Learn the art of Farm to Table meal planning and how you can use it to create simple, nourishing real food meals for your family.
Why Should You Consider Farm to Table Meal Planning?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
I didn’t always use a farm-to-table meal planning method. Until recently, I ate little to no meat in my diet. I actually arrived at the point where I called myself a vegetarian. I also cut out most dairy and eggs as well. There weren’t any ethical reasons for choosing this diet. Rather, I didn’t like cooking raw meat, eating it, and thinking about where it came from. The thought that it was once a living thing just kind of grossed me out.
I came to a crossroads a couple of months ago, though. There were a few concerns nagging at me that ultimately caused me to question my food choices:
1) I wanted to cook food for my family that they would actually eat
2) I wanted to eat healthy, all-natural foods
3) I wanted meals that were easy to plan and simple to cook
Family Friendly Meals
I didn’t enjoy making dinner anymore because at least half of my family wouldn’t eat the vegetarian meals I made. There was a lot of grumbling from the teenage boys and a lot of hungry stomachs, which led to snacking in the evenings. I wanted to cook meals that made the majority of us happy. I also wanted my husband and kids to look forward to dinnertime when we could join together as a family to chat over a meal of nutritious comfort food.
Healthy, All-Natural Food
I experienced the realization that there may be a healthier way to eat than the vegetarian meals I was cooking. What if eating a basic diet of farm fresh meat, eggs, dairy, grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit is healthier than all the products manufactured to substitute these real foods? Could grass-fed beef be more nutritious than the preservative-filled boca meat meant to replace it? What if drinking local, hormone-free cow’s milk is more natural than drinking almond milk that has been processed, packaged and preserved? What if free range chicken is a healthier alternative to manufactured tofu soy protein? I began to understand that it was quite possible that eating a real foods diet that contained meat and dairy was the healthier option.
Simple Meal Planning & Prep
I was tired of all the hours I was spending on meal planning and making grocery lists. Many of the vegetarian recipes I used contained a long list of ingredients, some that were difficult to find at the grocery store. I don’t know about you, but my time is limited and when you have a long ingredient list, that translates into a long grocery shopping trip and a longer amount of time cooking dinner. What I needed was simple. I noticed the way some of my favorite bloggers approached meals and felt like they were onto something! Lisa from Farmhouse on Boone and Jill from The Prairie Homestead have been such an inspiration to me as I have experienced a complete paradigm shift in my meal planning.
Do you relate to any of the points I’ve listed above? If so, I hope you’ll keep reading to learn about how to implement farm to table meal planning into your routine.
How Farm to Table Meal Planning Works
This type of meal planning is all about having your freezer and pantry well-stocked and then eating seasonally from your garden or local farmers market as much as possible. Let me be more specific. I don’t mean stocking your freezer with frozen pizzas and Eggo waffles or stocking your pantry with boxes of mac & cheese or Spaghettios. Processed foods may be easy, but they won’t lead to nutritious meals you can feel good about feeding your family.
Stock Up on Real Foods
You should stock your freezer with local grass-feed meats, pastured chicken, and fresh vegetables from your garden or farmers market. In your pantry, you should stock up on produce that will last awhile, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. You should also can as much food as possible from your garden or farmers market to get you through the winter months. If you aren’t able to do that or you don’t have enough jars to make it through the winter, you can buy canned whole foods from the grocery store. Just make sure they’re as natural as possible without added sugars, preservatives, etc. I will go into more detail in my next post about what types of dry goods you should stock in your pantry.
The healthiest fruits and vegetables you can find are from your own backyard. Eating produce in season will provide you with the most nutrients possible. During growing season, integrate as much seasonal produce as you can into your meals. When it’s tomato season, I’m always adding sliced tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil as a side dish to our dinners. Zucchini, peppers, string beans, onions, berries and herbs all become staples during the summer. In the spring and fall, there are radishes, turnips, carrots, lettuce, spinach, beets and so much more. If you have a garden but haven’t tried extending your growing season to include spring, summer and fall, you should! The more fresh veggies you have, the more variety you will have in your meal planning.
