Tag Archives: meal planning

9 Easy Weekly Meal Plan Ideas That Really Work

Between busy schedules and a family full of picky eaters,  the dinner struggle is real. Finding inspiration for quick, budget-friendly and (at least somewhat) healthy meals can challenge the best of home cooks, never mind those whose plates are already heaped pile-high.

That’s where meal planning becomes a lifesaver—if you can take the time to actually do it. If you don’t have the means to sit down weekly and plot out your favourite fare, we’ve got your back with this simple guide that will help you plan your meals and grocery list, too. These meal ideas and recipes (one for every night of the week, plus two bonus ideas to swap in and out) makes preparing a weekly meal plan  or menu easy while helping you to create dishes that are anything but routine.

How to Start Meal Planning? Try These No-Fail Meal Planning Ideas!

 

easy-pasta-pumpkin-sausageGet the recipe for Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

1. Start with Pasta

Pasta is an affordable universal favourite, so why not make it a weekly thing? Having a designated pasta night is genius because you can essentially pair any kind of pasta with whichever sauce, protein and veggie you feel like, and then you can do something completely different the following week.

Looking for some inspiration other than another plate of spaghetti and meatballs? Try these recipes instead:

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage

15-Minute Three-Cheese Spring Pasta with Peas

Sweet Potato and Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Garlic Scapes and Grilled Shrimp 

Anna Olson’s Beef Stroganoff

Ina Garten’s Bow Tie Pasta with Broccoli and Peas

korean-steakGet the recipe for Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

2. You Can’t go Wrong with Protein and Veg 

A  barbecued, baked or even pan-fried cut of meat or fish always pairs well with some steamed or baked veggies. Switch up your marinades and cooking methods for even more variety, and then throw in some rice, lentils or potatoes for a complete meal.

Want some new ideas? Check out these simple-to-prepare recipes:

Giada De Laurentiis’ Ginger-Soy Chicken Wings

No-Mess Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas

Pork Tenderloin with Chipotle-Maple Mop

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Bobby Flay’s Korean-Style Marinated Skirt Steak

Baked Fish Packets

Anna Olson’s Horseradish Grill-Roasted Salmon

chourico-kale-soupGet the recipe for Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

3. Soup and Salads are Your Friends

There are so many hearty salads and filling soups out there these days that it’s easy to make either one a meal in itself. If the weather is nice, plan on eating an elevated salad one night of the week with some fancy ingredients to make it interesting. Or, for those weeks when you need something a little more comforting, plan on having a hot soup and some crusty baguette to go with it.

Get started with these recipes:

Immune-Boosting Bone Broth, Chicken and Vegetable Soup

The Pioneer Woman’s Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

Portuguese Chourico and Kale Soup

Asian Noodle Salad with Sweet Ginger Dressing

Marinated Artichoke Salad with Prosciutto and Parmesan

Grilled Turkey, Brie and Pecan Salad

Instapot-Pulled-Pork-recipeGet the recipe for Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

4. Make Use of Your Slow Cooker or Instapot

Who doesn’t love a meal that you can throw together and then forget about until it’s ready? That’s the beauty of slow-cookers and Instapots—they do all of the heavy lifting for you. Figure out which night of the week will be your busiest, and then plan to use either tool to help pull dinner together in a breeze.

Need a new Crockpot or pressure cooker recipe? Check out any of these delicious dishes:

Instant Pot Barbecue Pulled Pork Sandwich

Instant Pot Chicken Adobo

Alton Brown’s Pressure Cooker Chili

Slow-Cooker Enchiladas Two Ways

Slow Cooker Swedish Meatballs

Slow Cooker Shrimp Boil

Spicy-Shrimp-Fried-RiceGet the recipe for Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

5. Stock up on Easy-to-Assemble Ingredients

Having a well-stocked pantry is always key when it comes to throwing together last-minute dinners, or figuring out how to use up fresh ingredients that have been sitting in your fridge for a few extra days. Make sure to keep things like canned tuna, crab or chicken on hand, as well as lots of stock, tomato sauce and a few protein-filled grains and legumes.

