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Sono-Ma Karla Gormley requested a detailed "how to" on making a weekly meal plan for families that is both delicious and budget friendly. Annalyce la Source chimed in to say that she also can not figure out how to keep her weekly grocery bill under $170. Earlier this year, I spent one of my sessions with Miss Teapot (my crafty neighbor who is teaching me domestic arts) focusing on developing a weekly menu of items that would appeal to my whole family and my wallet.  Clearly this is a top issue for mammas!  Drawing from the real experts like Sally Fallon's author of Nourishing Traditions, Ellyn Satter of Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, and a few classic Waldorf traditions, I'll share how our family makes good eating a simultaneously yummy, frugal, AND nutritious art.

Here are my top four tips:  1.)  Appeal to the caveman within your husband!  2.)  Cater to your toddlers - at least a little bit.  3.)  Make it easy on mom. 4.)  Use the table as a family table - eating meals together can bring a family together!

Appeal to the caveman within your husband!  Many of my Sono-Ma friends confide that their hubby's tummy lies at the center of most meal planning dilemmas.  It seems that many guys have a hankering for meat, sweets, and food cooked the way mom made it - leaving little room for discussion around potential food changes or nutrition.  Getting the man of the house on board is essential - who can convince the kids to eat homemade mayo if daddy-o insists on Best Foods?  How do I keep Bryles out of the granola bar box when "Daddy's bars" hang around like forbidden fruit?  How do you get the kids to the table when daddy doesn't feel like eating at lunch time??    My secret is to put some of my guy's favorites front and center on the menu - including a huge hunk of meat at least once a week. 

I think nutritional guidelines only call for 4- 6 oz of protein for an average dinner, but try telling that my man who likes to order the 2 pound steak at Cattleman's!  Talking about cutting meat out or down from the dinner plate is a conversation killer, so I skipped talking about it and just started roasting chicken once a week.  We get a fresh Rocky Junior whole bird (.99 - 1.99 a pound at most local grocery stores such as Whole Foods Santa Rosa), stuff the cavity with thyme and pull out the rotisserie once a week.  If it is hot, we skip the rotisserie and put the food on the grill.  Either way, my husband takes charge of cooking and cutting the sizzling, savory meat, and his inner caveman can't help but grin. You should see his smile when he has his weekly drumstick in hand! 

We eat chicken and/or chicken broth as part of our meals for the next few days, satisfying his need for meat through lean poultry.  He starts to complain about wanting other meat right around Thursday most weeks, so I toss a few shrimp (5 per person) in the stir fy and remind him that we'll have salami (Applegate's preservative free all natural from Whole Foods) on our pizza on Friday.  After months of chicken, he'll start asking if we can put on a beef roast or London Broil, and I happily comply.  At least he is eating lean meat most of the time!  Once again, we choose a large cut of meat and make it last for a few meals.

Finding alternatives to packaged stuff is also a challenge I face with my husband - the trick is keeping quick, easy snacks on hand that he likes.  If we keep a stash of nuts and bananas, he is happy to forgo pretzels and granola bars.

Cater to your toddlers - at least a little bit.  Your next picky customer is likely your toddler.  If you can get into your husband's frame of mind with the caveman image, try thinking like a toddler for a minute.  Eating offers a whole world of new experiences in learning table manners, trying new textures and tastes, and learning patience, communication, and more!  Ellyn Satter does a wonderful job helping parents learn to navigate the family table with a toddler in the above mentioned Child of Mine.  Her book taught me a great deal of practical tips about enticing my child to eat.  First and foremost, Satter instructs us as parents to provide nutritious foods at routine times of the day.  Our job is to put good food on the table, and our kids job is to decide what to eat and how much.  While Satter says no parent should become a short order cook making separate dishes for children and older family members, she also says there are good strategies for making food more friendly for toddlers.   

I've found that my toddler likes his food to be served without a lot of mixing of ingredients.  I cater to this need for separated foods by giving him cucumbers, carrots, and bell peppers in individualized piles, while these items top the salad older family members eat.  If I make a stir fry, I will cull out each vegetable and put it into unique piles next to his rice, whereas the rest of us eat it mixed together on top of our grains. 

Hands on opportunities add some fun to the toddler experience too.  Bryles prefers to use his fingers to eat carrots served with dip, rather than a fork to eat carrots topped with butter.  Dipping is so much fun for him, we actually offer him many foods, such as waffles and syrup or roasted potatoes and catsup, set up for dipping.  Other ways to let him use his hands include pulling out the chopsticks with rice once in a while.  Most importantly, I find that involving my little one in harvesting and preparing the food is the best way to get him to want to taste the food on his plate!  Bryles loves to help me paint olive oil on our Food for Life tortillas we bake on the pizza stone for our tostadas.  Get your little one in an apron and see what happens! 

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet DictocratsAnother important idea for moms is the fact that toddlers need salt and fat. Not only do these things add to the taste of food, they are essential for brain and other physical development.  Bryles devours steamed and salted broccoli dipped in homemade mayo. While many moms want to watch their waste line, this is not an area to skip for the little ones.  Nourishing Traditions also offers many outstanding arguments for all aged people to consume good fats and Celtic sea salt.  Read up and convince yourself that you deserve yummy tasting food too!

Make it easy on mom!  Planning and routine take the thinking out of the equation.  For a menu and weekly shopping list, click here.  Ellyn Satter recommends creating a menu that includes at least one dinner each week that is each family member's favorite.  Not everyone has to like all meals equally, but each person should get to feel especially satisfied by at least one meal.  Our family decided to follow the Waldorf tradition of creating a standard weekly menu to help simplify our lives and develop a rhythm we now all count on.  Scott gets his meat weekly, Bryles gets pasta, and I love it all, so we are all well satisfied with this routine.   (See Sample Weekly Menu below article.)

