“When doing your meal plan prep. How do build your weekly menu?”
This week, Drew asked me to detail my weekly meal planning process. I gotta say, it feels a little like she asked me to draw a map of my brain. I don’t know how it happens, it just does! Ah well. Is the unexamined meal plan even worth eating? (hint: yes)
Let me take a crack at this inner cranial mapping and see if I can make sense of it for you (and me).
To start with, Charlie’s doctor has given her restrictions on how much meat she can have each week: Two 4oz servings of chicken (or turkey), one 4oz serving of pork. (Unlimited salmon but fish is a little tricky to manage for a prep-ahead meal plan that is usually warmed in a microwave, so we deal with it rarely and usually canned).
Charlie doesn’t eat much in one sitting, so I’ve adjusted the portion size down to 2oz per serving, which allows us to streeeeetch the meat to six meals per week. This is important psychologically as Charlie is really dependent on meat to feel full and satisfied. So. I start there. I have two meals of pork and four meals of chicken. I usually send about nine meals total, so that leaves three meals to be bolstered by beans. To allow for optimal variety, I make two different kind of meals with chicken.
Next, I do a quick review of what Charlie had last week. Familiarity is important to her, but it also famously breeds contempt, and we don’t have enough options for many safe foods or meals to get lost due to overmaking them. So I keep Charlie on her toes and only send the same thing two weeks in a row if it has been specifically requested.
Then I take a jaunt around the world. In my ideal weekly menu for Charlie, we hit a familiar French or UK-centric staple meal (like chicken, mashed cauliflower “potatoes,” and green beans). Then we might bop on down to Italy, for a faux-pasta themed meal or a riff on a classic Italian soup. We might stop in Greece, Morocco, or Tunisia, before hopping over to Asia. A Chinese stirfry dish with cauliflower “rice” is always a big hit. Almost every week, there is a Central or South American themed dish, as well, to round out our International tour.
The main trick with each of these stops is to have good regional flavor without being too spicy. Charlie’s palate and stomach are sensitive enough that spices that are too rich (even if they’re not actually spicy in accordance with the Scoville scale) are often a no-go. Sugar is, too, even natural ones like honey, and salt and fermented anything dangerous commodities, which means cultural staples like honey, soy sauce, and perserved lemons are all either off limits or extremely limited.
I try to have at least two servings of each meal (which Charlie often stretches to three or more), with a maximum of three. This makes sure that if it’s not a hit, Charlie isn’t stuck eating it again (and again, and again). …and if it is a hit, she has something to look forward to in a few weeks.
Another thing I try to balance: cauliflower makes a great rice and potato substitute, which means it’s really easy to end up with a meal plan where cauliflower shows up every single day. Now cauliflower is healthy, fortunately, with low calories and particularly high amounts of Vitamins C and K. But a lopsided diet in any direction is worth avoiding.
With (all of!) these things in mind, I start my meal plan each week.