Check out these simple ideas to elevate your basic pantry staples:

Crispy Tuna-Cake Sliders with Citrus Slaw

Stuffed Mozza Peppers

Classic Crab Cakes with Pea Puree

One-Pot Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Farmer’s Market Quinoa Salad

Spicy Shrimp and Pineapple Fried Rice

giadas-Lasagna-Rolls Get the recipe for Giada de Laurentiis’ Lasagna Rolls

6. Find Your Freezer Meals

Remember those freezer meals you made a few months ago that have been sitting in your freezer just waiting to be eaten ever since? Well, make use of them already, especially if you know you have an evening coming up where preparing dinner is just going to be another thing to worry about. And if you haven’t gotten on the freezer meal train just yet, you may want to think about starting. Whether it’s doubling up on your next pasta sauce or cobbling together a second lasagna or tray of enchiladas, there are plenty of freezer meals that you can make ahead of time to enjoy on those hectic nights when cooking is the last thing you want to be doing.

Turkey-Burger-Patty-Melts-recipeGet the recipe for Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts

7. Have an Eat-With-Your-Hands Night

Whether it’s a burger, pizza or taco, it’s always fun to eat with your hands. That’s probably why these are the same fast-food items we tend to usually order throughout the week. If you want to save money, use better ingredients and still have a meal in a matter of minutes for a well-deserved Eat-With-Your-Hands night!

From pizza and tacos to sloppy joes and charcuterie boards, there are plenty of hands-on dishes to choose from here:

Bobby Flay’s Shredded Chicken and Tomatillo Tacos

Southwestern Sloppy Joes

Ina Garten’s Cheese and Bread Platter

Guy Fieri’s Turkey Burger Patty Melts

cauliflower-pot-pieGet the recipe for Vegan Shepherd’s Pie with Crispy Cauliflower Crust

8. Make One Night a Meatless Night

We’ve heard of Meatless Mondays, but really any night of the week is a good excuse to go meatless—especially when you incorporate foods like whole grains, quinoa and barley that fill the tummy and soul. Stir yourself up a creamy risotto, build a yummy Buddha bowl with all the things, or stuff an eggplant or squash with some whole grains and nuts. Keep it simple and hearty, and before long, you won’t even remember a time when you didn’t incorporate a meatless dish into your meal planning.

Check out these 20 easy vegan weeknight dinner recipes to get you started.

Leftover-Turkey-Chili-recipeeGet the recipe for Leftover Turkey Chili

9. Plan a Designated Leftover Night

Last but not least, it’s always a great idea to make one night an evening of no planning. That’s right, we’re talking leftovers. Once a week, throw whatever leftovers you have in the fridge on the table for everyone to enjoy, or reimagine them into a creative, brand new dish that requires very little effort.

Check out some of our favourite ways to use up leftovers here:

Leftover Steak and Potato Salad with Bold Tomato Dressing

Italian Chicken Pasta Salad

Sweet Arancini with Leftover Rice

Leftover Turkey Chili

Leftover Chili Mac and Cheese

Looking for more meal planning tips? Try these hacks that will help you plan like a pro.

The Realistic Clean Eating Meal Plan That Won’t Leave You Hungry

Happy New Year! It’s time to celebrate… but not with champagne, or sugar cookies, or elaborate cheese platters. While we don’t really believe in resolutions (because let’s face it, most set us up with unrealistic expectations) we do believe in starting the year off strong, and one of the best ways to do that is by assessing our eating habits. The good news? There’s no need to give up all those delicious dishes we crave, or do away with fun cooking techniques. Healthy eating is about consuming foods that nourish our cells to boost energy, improve focus, increase mood and support immune health (here’s to no more winter colds!) – and who doesn’t want that? Follow this realistic meal plan as a simple starting point.

What to keep in mind for every meal:

Breakfast
Morning meals should contain a healthy amount of protein and fat. This helps keep blood sugar levels stable to sustain energy throughout the day (and can aid in preventing diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer). Think: eggs and avocado, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, chia puddings and overnight oats.

