meal planningHappy Monday! I hope you had a good weekend. I also hope you had a chance to check out my latest On Nutrition column in The Seattle Times, “How to make meal planning your road map to better eating.” It’s a topic near and dear to me, because I regularly experience both sides of it. Namely, what happens when I plan, and what happens when I don’t plan.

The Merits of Meal Planning

The weeks when I have a loose meal plan go SO much smoother than weeks when I don’t. (Ditto for weeks when I manage to get my laundry vs. those when I don’t…but that’s another topic.) While I manage to eat healthfully on the weeks when I don’t have a plan, it is harder and more stressful, and because I’m making do, my mealtime enjoyment is a little less than it could be.

I mention this because I wouldn’t want anyone to thing that I’m a paragon of perfect planning. (Remember, perfection, not progress.) I know full well that meal planning can feel like one more thing on an already long to-do list. I also know that when I put on my big girl pants and suck it up and do it, life is better. (As a bonus, I actually enjoy deciding what I would like to eat, once I’m settled down, paper and pen in hand.)

The Joy of Leftovers

Leftovers are an important feature of my meal planning. An average week is a mix of dishes that provide leftovers for at least one additional meal (dinner, lunch or both) and simple one-and-done meals like grilled fish, meat or poultry plus a big salad, or a smaller salad plus some roasted or grilled veggies. I also like to keep some leftovers in the freezer for extra-crazy weeks (or weeks when I fall off the meal-planning wagon). This is why I was so excited to hear about Ellie Kreiger’s You Have it Made: Delicious, Healthy, Do-Ahead Meals before it even came out (it came out in January).

Last fall, I had a chance to talk to Ellie about the book (we were at the same conference). I was impressed with how carefully she and her team tested not only the recipes (duh), but how to best store, thaw and reheat the leftovers. The resulting instructions are very clear to help ensure success.

One hallmark of Ellie’s recipes, whether via her cookbooks, her column in The Washington Post, or her past and present TV shows is neatly summed up in the tagline on her website: Delicious, Meet Healthy. She places an emphasis on real, minimally processed ingredients, but points out “If you are eating mostly nutrient-rich, whole foods, there is room for some butter in your mashed potatoes, some brown sugar in your oatmeal, or even a slice of rich chocolate cake once in a while.” Amen to that.

What I’ve Made from You Have it Made

I’ve enjoyed cooking from her previous books, and You Have it Made is no exception. My one regret is with the ebb-and-flow of our current kitchen remodel, I’ve had less time to truly cook (and some of that time has been spent testing my own recipes!). But while more of our meals have been of the grill + salad variety, I did make (and we did quite enjoy) her Chicken Puttanesca Pasta bake, Southwest Chicken Stew and Pumpkin Waffles. Her Go-To Gazpacho is actually on the agenda to accompany tonight’s dinner, and I look forward to having leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. My copy of the book (which I purchased myself), is marked up with more than a dozen sticky tabs designating recipes I want to make soon.

As with Ellie’s previous books, the recipes in You Have it Made are flavorful and pretty much foolproof (although as I heard J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats and The Food Lab column and book say once, “There’s no such thing as a foolproof recipe, because there’s always a bigger fool.”) There are family-friendly recipes and recipes that are “fancy ” enough for entertaining. Ingredient lists aren’t overly lengthy (some are quite short), and my eye didn’t spot any ingredients that might be difficult to find. It’s good, tasty, nourishing, healthful food that you can enjoy now and have as a backup in your freezer to save your bacon when you didn’t plan ahead for the answers to, “What’s for dinner?”

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