El Segundo resident, parent of two, home cook, and blogger Kristen McCaffrey on her newly published book, Stress-Free Meal Planning: Healthy Recipes for Busy Homes.
By Maureen Kingsley
Kristen McCaffrey, author of Stress-Free Family Meal Planning: Easy, Healthy Recipes for Busy Homes
Meal planning is a natural fit for a busy working parent, but it can tend to come across as daunting and tedious, causing those who might benefit from it to shy away, explains Kristen McCaffrey, a local mom of two and author of the now-widely-available book Stress-Free Meal Planning: Healthy Recipes for Busy Homes. The keys, she says, are to keep meals easy and quick to prepare, and to make the planning flexible and scalable. Unlike the more rigid, hours-long weekend approach to meal planning espoused by some home-cook bloggers and cookbook authors, Kristen’s is simply “knowing in advance what meals you will prepare, having the ingredients on hand, and doing a bit of prep work before cooking,” she explains. “It’s meal planning, not full meal prep,” she adds of her method, prioritizing time-organization tips and strategies for pulling an actual meal together over detailed prep-work timelines.
“My approach is ‘healthyish,’” Kristen continues, and encourages building delicious meals from lean, healthy proteins; fresh produce; and whole grains—but with fun add-ons like sprinkles, chocolate chips, and cheese thrown in as needed to keep kids interested. “It’s about easy dishes that incorporate a manageable number of affordable ingredients,” she explains.
For her book, which contains nearly 200 pages of nutritious, family-friendly, cleverly quick-to-prepare recipes along with plenty of full-color photographs, weekly suggested calendars, shopping lists, and “game plans,” Kristen drew on her years of experience as the creator of the popular Slender Kitchen blog. Featuring thousands of customizable, healthy recipes with photos and tips for adjusting dishes to particular diets or tastes, the blog also offers meal-planning guidance and has attracted the attention of major media outlets and home-cooking fans alike.
As a self-taught expert home cook and meal planner, Kristen’s friends and family “often asked me for help and advice” in these areas, she says of how the idea for the book came about. “I always advise meal-planning for busy families,” she adds, because it works so well for her, and in 2018 she began talking with book publishers about a book idea centered on this concept. She soon found Page Street publishing company, submitted an initial draft in October of 2019 and a final draft in February of this year, and saw the book published and distributed in August.
The most challenging part of the book-writing process, Kristen says, was the extensive recipe testing she performed to ensure the dishes in the book were top-notch. “That testing was grueling,” she admits. “I’d do a lot of writing at Whole Foods and [local coffee shop] Blue Butterfly, then test recipes on friends and ask for feedback.” Once her final draft of the book’s manuscript was completed, Kristen was able to “take some time and space to reflect” on the work she’d done and the valuable resource she’d created.
This year’s novel-coronavirus pandemic, as anxiety-provoking for Kristen as it has been for all of us, has also had the unexpected consequence of highlighting just how helpful meal-planning and home cooking can be during times of great stress and fear. “With meal planning,” Kristen says, “there is one less obligation and stressor to think about, and plenty of leftovers available for lunches.” She has found herself relying heavily on her own meal plans and recipes during this time as a result.
For those of us in the South Bay who are interested in simple, healthy cooking and planning, Kristen recommends grocery shopping at the El Segundo Farmer’s Market, Ralph’s and Whole Foods in El Segundo, Trader Joe’s in Manhattan Beach, Northgate in Culver City, and via the Imperfect Foods subscription service. Her book is available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart.
Visit Kristen online at slenderkitchen.com.
All photos by Becky Winkler