As I mentioned recently, my family has been on the search for the perfect way to eat to stay healthy. You can read more about that in my post, Healthy Eating Habits. But due to these decisions, the traditional way of meal planning doesn’t work for us. So I have had to find alternative meal plans to fit my family.
Not only do we eat differently than the norm, but we live differently as well. We try to live simply so we have no car, no slow cooker, no InstantPot, and very little freezer space. So it is nearly impossible to follow any of those meal plans, or even recipes, that are so abundant on the internet.
This is how my alternative meal planning is broken down to fit all these particularities. Please feel free to pick and choose the ones that work for your needs.
Types of Meals
Because we don’t follow the three-meal-a-day plan, obviously it cuts down on the number of meals we need to plan for. Not to mention the meals themselves are quite different from the number of recipes online. Here’s how it looks:
1. No Breakfast
This one is self-explanatory. We do try to keep healthier snacks on hand for the little ones who do need to eat before lunch. But in general, we try to steer them towards the fruit or nuts.
During the summer months, we try to make lunch our fruit meal. This means the children can choose whichever fruit they like best and eat as much of it as they want. Sometimes we will make fruit smoothies, or even a fruit salad (mixed with honey and cinnamon). But the main goal is to keep it light and raw.
However, when the official school year starts and with it the evening activities, we will move the fruit meal to the evening during the week. This is because we usually have to eat later than 7 PM or earlier than 4 PM. We would rather they digest fruits than a heavier meal before bed.
This again depends on the time of year. During the summer, this becomes our one-complex meal. We are trying to stay as vegan as possible so usually, this means a grain and vegetable mixture. We are also attempting to go gluten-free as we have seen the effect it has on all of us. So for that reason, we stick with oats, rice, quinoa, and other gluten-free grains or pasta.
This may sound boring but it is quite the contrary. We use plenty of herbs and spices to change the flavor. And we have been known to skip the grain to make a particularly yummy sauce (using gluten-free flour or cornstarch) to spice up the taste.
There are numerous vegetables to choose from which also means numerous different meals.
Again, during the official school year, we try to make this meal our lunch. This also saves on the evening rush when we are trying to get out of the house on time to make it to classes. Or when we get home and want to eat before bed without having to wait to cook.
4. Weekend & Special Occasions
This is when we are free to shake it up a bit. Weekends are the perfect time to try those new vegan recipes that call for more than one complex. Having eaten well the entire week, we can splurge a little on the weekend when we both have more time to cook and time to eat leisurely together.
Special occasions like birthdays or holidays are the time for us to go to that favorite fast-food restaurant or cook up some of our favorite holiday dishes.
The trick is moderation. Eating too strictly as a raw foodist or vegan or even a traditional meat-and-potatoes kind of meal is one sure way to put food on a pedestal. Which means we are placing our love of food or health above God
What I most want to impart to my children is that God has not forbidden us to eat any particular food from His earth. He has, however, given us guidelines for how to live our lives. And revolving our day around food whether it is through satisfying cravings or sticking to a strict diet is one way to make it an idol.
Once I have decided on the types of meals we will be eating for the week (and when), it is time to pick them out from the list of recipes.
Our fruit meal tends to be one that uses the fruits currently in season. So in the spring and summer, we eat a lot of berries and melons. The fall is apples. And winter means citrus fruits.
Of course, we don’t limit ourselves to these fruits. Living in modern times with yearly access to so many different fruits really widens our choices. We often keep bananas and pineapple on hand most of the year. And whenever we find our favorite fruits out of season, we try to get it.
Eating fruits should be a pleasure for our kids. Not just something we do because it is healthy.
There are not many recipes out there that are one-complex, even vegan. You’ll often find meat mixed with cheese, grain with meat, cheese with grain, or even all three. Vegan recipes are often similar, with combinations of meat or cheese substitutes with grain and veggies.
So we kind of follow our own plan on this one. The kids choose which vegetable they want to eat and whether or not they would like to add a grain or pasta to the dish. Then we cook it up using different spices to make it either Mexican flavored, Asian, Italian, or whatever style of the dish we wish to eat.
Because these meals are quite simple and quick to assemble, it also means we don’t need any fancy cooking tools. A simple oven and stove are all that is needed. Not to mention my food processor, but just because it makes chopping veggies so much quicker.
3. Weekend & Special Occasions
This is the time to break out those old favorites. We are a family that loves Mexican and Asian dishes a lot. So now is the time for Bibimbap or Tacos or Korean Barbecue or Burritos. The list could go on and on. I don’t want the kids missing out on some of their favorite meals, so now is the time for them to enjoy their favorites with no guilt.
We try to keep it as vegan as possible but adding dairy or meat every once in a while will not kill them. I feel confident they will rebel less with their eating when they are older by giving them this out. Not to say that they might not splurge once in a while given the choice for themselves. But by not making these foods forbidden, they are less likely to go out searching when no longer under our roof.
Once we’ve decided on our meals for the week, it is time to make the list to go shopping. This is where it gets a little tricky.
We have very little freezer space which I like to keep available for our frozen berries and other veggies. I prefer to cook fresh as much as possible. This usually means shopping more frequently.
And this is actually good for us. Since we have no car, it means we can’t buy more than we can cart back on foot. Of course, we have chariots (or rollies, as we call them). If we know we need to buy more than usual, we bring along two. But in most instances, one rollie is enough.
So having to buy fruits and vegetables a couple of times per week is necessary both for the freshness aspect and for the ability to get it home.
Generally, we buy those items that have a longer shelf life on Saturdays, in preparation for the week. Then we stop mid-week at the local primeur (vendor of fruits and vegetables) that is only a few blocks away.
Now comes prepping for meals. As I mentioned above, eating only one-complex meals during the week means we have a lot less prep time. Cooking and assembly are usually quick unless we are eating squashes.
This means we don’t need to do a lot to prepare meals in advance. Another advantage, considering our lack of freezer space.
I also prefer to cook large batches so that we eat on one dish for two days. This cuts back on both dishes and, again, prep time. By creating an extra-large batch of rice for one meal, we have enough left for the next day. Meaning we only need to heat up the second-day meal, giving us time to do other things.
And since we have more time to cook on weekends, it also means that we can do all the prepping and cooking on that day for that meal. Once again, negating the need for a lot of advance work.
There are so many resources out there telling you to shop monthly or cook elaborate meals weekly to freeze them ahead of time. Or to use slow cookers or Instapots to cut back on cooking time. But all of this advice comes with the assumption that we all live similar lives or make similar food choices.
If you are like me, none of these resources help you out that much. Different choices mean we need alternative meal plans to keep up with the daily task of feeding our family. But it doesn’t lessen the need to be intentional and prepared.
God made each of us different. And with that come different needs. Luckily, we have the ability to make our meal plan fit that difference.