The recipes we use are generally throw together meals (a.k.a. they have no real recipes) and are extremely simple fare to prepare.  Nourishing Traditions is my cookbook bible, and I do flip it open when I want to review a recipe for lacto-fermented salsa or salad dressing.  This book also helped me learn how to soak grains to ensure they are easier to digest, as well as many other pointers on how to get more nutrition from my food.  We buy high quality items that need little preparing to taste fabulous, and keep our pantry stocked with what are now old standbys.  (See Keys to Stocking Nutritious Food in Your Pantry below.)

Using the Crockpot also comes in very handy!  Starting meals by throwing beans or bones in a pot hours before eating removes the stress of preparing a meal moments before the whole family has a hunger meltdown.  I love the sound of a bubbling pot, and ours is going most days of the week.  The same applies to using our freezer, so I take every opportunity I can to make large batches of items I can prepare ahead for future meals such as chopping a whole flat of peaches (you can buy the "seconds" for $5 a flat at the Farmer's Market from most vendors) and freezing bag fulls for smoothies.  I also make several jars of salsa when the mood strikes me, to keep that yummy snack or topping on hand.


Easy is important, but let's not forget the impact of simple fare on the budget!  Pinto beans, whole chickens, and lots of fruits and veggies don't cost all that much.  I just conferred with my last four receipts from Whole Foods, Oliver's and Trader Joe's and my average weekly expense ranges from $85 - $128.  Menu planning before I shop also ensures that I save money by using up what is in my pantry and freezer.  Most of us have more than $100 worth of food in our storage, and every mom can save a few bucks by eating what we have on hand before buying more.

Use the table as a family table - eating meals together can bring a family together!

Amanda Blake Soule author of Creative Family writes about dinner time as a daily ritual for her family - a time for the family to come together, give thanks, enjoy each other and eat soul satisfying foods.  Her family uses verses and expressions of gratitude to kick off mealtime, and to signify that eating meals together can equally be about nourishing the soul and stomach!  Both of our families like to use the Waldorf verse:  "Blessings on the blossoms, blessings on the roots, blessings on the leaves and stems, blessings on the fruit" as way to center our families before eating. 

As my little one gets older, we are working to encourage him to sit at the table until we are all finished with our meal.  We talk and laugh and take a moment to connect with each other in the age old tradition of breaking bread.  According to several studies highlighted on Families.com, families that eat together enjoy better nutrition, better communication, stronger relationships, and increased academic performance.  Who needs more reasons to take advantage of meal times together?

Sample Weekly Menu:

Breakfasts

Oatmeal, Eggs and Toast, and/or fruit

Lunches

Left Overs, Quesadillas, Sandwiches and Veggies, or Rice and Beans

Dinners

Sunday:    Rotisserie Chicken, Roasted Yukon Gold Potatoes, Brocoli (Green Vegetable)

Monday:    Chicken Salad Sandwhiches or Chicken Soup (Soup: Asian Style, Fricasse, or Standard)

Tuesday:    Chicken and Whole Bean Tostadas on Sprouted Corn Tortillas

Wednesday:    Pesto Pasta with Pine Nuts and Salad

Thursday:     Rice and Stir Fry Vegetables (with Shrimp sometimes)

Friday:    Pizza (Toppings can include salami, mushrooms, olives, bell peppers, zucchini, pineapple and/or ham)

Saturday:    Sushi or Salad (e.g. Steak Salad, Chicken Apple Sausage with Blue Cheese, or Taco Salad)


Keys to Stocking Nutritious Food in Your Pantry:

  1. Use only extra virgin olive oil when cooking with olive oil
  2. Use only Celtic sea salt
  3. Use unsalted, organic butter (adding Celtic sea salt for taste when needed)
  4. Use sprouted grains or soak your own before cooking (in water with whey or lemon juice)
  5. Drink raw milk (i.e. unpasturized, unhomoginized milk - available at Whole Foods) and do not eat any low fat or non fat items
  6. Replace cereals and processed snack foods (e.g. crackers) with alternatives such as sprouted grain bagels (we love Alvarado Street Bakery's, of course!) or sprouted corn chips
  7.  Incorporate digestive enzymes into every meal by incorporating honey, homemade mayo, homemade salad dressings, or lacto fermented foods (try Nourishing Traditions' salsa recipes!) into every meal
  8. Use sugar alternatives when sugar is necessary (e.g. honey, syrup, agave)
  9. Avoid packaged foods as often as possible - sugar, hydrogenated oils and fats, and other harsh preservatives are often included in the production of these items
  10. Bring your canning jars, have the checkers write down their tare weight before you shop, and get your grains, nuts, pasta and other items from the bulk bins

3 comments

  1. Mel // July 12, 2009 at 7:49 PM  

    Wow! You are totally reading my mind - I was just about to write a post about how I can't seem to get into a regular rhythm of menu planning and here is your awesome post to the rescue! My friend recently bought Nourishing Traditions and is raving about it. Looks like I will need to add that to my long list of "must have" books! Thanks again Holly :)

  2. Sue Deane // February 12, 2010 at 4:34 PM  

    Great article Holly, not to mention excellent, engaging writing. You are golden!

  3. Michelle // February 19, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

    Is that your husband and your little one up there? Has anyone ever told you your hubby looks exactly like Chris Klein?
    Oh, great article, by the way, so happy I found your blog!

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