When you no longer have fresh food in your location because the growing season is over, that’s the time to start using the produce that you have frozen and canned. Freezing and canning food straight from your garden will provide you a more nutritious alternative to having to buy “fresh” produce from the grocery store in the middle of winter.
Year Round Food
There are a few nutritious foods that will keep producing year-round and that are a little more difficult to freeze or stockpile. Those include dairy and eggs. If you have your own hens and milk cow, you are set! However, for those who aren’t in that position or are still working on getting to that point, it’s important to find local sources you can rely on.
How Do I Begin Farm to Table Meal Planning?
Some people like to have a plan in the kitchen, and others like to be completely flexible and free to be creative. I fall somewhere in the middle. I like creativity in our meals so that we don’t get into a mealtime rut of making the same meals over and over. However, I need a plan or dinner will sneak up on me, and we’ll end up having breakfast for dinner again.
Here are the simple steps to a farm to table meal plan:
- What items do you have in your garden, refrigerator, pantry and freezer that need to be used up first?
- What items do you have in abundance? If you just picked a basket full of bell peppers and zucchini and you have a dozen eggs in your fridge, you can plan to make a vegetable quiche in the next couple of days.
Choose a Variety
- Just because you have 20 pounds of ground beef in the freezer doesn’t mean every meal needs to have ground beef. Maybe you can have two meals each week with ground beef, two with chicken, one with pork, and two non-meat meals.
- I don’t know about you, but I don’t like eating the same thing more than one or two times a month. An easy way to avoid repeating the same meal is to come up with some meal categories and then make sure you don’t pick the same recipe from a category more than once a month. For example, if I have a “Casserole” meal category, I would list my recipes for Chicken Pot Pie, Sourdough Skillet, Roast Beef Hash and Zucchini Lasagna. I could make a casserole dish every week as long as I don’t repeat a recipe in that category more than once a month.
Make a Menu Plan
- Once you’ve decided what you’re cooking for the week, write it down somewhere you can check it every day. Write it in your planner, on a chalkboard in your kitchen, or on your google calendar. I use the Mealboard app on my iphone which is a huge time saver. Once you enter a recipe, it saves all the ingredients and automatically adds them to your grocery list when you select that recipe.
- Look over your shopping list and mark off everything you already have in your garden, freezer, pantry, or refrigerator.
- Decide where to get the rest of the items on your list, such as from a farmers market, grocery store, or local farmer.
- Now that you have your menu plan and all the ingredients to make your meals, you’ve got to stick with the plan! That is sometimes the most difficult part of the meal planning process.
Here are some tips to help you stick to your farm to table meal plan:
Thaw the Meat
Since you know what you’re making for the week, you can get out the meat to thaw for the first few meals. There’s nothing worse than going to cook a roast to find that it’s frozen solid.
Consider Activities for the Day
Look at your activities for each day of the week. For days that you have a full schedule or dinnertime is busy, there are some options. Plan something simple to make, like scrambled eggs and toast. Alternatively, plan a meal that you can prepare in the morning, cook all day long in a crockpot or instapot, and then can sit on warm in the crockpot or instapot until dinnertime.
Focus on Your Goals
Sometimes, we just don’t feel like cooking dinner. I understand that completely. We get tired. We have a million other things we need to or want to get done. It’s so easy to ask your husband to pick up a pizza on the way home from work. I am guilty of doing this! But when I think about my goals, which are to feed my family nourishing, real food, use what we have and save money in the process, then I can usually muster up the willpower to stick to my menu plan. If you feel this way often, consider adding more simple recipes to your meal plan and give yourself some grace.
Hopefully you’re feeling ready to tackle farm to table meal planning for your home! If you have any questions or there’s anything I can help you with, please reach out and message me on Instagram or Facebook.