A few months ago, one of my blog followers asked me to create a menu plan for her and her family. I had made plans for myself before, but never for someone else. It was harder than I thought it would be, especially because menu plans have never worked for me no matter how many times I have tried. I just don’t stick to it. I don’t even know what I am going to want to eat tomorrow let alone a week from now.

One goal of a macrobiotic approach is to re-learn how to create balance and health for ourselves on a daily basis. Weekly menu plans can be helpful in the beginning as we learn what balance feels like. Over time we will regain our intuition. When this happens, we are able to wake up in the morning and intuitively know what we need to maintain our balance taking into consideration all sorts of factors including how we feel, the weather and our activity level

But, how do we do this for a family when we have kids and busy schedules? My strategy is to have a whole bunch of cooking styles memorized that are interchangeable with a wide variety of ingredients. I have basic ingredients that I always keep stocked. I always have the basic whole grains, quite a few cracked grains, noodles, a wide variety of beans, tempeh, peas and corn in the freezer and several different root vegetables, carrots, onions, cabbage and greens. I have simple, high quality seasonings, such as shoyu, miso, sea salt, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, garlic and ginger. Then, I have a pretty simple way I think about meals. The key is in being able to think ahead and to not try to do complicated meals, unless it’s a meal you have made a million times and you can pull it off quickly without having to think too much about it.

Be patient with your self, you are building a foundation and if you are just starting out, it may take some time before you have a cache of ideas in your head to draw upon.

Here is my strategy for three meals a day:

Grain at each meal
1-2 Vegetable dishes at each meal
Brown Rice
Pickled Veg

1.  Throughout the day, or before I go to bed, I think about whether I need a grain and/or bean soaked for the next day.
2.  I always make a lot of extra grains and beans. They can always be turned into soups, vegetable patties, fried grain, grain or bean salads, beans spreads, nori rolls or porridge over the next day or two.
3.  I try to not eat the same thing more than twice and I don’t eat anything over three days old; vegetables no more than two days old unless it’s a raw or pressed salad or pickles. Food loses it’s chi quickly once it’s cooked.
4.  I don’t think in complete meals, I think in terms of what can be mixed and matched. On this same line, I don’t do many one-pot meals because it’s hard to turn it into something else the next day.
5.  I haven’t been making my own pickles, even though they are super easy. We have a wide variety of good quality, artisan pickles in Seattle, made out of all sorts of vegetables. One of my favorites is a carrot ginger one by Firefly Kitchens. 1-2 Tbsp per day. Rinse if it’s too salty.
6.  Know how to prepare the basic quick grains, like polenta, millet, bulghur and quinoa. These grains don’t need to be soaked, although I would pan-toast the quinoa and millet. Also, keep whole grain or corn tortillas on hand at all times.
7.  I keep my meal ideas in my head, but if it makes it easier, keep a list of your basic easy dishes on the inside cupboard in your kitchen.
8.  I am always thinking ahead. So, if I am making breakfast and it takes a few minutes to get started on lunch vegetables while waiting for the porridge to cook, I do it. Or I will cut vegetables for nishime and have it all ready in the pot for when it’s time to cook dinner.
9.  Snacks are leftovers, a handful of nuts, mochi, a small green smoothie, amasake or carrot juice. Find more about snacks for children here.

I would love to hear your comments. What style of planning meals works for you? Where do you have challenges?