Fifteen years ago I weighed over 300 pounds and almost every meal I put on our table was full of processed foods. Casseroles with creamed soups topped with buttery crackers were the norm for our family. I bought only canned vegetables and we ate lots of fruit topped with sugar. I occasionally even let my kids have frozen kids dinners which were about as healthy as a chocolate bar.
Everything changed when I got serious about my weight loss and ended up losing half of my body weight. All in all I lost 150 pounds and write about my weight loss on my blog, Fit to the Finish. In the ensuing fifteen years, I have learned a lot about nutrition and healthy eating. One thing I haven’t done though, is become a gourmet cook or a foodie.
I’m okay with that.
You see, I have seven kids and am a simple cook at heart. I used to pour over glossy food magazines imagining the happiness on my family’s face when I served them a beautiful, exotic dish of food. The reality of being a busy mom to a family of nine means that my goals are to serve healthy nutritious food that is easy to prepare and delicious. Sometimes, it is even attractive.
It all begins with planning. Sure it is easy to pour some soup on chicken, top it with crackers, and call that a well-balanced, healthy meal. But the truth of the matter is that the chemicals, sodium, and unpronounceable ingredients are not things your body needs. Planning your meals can be done on a single piece of paper or a great app on your phone.
When I sit down to plan the meals for my family, I begin with the main dish. We eat chicken a few times a week, but all our other meals are vegetarian in nature. I write down the main dish for all seven upcoming nights. A typical main dish week for us would be simple foods such as rosemary chicken, minestrone soup, black bean and rice tortillas, stir-fry chicken, vegetarian lasagna, teriyaki vegetable bake with brown rice, and panko dipped chicken fingers.
After I have the main dishes written out, I simply section off a piece of paper into aisles of my grocery store. (If you are in need, here is a.pdf download of a grocery store list by aisle and a meal planning worksheet from my book, 150 Pounds Gone Forever. ) After planning the main dishes, I add in simple, easy-to-prepare side dishes such as salad, steamed vegetables, roasted root vegetables, whole-wheat rolls, and fruit. Every time I add a dish to my menu, I simultaneously add the ingredients I will need to purchase for the week. I repeat the same process for lunch and breakfast.
The whole exercise takes me less than 30 minutes.
People ask me about coupons. Honestly, because we eat so little processed food, I find very few food coupons in the paper that help me out. There are some breakfast cereal coupons that we occasionally use, and I do like finding yogurt coupons. But aside from those, I am not a coupon queen. I do find that I spend less money at the grocery store than my friends who have smaller families because I am foregoing Oreos, expensive crackers, prepackaged deli lunches, and frozen meals.
The benefits of planning simple, delicious meals to serve your family are numerous and exponential in nature. I see my older children developing a very discerning palette when it comes to processed foods. They often refuse to eat highly processed foods when out in social situations and tell me later that the food looked unappetizing and “disgusting.” My younger children have grown up with simple, homemade, unprocessed foods and some of them have never set foot in a McDonald’s or Burger King. My hope is that as they grow older they will pass on the love of simple, homemade food to their families.
Planning and cooking great tasting meals for your family is not a chore, but rather a blessing that you can give your family every single day of the year.