steak while you warm up frozen whole wheat tortillas. Chop up some lettuce, tomato and red pepper to build soft tacos or add sour cream and grated cheddar if there are no vegetables in the house. Open a can of black beans for a quick side dish and to increase your fiber.

Transform Food Ruts into Healthy Routines We all get into ruts, but usually they are not good ones. We have turned our natural tendency towards sliding into a rut into building new and healthier routines. I have already posted about how I eat the same breakfast pretty much every day. Each week I might vary how I mix it up a bit, but it is still oatmeal, protein powder, peanut butter and fruit. For snacks I supplement with protein drinks and while I have 6 different flavors, its still a drink with protein powder, liquid and possibly some flavoring for variety. Lunch is almost ALWAYS the leftovers from the healthy dinner the night before. The beauty of this rut, um, routine, is that it frees us from having to plan 42 meals a week and we only plan 7 meals a week. This week I will add menu planning to The Melting Point, along with some sample weekly meal plans that have worked well for us.

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