Lunch
Salad and grain bowls make for the best lunches, because you can often re-purpose dinner leftovers to make them. Aim for a myriad of colour (phytonutrients provide veggies and fruit with their bright hues and health-giving benefits) and texture (like crunchy nuts and seeds paired with creamy dairy-free dressings) in every dish.

Dinner
Dinners can be more involved than lunches, but if you’re short on time, prep ahead: chop veggies the night before, or make the recipe a few days ahead and freeze it (like these freezer-friendly recipes). Another tip: try to finish eating about three hours before bedtime so your body is able to fully digest the food before you hit the sheets.

Healthy Meal Plan: Day 1

Breakfast: Super Simple Morning Egg Sauté

Serving: 1-2
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil, butter or avocado oil
1 cup kale or spinach, roughly chopped
½ zucchini, sliced into half discs
¼ tsp sea salt
Pinch of pepper
2 eggs
1 heaping Tbsp creamy tahini
¼ lemon, squeezed
¼ cup pecans, toasted
¼ avocado, sliced
Crack of pepper

Directions:
1. Heat a wide saucepan over medium, add the oil, and when it gets slippery and starts sliding freely around the pan, add the kale and zucchini. Season with salt and pepper. Toss around until veggies begin wilting.

2. Push the veggies to the side. If you feel the pan needs a bit more oil, splash a small glug in and crack the eggs in the empty space. Season with salt and pepper. After about 2-3 minutes, flip the eggs.

3. Grab a bowl and put the veggies on the bottom, place the runny eggs over the veg, then drizzle with tahini and lemon. Top with toasted pecans, avocado and pepper. Voila!

Lunch: Asian Noodle Salad with Ginger Dressing

A medley of veggies that are probably already in your fridge with a sweet and tangy immune-boosting dressing. Get the recipe.

Dinner: Lentil and Cauliflower Shepherd’s Pie

cauliflower-pot-pie

A vegan, veggie-packed warming dinner with loads of fibre to keep you full and feed the good bacteria in the gut. Get the recipe.

Healthy Meal Plan: Day 2

Breakfast: Morning Chia Pudding

The mighty chia seed delivers omega 3’s, fibre, protein and calcium to boost your energy levels. Trust us when we say it’s one of the best ways to start the day. Get the recipe.

Lunch: Clean Bean and Green Stew

Servings: 3-4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 sweet potato, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 carrots, sliced into ½ inch circles
2 celery stalks, sliced
½ dried green or brown lentils
1 cup chickpeas (from can or previously cooked)
2 ½ cups veggie broth
1 cup kale or swiss chard, roughly chopped
Small handful of parsley or cilantro, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Directions:
1. Place a large pot on the stove, turn to medium heat, add the oil. Swirl the oil around the pan, then drop in the onions. Allow to cook for 3-5 minutes until translucent and slightly browned.

2. Add the garlic. Toss for about 1 minute, then add the remainder of veggies and season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

3. Let the veggies cook for 5-8 minutes until they begin to soften, then toss in the lentils and chickpeas, season with a pinch of salt and pepper again and mix so everything gets combined.

4. Pour in the veggie broth, season one more time, bring to a boil and simmer for 20-25 minutes.

5. Once simmer time is over, add in the kale so it brightens and gets slightly cooked. You can also make a big batch of this stew in advance, because it freezes super well.

Dinner: Sesame-Crusted Salmon with Asian Greens and Tamari Dressing

Salmon is rich in healthy fats (i.e. omega 3’s), and when paired with calcium-rich sesame seeds, fibre-rich brown rice and phytonutrient-rich bok choy, you’re eating a meal that will nourish, replenish and detoxify. Get the recipe.

Healthy Meal Plan: Day 3

Breakfast: Veggie-Packed Breakfast Frittata

Eggs and veggies in the morning are the perfect combo for delivering nutrients and keeping blood sugar stable. Get the recipe.

