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Unplanning our menus

by Karen on August 17, 2011

So at what point do you stop calling the postpartum pounds “baby weight”? Because my baby is almost 9 months old, and I’m still hauling quite a bit more around than I’m comfortable admitting. Methinks this is less about the baby and more about the absurd amounts of junk food I craved when I was pregnant. (Note: “Breastfeeding makes you lose weight” is a MYTH. Because homeboy is still nursing around the clock, and it’s not helping my waistline.)

In an effort to finally get serious about getting myself back to a comfortable weight, I joined a gym and met with a personal trainer for a free consultation. I told him about my diet, which honestly, is reasonably healthy. I cut out the junk food after Judah was born. We rarely eat out, and we never eat fast food. We cook fresh whole foods, lean protein, and lots of vegetables … but we also eat lots of carbs.

To keep our grocery budget down, we make a lot of big pasta dishes and sandwiches, and potatoes are usually featured pretty prominently in our menus. The trainer suggested I cut the carbs and focus on eating vegetables and lean proteins instead and see if that helps me shed the rest of this weight. That doesn’t seem tough to me. I’m not counting carbs. Just sort of leaving them off our menu.

Unfortunately, this makes menu planning tough. Most weeks our menu features at least one pasta dish and one sandwich night. Most days I also throw a sandwich together for lunch. On weeks when I’m having menu planning writer’s block, we’d even eat pasta or sandwiches twice. We usually bought potatoes in bulk and served them roasted or boiled as a side dish. Clearly, I’d have to rethink our entire menu planning strategy if I was going limit my carbs.

So we’re trying something new. We’re unplanning. In other words, we’re just buying one or two meats that are sale priced, and then loading up the cart with whatever produce is cheap that week. When we get it all home, we take stock of what we bought, and we build a menu around that.

Here’s an example of how it works. Last week, split chicken breasts were on sale for 99 cents a pound. We loaded up on a few pounds of chicken. Then we filled the cart with low-price produce — several heads of romaine, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, squash, broccoli, sugar snap peas, onion and cauliflower. We have a ton of homegrown cucumber and herbs from the garden. For snacks, we bought fruit — peaches, pears, apples, and grapes. We also bought staples like milk, eggs, cheese, and some canned beans.

Surprisingly, because everything we bought was on sale, we stayed within our grocery budget. Tony basically shopped our produce selection each night and made something up. It turned out fantastic! Here’s what he came up with last week:

  • Roasted chicken breasts with squash and side salad
  • Chicken Caesar salad
  • Chicken stir fry
  • Chicken skillet with beans and vegetables
  • Chef salad with turkey
  • Grilled chicken and veggie kabobs

Yes, you end up eating a lot of the same meat all week, but you can change it up the following week. Pork and beef would work the same way. Or you could use beans instead of meat.

Of course, this method relies heavily on having an adventurous cook in the house. Tony is great at foraging the kitchen and throwing something together.

At the end of the week, we had a few items left — spinach and cauliflower mainly. We took stock of what was left, and we made sure we used up any leftover produce at the beginning of this week to avoid waste.

I really enjoyed everything we made last week, and shopping the sales motivated us to buy and use produce that we rarely eat — like zucchini and squash. It is a little harder control spending without writing an actual menu and grocery list, but as long as you stick to sale meat and produce and only buy about as much as you’ll eat, it shouldn’t get too pricey.

Now send me low-carb recipes! I doubt the planner in me will let this “unplanning” last too long.

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