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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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August 26, 2011 at 10:58 pm

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1 M August 17, 2011 at 10:58 am

Mark Bittman of the NYTimes has a great series on summer salads. I think the series is called the Minamalist. Also you can toss is various combinations of vegetables for a healthy stir fry, over rice or quinoa, use herbs to flavor it. Ultimately if you are trying to shed a few pounds, you have to take in fewer calories than expend. There’s no secret to that. I know folks who have completely cut out meat and just watched the pounds drop, because they ate more veggies and veggie based proteins. Exercise will help keep your metabolism up, yoga, stretching, cycling, walking — use some free weights — you don’t have to join a gym. Think you are wise to to shed a few pounds and get into a healthy rhythm now in your late twenties and early thirties. Baby #2 weight will be even harder to shed. By the time you hit 35, your metabolism will shift and it becomes very, very hard if not close to impossible. Weight Watchers is a great program — bulk up on fiber, not carbs, lots of fruits, veggies and lean meats. Good luck and remember no matter what your size, you are always beautiful.

2 Karen August 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm

My husband and I LOVE Mark Bittman. We really liked his vegetarian recipes, too. I lost a significant amount of weight after college following the Weight Watchers plan, but at this point in my life, I just don’t have the time necessary to devote to food journaling and intense calorie counting. That’s why this is so much easier for me. I can focus on what I’m eating rather than counting everything up, and because it’s mostly veggies I’m in no danger of going overboard. Thanks for the tips and encouragement!

3 Jes August 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I completely agree about the myth that breastfeeding helps you lose weight. I don’t know who said that. but it’s a lie! I find I can’t cut out or limit one food group, it makes me just want to eat more if it. except sweets, I do limit those. I tend to focus on how much I’m eating instead of what food groups it is. Of course, different things work for different people cuz we’re all different! YAY. I also have to run run run to lose. not that I mind, I’ve learned to love it. Anyway- good luck with that weight! it took me forever to lose the weight I gained from my first!

4 Karen August 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I used to be the same way. I couldn’t deal with cutting carbs or sugar or any one thing without obsessively thinking about it. But like I said in my reply in M, these days, I struggle with food journaling and calorie counting and portion measuring. I feel dumb admitting this to a mama of 3, but my one baby is kicking my butt, and most days I’m lucky if I can stuff something in my mouth for lunch and move on. So it’s been much easier for me to focus on what I’m eating rather than how much. I know as long as it’s mostly fruits and veggies, I’m not as likely to overeat, and I can listen to my body and just eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. It’s working so far!

And yeah, no clue who started this breastfeeding weight loss myth. I feel like people give me side eyes when I tell them I’m still nursing, like I have no business still being so heavy. :-/ Slowly but surely, though! And hopefully it’ll get easier after he weans.

5 Mary August 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Your ‘unplanning’ sounds a lot like what we do. I would recommend looking into a produce delivery service, if you’re looking to stick to budget. We get an enormous box of local organic produce every Friday, and the price is the same every week, so we know exactly what to budget. I love it because instead of having to take the time to sit down and plan a menu, I just keep a markerboard in the kitchen and write all the produce on it. When a new box comes, anything still left on the board gets a star next to it so we know what to use up first. Every night when it’s time to make dinner, I just look at the markerboard and figure out what I can make with what we have. Not only that, I don’t have to think about what to buy or spend time shopping either. It just shows up on Friday and all I have to do is put everything away and put it up on the board. (We hit Costco every two months or so for staples like coffee, sugar, flour, etc, and we watch a local grocery store for chicken to go on sale, and then fill the freezer when it does. Jason stops for milk and eggs and such every so often on his way home from work, which more or less eliminates grocery shopping from our busy schedules)

I know not all areas have easy access to this kind of service, as I couldn’t find it anywhere in our town in Canada, but it’s definitely worth looking into, as it’s becoming more popular recently.

Now that we’re back home, I’m wondering how we managed for a year without it!

6 Karen August 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm

I have looked into those services, and unfortunately after some heavy price comparison, it seems that their prices are much higher than what I pay when I shop sales at the grocery store. I was pretty bummed about it, because I wanted it to be more economical, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Eventually I’d love to do it if only because it would be local and organic produce, but we’ve got some financial goals I want to reach before I’m comfortable increasing our grocery budget by much. It sounds fabulous, though!

7 Cathy August 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm

http://everydaypaleo.com/ This is my favorite spot for meat and veggie dishes. On Sara’s blog she throws together simple yet delicious and satisfying meals that often come with leftovers, even in our house with two adults and two teens. Also, she helps families with kids learn to eat healthy. Good luck. It sounds like you are on the right track.

8 Karen August 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Thanks, Cathy! I’m intrigued by the Paleo diet, but it does seem a little too restrictive for me in some areas. I’m sure I’ll be able to adapt some of those recipes to work for me, though!

9 Cheryl August 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm

Just wanted to say, don’t be discouraged about the weight! I have had several friends who didn’t lose any weight at all, despite diet and excersise, until their baby weaned. Everyone is different. You look wonderful!

10 Karen August 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

Thank you! That is so encouraging. I’m hoping that’s what happens for me, but it can’t hurt to eat healthier and get moving now! :)

11 Hanelene August 19, 2011 at 8:40 am

I was one of the lucky ones that did lose a bunch of wieght from nursing, only to put 10 pounds back when I weaned… ARGH.

I love the Sonoma diet recipes – they are not no-carb, but rather whole grain carb only. The food is good, and you can pick up the books from your library. It is definitely WAY more expensive for us to eat healthy – produce in our city is ludicrous, and even more expensive at farmers’ markets and the like. I’ll be curious to see how your budget holds up once summer is over…

12 Leslie August 21, 2011 at 9:29 pm

OMG the first part of this post sounded just like the tape recorded message that goes through my head. My baby is 6 months and I was thinking the same thing. At what point can I say I just had a baby? lol
I feel you. I too have weight to lose, about 20 pounds to be exact, and somehow I am not sure how I ended up gaining 60 pounds but alas, here we are. Good luck girlfriend, I feel you 100%.

13 eemusings August 26, 2011 at 5:27 am

This is what I do. Hardcore planning (like hardcore budgeting) just doesn’t work for me, and we like to improvise a bit in the kitchen. And most importantly, we don’t get sale flyers, so we never know what’s on special till we get there (nor do we know what’s actually going to be fresh and look appealing.)

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