Lunch: Healthy Buddha Bowl

Vibrant veggies topped with a gut-loving fermented miso sauce that’s also rich in good fats and calcium. Get the recipe.

Dinner: Easy Tamari Chicken and Broccoli Stir-Fry

Servings: 2-3
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:
1 ½ pounds chicken thighs, sliced into pieces
3 tsp tamari
2 crowns broccoli, sliced into florets
1 Tbsp avocado or coconut oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ginger, minced
2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar or rice vinegar
2 Tbsp sesame oil
3 Tbsp tamari
1 Tbsp maple syrup

Optional Toppings:
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2-3 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 green onions, thinly sliced

Directions:
1. Slice the chicken into pieces, place in a bowl and pour tamari over top.

2. Place broccoli florets in a large pot with hot water. Steam them until they turn bright green and are still a bit crunchy in texture. Drain and set to the side.

3. Heat avocado or coconut oil over medium in a large pot or saucepan, then add the chicken. Stop yourself from constantly tossing the chicken around. You want it to cook on one side for 3-5 minutes, then flip and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Don’t worry if some pieces are not fully cooked through yet.

4. Take the chicken out of the pan, set to the side and add the onion, garlic and ginger all at once. Let them sauté for about 3 minutes, then add the chicken and broccoli back in.

5. Pour the liquids (i.e. vinegar, tamari, etc.) in a bowl, give a quick stir to mix, then pour into the pot. You could pour them individually into the pot but, we like the idea of them being fully combined first.

6. Toss everything around to coat in the delicious juicy liquids, then simmer until the juices begin to thicken and disappear, about 10-12 minutes.

7. You can serve with brown rice, brown rice noodles or as is. Whatever you decide, top with fresh cilantro, sesame seeds and green onions.

Looking for more inspiration to start the year off with a healthy bang? Here’s how a nutritionist meal prep every Sunday, plus 15 bad eating habits experts say to ditch this year and 10 things healthy people eat for breakfast.

How I Cooked for My Family of 4 for a Week on Less Than $100

Let’s be real — if you buy in bulk and stick to a budget, it shouldn’t be hard to feed a family of four for a week, right? Right. Except that’s without considering any of the things life throws at you. I’m talking about picky toddlers, a packed schedule, and those nights where the last thing you want to do is putter around in the kitchen soaking your own beans, despite your inherent love for culinary adventures. Or is that just me?

Regardless, as a working mom with a husband who travels and two toddlers that would be content eating nothing but bread and cheese for the rest of their days, I decided to purge the fridge and cupboards to start fresh for a week. The goal? Feeding the entire family three nutritious meals a day (plus snacks) without breaking the bank. Here’s how it went.

The Overall Plan

Full disclosure: I love grocery shopping. There’s something calming about walking up and down the aisles and planning what I’m going to create next. Unfortunately, when you’re cooking on a budget, that doesn’t necessarily translate.

Instead, I used a grocery app to determine the best deals of the week, and then created a meal plan based on what was on sale. I started with dinners, because that’s where the bulk of my budget was going (we like leftovers, y’all), and then I went to a store that price-matched. We eat meat in our house, so I wanted to include some animal protein, but we also try to include healthy plant-based dinners at least two-to-three nights a week.

The other thing I had to consider was stocking up on staples. I was in good shape for things like olive oil and nutritional yeast (more on that below) but I needed some basics like flour, rice and quinoa. In the end, I thought it was going to take hours gouging my eyes out with an excel sheet, but it was actually pretty painless. I’d say 30 minutes of planning, tops.

Cost Savings Vs. Convenience

When I’m feeling rich, I’ll buy pre-washed, boxed spinach or mixed greens, because I absolutely hate running salad greens one by one under the faucet and then drying them. Not hate, loathe. I loathe it. But I’m obsessed with doing it properly, because let’s just say I’ve had plenty of experience accidentally ingesting “extra protein” in the past. For this experiment, however, I got four times as much fresh spinach and lettuce for less than a box would have cost me. So I was okay with it.

