Read our article Low Carb Menu Planning 101: The Basics.
Cooking at home is healthier and more satisfying than ordering take-out or eating at a restaurant. The time needed to cook at home need not take more time than a frantic unplanned drive to the grocery store or waiting for pizza to be delivered. It just takes a little pre-planning. It's also easier than you think on your low carb lifestyle.
One of my earliest memories is my mother planning menus. She’d sit down with the sales circulars from the nearby groceries and see what was on sale, chiefly checking to see what meats were cheap. Sometimes this meant we got something great like her Swedish meatballs, chicken teriyaki, or even steaks. Sometimes it meant we were stuck eating fish balls, or An Experiment Whose Name Must Not Be Mentioned.
Oh, all right. It was Chuckwagon Casserole, and my dad says the “chuck” part meant “heave it as far as possible from the back door.” Not even the dog would eat it. Seriously.
So when I got out on my own and had a little money, I was determined to never have to eat things like that again. I’d eat what I felt like eating, just because I could.
That worked for years. Then I had kids. Suddenly, I had more mouths to feed, and since I was staying home with them, less money for groceries. It took doofus me a while to realize I needed to plan. I think it was the day that I wandered around the grocery trying to figure out what I could pick up at the last minute to feed everyone and it hit me over the head like a skillet. My son was 4 and eating more than his dad. I knewI was going to need two boxes of frozen lasagna, a pack of garlic bread, and a large salad to satisfy all of us. Dinner was going to cost at least $20 — and this was over 10 years ago. I simply didn’t have that kind of money every night. And I was so exhausted I couldn’t figure out a ready-made dinner that would cost less.
I needed to plan
Fortunately, I remembered how I’d seen my mom doing it. I stumbled a bit at first until I got into the swing of things, but eventually, I refined it. Here, therefore, are my steps to meal planning.
Low-Carb Menu Planning: First, determine priorities
Is it most important to save money or save time? Or do you want to eat restaurant-quality meals at home for as little money as possible? You will use this information to determine your next step.If budget is your priority, determine the maximum amount per pound you will spend on the biggest-ticket item on your menus. You may decide you don’t want to spend any more than $2.99/lb. Currently, you can get hamburgers and boneless, skinless chicken thighs for that, but you’ll need to watch sales circulars if you want steaks or fish for that price. Or you may want to invest in a side of beef in order to get a variety of cuts. (Editor’s Note: Boneless meat is usually more expensive, but offers more servings per pound. Bone-in meat is cheaper, but offers fewer servings — but the bonus of bones for making soup for another meal.)
Next, decide how much variety you want
Consider the style of food–you may be a very traditional eater who is fine with things like meatloaf and Salisbury steak, or you may be someone who likes to mix in Thai curry or Saudi Kabseh frequently. Think, too, of protein source, and type of dish — skillet supper versus simple grilled meat versus casserole. You will get tired of both fish and soup if you plan on different varieties of fish soup every night. My own plan is to have chicken/fowl, beef, fish and pork each week, repeating the meats that are cheapest that week.
With these thoughts in mind, sit down with your cookbooks/favorite recipe site and take note of favorite dishes. Some websites, like Better Homes and Gardens, Betty Crocker, and Bon Appetit, have extensive collections of recipes and email lists. Check out the food blogs and get on the mailing lists of the ones you like. Most of these services will send out a daily or weekly email with new recipes. I tend to save the week’s emails and then read them all at once when I’m looking for new meal ideas.
Then on a calendar or day-planning program, write down the names of the main dishes you want to make that week. If you find you’ve gotten monotonous with beef or Italian every night, you may want to pick a few to save for future weeks. Cross out any days you won’t be eating at home for whatever reason, like one of your kid’s away games or an office party.
Now look at the main courses you have planned
Do you need sides? For some meals, like a stir-fry, you probably don’t. For others, like roast chicken, you do. Consider in-season produce for side dishes, it’s often on sale. Another tip from my mom: no one likes an all-brown meal, so if you have roast chicken, add green beans or a salad along with the mashed cauliflower and gravy. This will give it some added color and vitamins.
Another trick: Plan to reuse leftovers. If you make a pork roast on Sunday, turn the leftovers into pulled pork barbecue later in the week, and use the leftover mashed cauliflower to top a Shepherds Pie for yet another meal.
Next, the hardest part of Low-Carb Menu PlanningMake your planning pay off by only making one trip to the grocery store. Assemble the recipes, and write down each ingredient, but only once. If you are using cheddar cheese both in the broccoli soup on Tuesday and in Friday’s casserole, then write it down and put “Tues” down the first time, and then “Fri” down when it comes up as you’re writing down Friday’s ingredients. Writing down the quantities helps, too, so you don’t end up buying two pounds of cheese if you only needed a cup.
Then put your recipes where you can easily get to them through the week. And before you go shopping, go through your fridge and cabinets and cross anything you already have off of the ingredient list. This will prevent you from owning that one can of 7-year-old beans at the back of the cabinet. My kids also like it when I post the menu on the door of the fridge, so they can see what they’ll be eating that week. It is also helpful to make notes to yourself about anything that needs to be thawed, or nights where you maybe have a very simple dish planned and could double-task by making something for a later, more complicated night. If you want to have a cheesecake for the Friday dinner, maybe you can make it on Wednesday, while you’re turning the leftover pot roast into Shepherd’s Pie.
This type of planning makes supper super easy!
More CarbSmart Low-Carb Cooking Articles and Recipes.
CarbSmart's Low Carb Cooking 101 presents meal plans complete with a menu, shopping list, a game plan & recipes. The meals will not be too time-consuming or complicated, and the recipes will be ones that inexperienced cooks can make successfully. The menus are designed to help you expand your low carb cooking repertoire, gain some confidence in your low carb cooking and menu planning, and start you on the road to creating your own low carb recipes.