Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monthly Meal Planning

When you have a baby/kid/busy life, it can be hard to prepare home-cooked, nutritious, and tasty meals every night of the week. For us, this often leads to us going through the drive-thru or picking something up even though we have plenty of food at home. This month I wanted to try to crack down on eating out and so far, it's been a success!

Normally, I do a weekly meal plan. Lately that hasn't really worked because it takes a lot of time each week to look at the sale ads, put together a plan, go to the grocery store, and then prepare meals day in and day out. So, this month I tried my hand at planning for an entire month. Some people might say this would never work for them because a) they would get to a particular day and want something different instead, b) they don't always know what they will be doing each night so they can't plan that far in advance, or c) they don't have time to plan it and prepare those kinds of meals.
Let me quickly address those issues.
1 - I make a monthly meal plan with some flexibility. If I really don't want to cook something on a particular day, then I just swap it with a different recipe from another day/week. There are very few times I don't want to cook what I have planned.
2 - Again, flexibility. I plan for leftovers/Fend For Yourself (FFYS) once a week and then also leave one night of the weekend open because I know our plans will probably change and we also don't eat a lot on the weekends. This allows me the ability to swap things around if our plans start to change. Say we have BBQ Chicken planned for Thursday night, but we end up getting invited to a friend's house instead. So, then I'd just hold off on the BBQ chicken and make it over the weekend for lunch & dinner. Or if that chicken is frozen, I can just wait and make it another week.
3 - You're going to spend time "planning" meals regardless. You can either do it in a matter of minutes once a month (and then spend a few hours planning your grocery list, shopping, and prepping the food all at one time) or you can spend time day by day wondering what you're going to eat, running by the grocery store/fast food restaurant, and possibly try to cook something from scratch each night. I prefer to do my work in bulk so that I can maximize my time during the weeknights.

The old saying goes... "where there's a will, there's a way..." If you are determined to save money and time for your family, then you can totally make something like this work. :)

Anyhoo... back to the meal plan. To make planning simple, I went with a simple weekly theme to help get my plannign started:

Monday: Spaghetti/Pasta or Tacos
Tuesday: Crock-Pot Meal
Wednesday: Leftover/FFYS
Thursday: Baked Potatoes & Soup
Friday: Frozen Pizza & Salad
Saturday/Sunday: Casserole, Crock-Pot, and/or Leftovers

With this in mind, I then looked at what we had going on for the month of December. It's a very busy month with all sorts of events happening. I tried to plan the best I could around what we already knew would be happening and then leave plenty of room for inevitable changes. I also thought about things I could make in bulk or freeze (i.e. soup) so that prep/cook time/clean-up would be minimal. We're only ten days into this plan and it has already changed some. That's the beauty of it - it's not so much that you're determined to have a particular meal on a particular day. It's more about having the ingredients for meals on hand (or having pre-made & frozen it) so that you can eat healthy, home-cooked meals every night!

Once I have determined the meals, I then plug my list into a spreadsheet with four columns: Day, Meal, Ingredients, Recipe. I write every last ingredient - even things we normally have on hand. When I have the spreadhseet made, I print it out. I go home and look over my igredients list and highlight the things I need to purchase. Now, some things I can purchase a month in advance (pasta, seasonings, pizzas, etc.) and other things (milk, produce, eggs, etc.) I do buy week-to-week so I highlight those things in a different color. I also look over the ingredients list before going to the grocery store to make sure we haven't run out of anything we need for the week. Then, I go shopping!

Here's a Sample:

1 lb ground beef, taco seasonings, tortillas, shredded lettuce, cheese, sour cream, black olives
You know how to do this J
White BBQ Chicken sandwiches, black eyed peas, corn on the cob
1 lb shredded chicken, white BBQ sauce, black eyed peas, corn on the cob, butter
Put chicken in crock pot with 1 c sauce mixed with 1 cup water. Cook on low for 8 hours ~ shred when cooked. Boil peas in pot of water with salt; Boil corn in pot of water with salt.
Baked Potatoes & Chicken noodle soup
3 baking potatoes, 1 qt size bag of chicken noodle soup
Microwave potatoes; thaw & heat soup
Frozen Pizza & salad
Frozen pizza, salad mix, shredded cheese, croutons, bacon bits, dressing
You know how to do this J
Double batch of chili
2 lbs ground beef, 1 chopped onion, 4 cans dark red kidney beans, chili seasonings,  2 cans taco sauce, 2 can diced tomatoes, 1 box beef broth (use as needed)
Brown ground beef and onions, drain meat. Put all ingredients in stock pot. Bring to a boil, let simmer for 1 hour.

Lots of smiley faces going on there!!!

Lastly, I get to cooking! At the start of this month, I made a double batch of taco soup and pinto beans for burritos & bean dip. I also went ahead and cooked 4-5 chicken breasts in the crock pot to shred in order to make really quick chicken casseroles (Poppyseed chicken in 20 minutes? Yes, please!!!) This past Saturday, I made crock pot chicken noodle soup - again, another large batch so we could freeze some. So, you can see some of the things in next week's meal plan are things that have already been prepared.

This past week got changed a bit because I forgot Blake had orchestra rehearsal tonight. So, what I originally planned to make will get bumped to another night or a weekend and Maleah and I will have sweet potatoes for dinner instead! See, it's very flexible!!!

Now... what about breakfast and lunch? Well, I don't really ever make breakfast because we really don't eat breakfast. I keep things on hand, though (and for Maleah, of course). We have waffles, cinnamon rolls, yogurt, frozen biscuits, and eggs available all the time as well as frozen and some fresh fruit. For lunch, we do keep sandwich fixin's on hand, but we also eat a lot of leftovers for lunch. I made bean burritos to freeze and those are an easy go-to lunch, as well (just thaw through the day and heat in the microwave).

Meal planning is a great way to save money and time. I love being able to come home and prepare something quickly so my family can enjoy spending time with each other - not with the pots & pans!!!

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