Then there are the beans. Usually I’ll buy dried beans for less and stock the pantry, but because I wanted to prep once for the entire week, I didn’t want to pressure cook beans and then have them sit there for seven days. It was a lot easier (and not that much more expensive) to buy the canned stuff, so I splurged a bit in that department.

The Grocery List

You probably want to get to the goods, right? Without further ado, here’s everything I bought to stock up the fridge and pantry.

Produce

● Broccoli, $1.27
● Cauliflower, $1.99
● Bagged carrots, $1.49
● Bagged onions, $1.49
● Grape tomatoes, $2
● Bagged beets, $1.97
● 2 bunches spinach, $4
● 2 bunches red leaf lettuce, $3
● Garlic, $1.49
● 2 cucumbers, $4
● 6 bananas, $1.63
● Bag of apples, $4
● Strawberries, $2.5
● Bagged peppers, $2.98
● Bagged mandarins, $2.97
● Celery, $3
● Frozen peas, $0.99

Meat, Dairy & Deli

● Fresh olives, $5.12
● Bagged milk, $3.97
● Brick marble cheese, $3.97
● 18 eggs, $2.99
● Ground turkey, $2
● 2 fresh, whole chickens, $13.62

Pantry & Bakery

● Brown rice, $1.27
● Pasta (my daughter picked “little shells”), $0.88
● Yeast packets, $1.97
● Peanut butter, $3.77
● Flour, $3.99
● Quinoa, $3.47
● 2 cans salt-free chickpeas, $1.58
● 2 cans salt-free black beans, $1.58
● 2 cans diced tomatoes, $1.96
● Tomato paste, $0.59

Total: $93.50

 

Meal Prepping

If you love devoting an entire Sunday afternoon to meal-prepping, raise your hand. What, no one? I’m shocked. While meal-prepping often feels daunting, I’ve discovered several ways to make it less painful over the years. Sometimes I’ll get my kids to help out and we make it a family affair. Other times, I consider it “me time” and I’ll put on a TV show or listen to a podcast. The bottom line is that I consider it a necessary evil if I want to save time during the week and still eat healthy, so I try to find a positive spin.

For this particular menu, my meal-prepping included:

● Hard-boiling eight eggs
● Washing and drying lots of lettuce and spinach
● Cooking a batch of quinoa
● Roasting beets (to add to salads)
● “Ricing” cauliflower in a food processor
● Peeling and cutting carrots
● Washing and cutting celery
● Making a giant vat of homemade tomato sauce
● Roasting both chickens, cooling them and removing the meat
● Making stock from chicken bones (once this was simmering, it pretty much made itself over the course of the night).

Was this work? Very much so. But it saved me so much time during the week on lunch and dinner, as you’ll see below. I should also note that I added nutritional yeast (instead of Parmesan, which I didn’t buy) to the tomato sauce for an extra hit of cheesy, vegan fibre and protein. I also threw in an entire pepper and a few handfuls of spinach, before blending it up with my immersion blender so my kids would never know. I then froze half the sauce, which means sometime in the near future, I’ll have instant tomato sauce for pasta, lazy cabbage rolls or even pizza.

The Meal Planned Menu

Breakfast: I wanted to leave breakfasts fairly neutral, since my kids and husband are perfectly content with toast and fruit, or eggs. On busier mornings, we’ll whip up peanut butter banana smoothies (with spinach thrown in there), which my kids can drink in the car. I also bought English muffins so that we could make egg-and-cheese breakfast sandwiches on Saturday morning before we all ran out the door to dance class, and I planned for our lazier, traditional Sunday morning pancake breakfast, too.


Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes

Lunches: I figured a combination of leftovers, salads and sandwiches would do. The kids love peanut butter and jam sandwiches or a plate of cut up veggies, cheese and fruit, while my husband and I are happy to concoct a variety of salads with different proteins in them, like beans, a scoop of quinoa or hard-boiled eggs. Because I found chicken on sale, I also factored in leftover chicken to make a multitude of dishes.

