Learning to manage meals

I'm looking for a resource that can help learn to reliably cook healthy meals for my family of 3 including an older toddler. I'm reasonable at following a recipe, even complicated recipes, but struggle to manage inventory and select dishes. I find my pantry routinely overstocked with stuff I don't actually use and I have limited sense of what I do use, that feeling of "there's nothing to eat" when there's a full cabinet. I would love to surrender to some kind of program til I get the hang of it or if there's a better way to learn I'm open to that too. Prefer something that emphasizes simplicity, variety (I prefer this unfortunately), and fresh food. We have no dietary restrictions except avoiding pork and I don't like beans except lentils.

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RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I haven’t used this, but have heard good things and it’s put together by a registered dietitian. 
 

https://kidseatincolor.com/real-easy-weekdays/

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Hi - if you're on Instagram you should follow @kidseatincolor (Jennifer Anderson). I recommend the meal plan: https://kidseatincolor.com/real-easy-weekdays/ This plan includes three meals and two snacks for 12 days.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Similarly situated parent of older toddler here and I'm a big fan of an app called Mealime. There's a free and pay version. You can set constraints (like vegetarian) and number of servings, it generates a shopping list for the week sorted by section, and the pro plan had a way to minimize food waste in menu selection. Menus can be a little involved but no special skills required.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Right there with you! The mental burden of planning, prepping, pleasing is no joke. 

For meal ideas and planning, try downloading the app Mealime -- you select some recipes and it turns them into a grocery list. (Some recipes are behind a paywall, but many are free, and it could be a good place to dip your toe in without investing any $$).

Any time I have that "full pantry but nothing to eat" feeling, I pick two or three random items from the fridge and cabinet and google them together (for example "orzo lemon" or "lentils canned tomatoes carrots") and see what recipes come up. It might take a few combinations, but it's always very helpful to me to get some ideas flowing. Good luck!

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I personally hate meal planning and have struggled with this myself. I purchased the meal plan guide from Kids Eat in Color and it's been a great hit with the family, including my 3 year old. She lays out a grocery list and help plans out foods you can eat throughout the week and things you can freeze and use over time. So far it's worked great in case this is a good resource for you. https://kidseatincolor.com

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Our family of three has been subscribing to HelloFresh meal kit delivery for the past year and a half.  We get supplies to make 3-5 dinner recipes per week, delivered on Mondays in a box with ice packs.  The recipes are straightforward, tasty, and healthy.  There are many choices for each week.  We laminate the recipe sheet for each dinner and save it, which allows us to go back to the recipe for the days or weeks when we don't get HelloFresh.  I highly recommend checking them out.  We also have tried Blue Apron and Plated, which were both good, but we thought the HelloFresh recipes were a little less complicated, which we liked better.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I LOVE the meal plan from Kids Eat in Color (I follow her on Instagram). It’s $20 and totally worth every penny. It’s designed to improve food exposure for picky eaters, but the recipes are easy and good. It has a 12-day rotation for recipes/snacks so you don’t get bored with the meals.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I used theFresh20 service for meal planning for almost 3 years after my son was born. They provide a weekly set of menus, recipes for everything, and associated grocery list and prep tasks. (Comes as a pdf to your email.) One of the nice things about it is that they limit the number of ingredients to 20 every week, but used in different ways for the different meals, so you're not buying a ton of ingredients that you may only use once. They have a number of dietary options, though we just did the classic omnivore one. (We also don't eat pork so I always just substituted chicken or tofu.) I like cooking, but I was finding that figuring out "what's for dinner" was really challenging--I liked not having to think about it, while also getting to try new preparations that I probably wouldn't have thought of on my own. The recipes are pretty family-friendly, usually fairly uncomplicated, and cook time was generally fast (30-40 min), which I also appreciated.

More recently, I have been branching out and doing meal-planning on my own, using the Paprika app for iphone. It lets you save recipes from online (or enter manually), assign them to different nights, and (this is my favorite feature) automatically generates a grocery list based on the recipes you've picked. There is also a pantry function to track what you have in stock, but I haven't used that part of it. 

Good luck and happy cooking!

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I can relate! At the beginning of quarantine I felt I needed something like this too. While I don't have a program to recommend exactly, I saw another parent recommend an approach that has generally worked for us and made life - and grocery shopping - simpler. We choose general meal categories that our family likes, and assign each one a day of the week. E.g. Sunday: pasta, Monday: stir fry, Tuesday: tacos, Wednesday: fish, Thursday: buddha bowl, Friday: pizza, Saturday: takeout. You can easily fall back on a simple recipe you know how to make for each meal, or look up a couple of new ones each week to add to the rotation. We don't strictly follow this schedule but even doing it for a couple of weeks (and writing it out, which was important for me) really helped me kind of categorize different meals, have a go-to list of our faves, and variations on dishes so that planning a weekly menu and shopping for it seems a lot easier now. And when you learn about a new recipe or think of something that you haven't had recently or want to try, it's easy to swap it out for something you might be getting bored of. We did Sunday ramen for months which my husband mastered but we're taking a break right now since we might have OD'd! I have also used meal kit delivery services as inspiration for something to make myself - GoodEggs has great meal kits that we've used before but I have definitely borrowed their ideas and made them myself. We have a 2yo who eats the same meals we do, sometimes with slight variations (less spice/sauce, etc). Good luck, I hope you find something that works for you! 

