Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.
Whether you are racing the clock every evening juggling work and family; exhausted trying to keep up with kid’s activities; or don’t feel like cooking a big meal just for yourself; the prospect cooking diner from scratch every night can be downright unappealing.
For those of us with certain chronic illnesses — such as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue — we have “good days” and “bad days.” We have to do extra on our “good days” to compensate for the days when pain and fatigue slow us down, or even stop us altogether.
My solution? The Flexible Meal Plan
By planning the meals on a monthly basis, I am able to prepare for both kinds of days. On good days I make a double batch, or extra portions, and freeze them. On a bad day, the extra is ready to thaw and eat. Sometimes it is an entire meal, other times just having some shredded cheese and chopped veggies ready helps when my joints hurt. By tossing a little extra in the freezer, I am ready for anything. If I could get better about labeling what they are, it would be even more helpful.
It makes me feel so much better when I can still give my family a healthy meal despite my illness. It also means I can continue to save a lot of money on food by making everything from scratch, buying in bulk, chopping, shredding and seasoning everything myself. (Of course, my guys are also great about helping with these tasks when I ask them.)
The Meal Plan as Guide
I love my Meal Plan, but I see it as a guide for the month, rather than a rigid schedule. I have seen people posting about how they don’t want to plan ahead because they might not feel like eating that meal when it gets to that night. That is me too. Or they have plans on a night where there is a more involved meal preparation, so they just pick up fast food.
The way I set up my Meal Plan, there are lots of repeats of meals or ingredients that help you work around most circumstances. Simply thaw an entire meal, or use ingredients that were for a different night and switch the days.
So, last night we had homemade pizza, without me having to cook. My hands were riddled with joint pain and I knew I wasn’t up for making the Mock Chicken Parmesan Pasta I had on the schedule. Since I had made a double batch of pizzas the last time we had pizza night, my husband was able to take a couple out of the freezer, and bake them for us.
I used to keep some store-bought frozen pizza on hand for him, but the long list of disgusting ingredients bothers me. I can’t have them due to food allergies, so I would still need something to eat, and the past few times my husband tried the store-bought pizzas he didn’t enjoy them at all. (I’m pretty sure he fed half to the dog.)
Another example is a day when I get caught up in writing, and suddenly notice 2 pairs of eyes staring at me, wondering if I am going to get around to making dinner. At that point, I realize I never got the venison chili in the crock pot and no one is going to want to wait hours to eat. Since the meat is already thawed, I could switch and use it in tacos. I can make tortillas while cooking a pot of brown rice, and have a hearty meal ready in 45 minutes. (Then freeze half the rice and chopped onions for very quick Fried Rice another night). By having the basics for a bunch of meals ready to go, and ingredients that can be used in a variety of recipes, I am able to be flexible.
To make my own frozen pizzas, I prepared them according to my favorite pizza recipe — making the sauce and dough, cooking the dough once, and then sprinkling with shredded cheese and any toppings. Then, I let them cool completely before covering in foil and sealing them in a freezer bag. To reheat, simply bake at 350 degrees for around 20 minutes.
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