Snacks: We’re trying to get away from sugar-laden and expensive pre-bought snacks, so that’s why I stocked up on apples, mandarins, carrots, celery, tomatoes and cucumber. I thought about making hummus with one of the cans of chickpeas (I have some tahini still in my cupboard), but ultimately passed because sometimes it’s so much easier to pair produce with a pre-bought healthy dip, peanut butter or even cheese. At least it is with my kids.

And that brings us to…

Dinners

Sunday: Roasted Chicken and Broccoli with Rice

Because I was already roasting the chicken, I figured it would make for a good Sunday night family dinner. I paired that with steamed broccoli in the microwave, which my kids either love or hate depending on the day. This particular night, the dog seemed to eat more of it than the kids thanks to their scheming, but that’s why I feed the dog last. I also cooked a big batch of brown rice (factoring in leftovers), and both kids devoured that.

Monday: Cauliflower Fried Rice

We’re typically out the door by 5:30pm on Monday nights to make the kids’ activities, so I needed something simple. Enter cauliflower fried rice! While the “healthy” me would prefer to just have cauliflower, that’s not possible with kids. Instead, I masked the cauliflower rice by adding in actual leftover rice from the night before. I stir-fried it with onions, garlic, egg, soy sauce and mushroom oyster sauce, which I bought about six months ago at an Asian food store for a couple of bucks. I also added frozen peas, but I wish I hadn’t, because both kids basically threw them at each other. Everything else was eaten, so I’ll take that win.

Tuesday: Pasta with Ground Turkey

This quick dinner was super simple thanks to the pre-made sauce, and I could have made it vegetarian, except I found that amazing $2 deal on ground turkey. So I cooked that up quickly on the stove as the pasta boiled, and then threw it all together for a veggie-filled dinner that my kids devoured. Yes, I did a devious happy dance, and maybe even high-fived my husband as we did the dishes afterwards.

Wednesday: Grainy Salad

 My daughter is a weirdo like me and she loves cold beans. My son hates beans, but likes the texture of quinoa, which my daughter doesn’t. So I succumbed to motherhood heck and gave her beans on the green plate and him quinoa on the blue plate, with some cut up peppers, cucumbers, cheese cubes and tomatoes. My husband and I essentially ate an adult version of this (quinoa with roasted beets, cucumbers and peppers) mixed together and dressed with a concoction of olive oil, garlic and balsamic vinegar. It would have been even better with feta cheese, but it was still pretty hearty and satisfying. And, thanks to the pre-made quinoa, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to whip up.

Thursday: Chicken Noodle Soup

Once again, my meal-prepping proved to be an amazing decision because I was able to throw chicken stock, carrots, celery, leftover chicken and leftover pasta shells into a pot, heat it up and dole it out into bowls. It was rich, low in sodium and perfect for that day’s colder weather, and there was only one bowl leftover at the end of the night. Oh, and for those keeping track, my daughter ate the carrots, my son ate the chicken, they both ate the pasta and then they asked me for some cheese.

Friday: Pizza Night

Does anyone ever want to cook on a Friday night? There’s no better way to usher in the weekend than with pizza, which is why we tend to order them at least every other week. The thing is though, making homemade dough is super easy. I also happen to have pizza stones, which I find give the crust a nice crispiness. So I planned ahead to whip up the crust after work, then I used the leftover secret-veggie tomato sauce as a base and added olives as a topping, which both my kids freakishly love. There wasn’t a single slice left, and I wasn’t out 20 bucks with the delivery person. Win, win.


Get the recipe for Roger Mooking’s Buffalo Mozzarella and Tomato Pizza

Saturday: Leftovers

The best part about “cooking” all week was that I had ample food leftover for customized dinners on Saturday night. My husband wanted the soup, while the kids clamoured for pasta. Meanwhile, I was craving a lighter salad after the pizza the night before, which I was able to quickly cobble together with the remaining veggies and hard-boiled eggs in the fridge.