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I go grocery shopping once a week. The evening before I plan my meals for the week. I write them on a small notepad including which sides I'll make with which and on what day I'll make it. Then I use the list to put together my shopping list for the weekly grocery run.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Hi! I have been using Cooksmarts (cooksmarts.com) for a few years now and I love it. I think this is the best service if you're ok doing your own shopping. It is based in Menlo Park and run by a mom of 3 young kids, so there is a lot of attention to kid-friendly stuff and the recipes are very seasonal. They send out 4 recipes every week, with options for veggie/paleo/GF, and you also have access to all their archived recipes. After you decide what you want to make (from that week and any added ones from the archive) and how many portions each, it will generate a shopping list, and you can also add our own items to the shopping list. I waste a lot less food because I have a plan for each ingredient I buy. They often incorporate an ingredient you make once but is used twice in the week, such as a chimichurri or grilled chicken. Lately they have been focusing on comfort foods, but there's so much more in the archives if you're feeling more adventurous. If you're on FB, there's also a FB group of cooksmarts customers where folks share tips, photos, etc. I pay $72 for the year, but I think they have monthly plans and a free trial. I recommend it very highly!

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I'm sure you'll get many suggestions; here's mine. We use Good Eggs for grocery delivery (they have no brick-and-mortar stores; they're delivery only, and they pay their employees a living wage and health insurance). They include many, many options for "meal kits." What this means is that you can quickly click on a selection (say, "stirfry chicken with green beans" or "corn salad with blistered romano beans," two dishes I cooked this week) and Good Eggs will automatically load the majority of the necessary ingredients into your online cart, and will deliver with a small recipe card with instructions to assemble the dish. I say "the majority" of the ingredients rather than ALL ingredients, because GE assumes you have a few basics on hand (say, soy sauce for the stirfry, or vegetable oil and salt for the corn salad). You can check online in advance to confirm which basics are required, and those can be ordered from GE as well. And in the case of a meal kit such as the stirfry, you'll get not only the necessary fresh ingredients for the stirfry, but a container of cooked rice. I laughed about that at first--how hard is it to cook rice?--but it is time-saving...!

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I love Kids Eat in Color (on Instagram). The account is run by a child nutritionist, and she has a plan called Real Easy Weekdays that has snacks and meals baked in. It's healthy and kids seems to like it.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

Cook smarts has been a game changer for me! Do the free trial and see what you think. https://www.cooksmarts.com/weekly-meal-planner/pricing-features/

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I have this same problem, down to wanting a rhythm but also variety. I recently started a new system: Each day is assigned a theme. In my case it is the meat. The flexibility comes in because I can get different cuts of that meat, and prepare it in different ways. But it keeps me focuse.

RE: Learning to manage meals ()

I second the recommendation for Good Eggs meal kits  https://www.goodeggs.com/. I'm an experienced cook and I enjoy trying new recipes, but after a couple months of pandemic it became such a drag to think up something for dinner night after night. I'm the head chef, and there are 6 people in my household, ranging from a hungry teenager to my elderly mom.  I'm working at home and I don't have the time or patience to plan 7 days' worth of meals for all these people in time for my husband's weekly run to the Berkeley Bowl.   What I do now is: I order from Good Eggs every 2-3 days.  I plan meals on the fly while I'm browsing the pretty pictures on their website - what's in season, which meal kits look good, what's on my Favorites list. I only order what I know we'll eat during the next 3 days. Not only is this faster and more pleasant, but also I am no longer throwing out wilted and rotten produce at the end of the week that I never got around to using.

All the meal kits we've tried have been good or great.  They have simple instructions that even my husband who never learned how to cook can manage on his own. A typical recipe has only a handful of ingredients -- they create the sauces and spice mixtures you need in their kitchen. So it only takes 20 or 30 minutes to prepare. They have a good repertoire of meal kits and they are always adding new meals, depending on what's in season. The quality of the ingredients they give you is as good as the Bowl, and it's a heck of a lot easier.  It's also cheaper than ordering take-out, which is what we were doing after I started burning out in May-June.  Good Eggs sells beautiful produce, and also items from their own kitchen (I'm hooked on their smoked trout salad for lunch), plus they have locally-made heat&serve options like Pasta Shop ravioli & sauces, Primavera tamales, and Quiche & Carry, all delicious. Good Eggs is local too, based in Oakland and SF, and their delivery people are employees, not gig workers. I liked Good Eggs before Covid, but I really love them now.