The Results:

This entire experiment definitely required planning and a whole whack of prepping, but in the end, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The kids ended up eating fairly well, and we didn’t turn to takeout pizza or chicken nuggets once, which is a serious feat for our household.

Would I do this every week? No, but I’m definitely going to try and keep up when I can, because on those lazier weekends where we’re not running around trying to fit everything in, getting a jump on feeding the family turns out to be an amazing time- and money-saver… with only a small number of peas and broccoli on the floor.

Looking for more meal planning inspiration? Here’s how a nutritionist meal preps every Sunday, plus 20 healthy meal prep ideas to get you through the week.

French-Toast-Bake

How to Master Cottage Meal Planning Like a Pro

When it comes to the dog days of summer, all we want is a little R&R at the cottage. And, of course, we want to eat well while we’re there, but who has time to slave over a hot stove when that gorgeous lakeside dock and campfire are calling? Take the hassle out of hustling to the cabin with these easy ideas for cottage meal planning that will have you relaxing and enjoying delicious dishes, from morning to night, in no time at all.

Map Out Your Staples

Some people are all about breakfasts and brunch, while others like to nibble in the morning and then enjoy a heartier lunch. Figure out your group’s style of eating and plan around that. Maybe it’s easier to let everyone fend for themselves with some toast or cereal at breakfast, and then throw some burgers on the grill at lunch. Or if your group is a big mid-morning brunch type, plan some easy but delicious brunches that don’t require a lot of heavy lifting, like this Italian Sausage and Egg Bake, or this Blueberries and Cream French Toast Bake that only takes 10 minutes to assemble and you can do it the night before.

Figure Out Your Star Recipes

Once you’ve got your staples out of the way, then it’s time to focus on a few cottage-worthy recipes that make you salivate. Not every meal has to be a big affair, but if you can find a couple of star courses to spatter into your overall menu, you’ll definitely feel like you’re eating like royalty. Just don’t confuse slaving over a hot stove with a great meal; when looking for your star recipes, go with elevated classics that are simple to prepare, like Giada’s herb-infused Pasta Primavera, or opt for a drool-worthy, no-cook salad like the Ina Garten’s Arugula with Prosciutto and Burrata salad.

Make Friends with Make-Ahead Meals

After a breezy morning on the lake or a lazy afternoon spent dockside, what’s better than heading inside and pulling out a meal that’s already prepared? Try to plan for a few of these delicious timesaver options, especially for a quick lunch or snack. Whip up some of this one-pot Broccoli with Bow Ties and Peas or Giada’s Orzo Salad to keep in the fridge for when your hunger strikes. For dessert, it doesn’t get much cozier than this Make-Ahead Apple Crisp

Use Up Freezer Meals

We’re always looking for easy weeknight dinners at home, which means we like to prep lots of delicious freezer meals in advance. If that sounds like you, why not just bring one or two of those freezer meals up with you to the cottage? If you have a short drive, you can just pop them in the freezer when you get there, or if it’s a long haul the meal could make an easy opening-night entrée to enjoy after you’re done unpacking. No freezer meals on hand? Consider making some in advance – that way, your freezer will be stocked for when you get home too, making this one a double win!

Bring Your Slow Cooker or Instant Pot

At home, you love programming your Instant Pot or slow cooker so that you just throw a bunch of ingredients together in the morning, and then by dinner you have an awesome meal. So, what’s to stop you from doing that at the cottage? There are myriad ideas for great cottage-friendly slow cooker recipes, recipes that will have you eating well with very little actual cooking at all.

Befriend the BBQ

Who wants to spend time at the stove when you can hang out by the grill with a cold drink in your hand and good company? Barbecued meals are the essence of cottage living! Burgers and sausages are always easy options, but there’s a whole world of grilling recipes out there that take your meal to the next level, most of which are quick to whip up.

Stick to the Basics

If you’re a foodie, odds are you love tinkering around in the kitchen. But, you probably also stress over creating the perfect dish. Some of the best dishes around feature simple ingredients with bold flavours, which is the perfect mandate for cottage living. If it sounds like an easy weeknight dinner you’d try at home, odds are it’s perfect cottage fare too. For something elegant yet simple, this Garlicky Grilled Chicken, Portobello and Radicchio Salad from Tyler Florence boasts that leftovers make great sandwiches for lunch tomorrow, too.

Stock Up on Snacks

One of our favourite things about the cottage is sitting back and enjoying tons of food! That means snacks, snacks and more snacks. And while we love reaching for a bag of chips or digging into an array of pre-cut veggies, don’t underestimate the power of a delicious but simple dip. This Honey Yogurt Dip is always a winner. Or, if you want something with a little more oomph, try Michael Smith’s Avocado Corn Guacamole. Feeling something a little sweeter? Whip up some Power Squares or some (healthy!) No-Bake Chocolate Crunch Brownies if you need a boost before climbing in the canoe, or stir up this addictive, easy, Canadiana-inspired Saltine Cracker Toffee with a Butter Tart Twist.

watermelon-strawberry-sangria

Don’t Forget the Drinks

If you’re eating well, you might as well be drinking well. When it comes to staples, you’re going to want to bring water, wine, beer and juice. But why not add some cottage-inspired beverages for a treat? We’re fans of Bobby Flay’s Watermelon-Strawberry Sangria and this thirst-quenching pitcher of Spiced Maple Iced Tea.

Make a Grocery List

Once you’ve decided on all of the great food you’re going to nosh on during your cottage week or weekend away, then it’s time to put together a grocery list. No one wants to have to make a trip to town when you run out of an ingredient, especially not when there’s a beautiful lake waiting for you.

Co-ordinate Meal Planning with Guests

Want to make meal planning even simpler? Get everyone involved. If you’re heading to the cottage with friends or other families, split up that grocery list or have certain people in charge of different meals – just make sure someone is on duty to make these Peanut S’mores Magic Bars. Sharing is caring, especially when it comes to everyone enjoying some time away together with good views and good food.

So what are you waiting for? Get planning already! Here are 40 cottage-friendly make-ahead dishes to get you going. 

Roger Mooking’s Top Tips for Feeding a Family

Roger Mooking knows a thing or two about family meal planning . When he’s not judging Chopped Canada or developing creative dishes for Twist By Roger Mooking, a new restaurant at Toronto Pearson Airport, he’s a busy father to four girls. That’s right, four girls under the age of 10! That means getting all four kids to try new flavours at mealtime — not an easy feat.

We connected with the family man who shared his tips on grocery shopping, getting kids excited about food and introducing new flavours.

Roger-Mooking

On Having a Plan
“We shop once a week, usually early Saturday mornings when the grocery store is empty but well stocked for a busy day. It’s the best time to go if you can get up early on a Saturday — folks with kids are used to getting up early for the most part! Then we spot shop as needed during the week.”

On Introducing New Foods
“We always buy a new item every week that we’ve never tried before. It might be a type of cheese, a kind of cracker, a new brand of yogurt, a different pasta or noodle — anything. It’s about introducing new flavours to the kids; sometimes it’s successful sometimes it’s not.”

On Getting Kids Involved
“I always encourage the kids to go grocery shopping with me. Sometimes we all go (including my wife Leslie), sometimes it’s just one or two kids, and sometimes it’s just me. But when the kids are involved, they usually ask to buy something that piques their curiosity. I like to include them in the cooking process, too. Cooking is one of the most important life skills we can teach them”

On Saving On the Grocery Bill
“I like to peruse the specials displays to see if there is any good value there. Often you can find specials on great quality products that just might have a shorter shelf life. The grocery stores tend to mark down those items to get them off the shelves quickly before they spoil.”

On Buying Quality Food
“We tend to buy for quality over price. Quality and value can co exist though! I usually buy what looks the freshest and build meals around that.”

Looking for family-friendly recipes? Check out our Cooking for Kids guide. And tune-in on Saturdays at 9 E/P to catch Roger Mooking on Chopped Canada.

This interview has been edited and condensed.