Monday, March 25, 2013

Meal Planning Monday

I've decided to do a new weekly feature centered around something I'm sure we could all use a little help with-- 
Meal Planning!
By no means do I have meal planning down pat, but I do have a 'system' that I follow pretty consistently. I don't even have to tell you how time consuming it can be to look for recipes, make a grocery list, do the actual shopping, and cook--throw a baby in the mix and, get the picture! Having some sort of plan or routine that's part of your life weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly really helps ease the 'pain' so to speak. 

So. Here's how this will work. 
Every Monday, I'm going to post my 'meal plan' for the week. I'll list what we're having, and links to the recipes, since nearly all my recipes come from the internet. Occasionally I may include cooking how-tos and ways I've put my own spin on a particular dish.
I'll be posting time-saving tips & things that help me when planning our family meals, making grocery lists, doing my shopping, and even some money-saving strategies & tips for eating healthy.

Let me start this week by explaining the way I do meal planning in our house.

1. I set aside time bi-weekly to look at recipes/make my grocery list.  
I usually do a 'big' grocery trip twice a month, and I absolutely have to go with a list. It normally takes me about an hour to plan & make my list. Before I had Liam, I actually made it in Excel on a spreadsheet. Now I just do it as a note in my phone. (Actually, I have two separate lists going at once--One is my list of meals we'll be having for those two weeks, the other is my grocery list)
Also before Liam, I'd get all my cookbooks out (I have quite a few) and go through them to try out new things--now nearly everything comes off of Pinterest. It's just so much quicker for me to have everything there on one website, and when it comes time to cook that particular meal, I'm less likely to forget where it came from. Obviously some easier meals/things we eat frequently are just stored in my brain. 
As I'm looking at recipes on Pinterest and deciding what we will eat for those two weeks, I type the name of the recipe into my phone, and then add to my grocery list anything for that recipe that we don't already have in the house.

2. Planning specific meals for specific days?
For me, this doesn't work. I just can't bring myself to be that planned. God forbid it be taco tuesday and we just don't feel like having tacos...then what would we do?!
While I will normally have a list of what we're having that week, I kind of play it by ear day-to-day. Each night after I've cleaned up from that evening's meal, I'll look at my list of meals (in my phone, the one I made while I was making my grocery list. I don't delete it until the next meal planning) and decide what we'll have the next night. If something needs defrosting, I get it out and stick it in the fridge. For me, the other way just feels too rigid. I like some flexibility. I typically have at least two crock-pot meals on my list, that way if I know the next day will be especially busy and I won't have much time for dinner prep, I can plan accordingly.
If you are more type-A than me, and planning every night's meals specifically works better for your family, then do it that way!

3. Be flexible!
This is my motto in every area of my life.
A perfect example: Last week, (I think it was Wednesday) I had in my mind what we were having for dinner and my meat was in the fridge defrosting. After Keith got off work, we ran out and did some errands and somehow just stayed out much longer than expected. By the time we were done, it was 7 (a lot later than I'd like to start dinner!) so we just grabbed something. I don't like to do this in the middle of the week, but it needed to be done in order to get Liam to bed at a decent time. What we were going to eat that night we just had the next night.
Things like this will happen...especially when you have kids! I think it's super important to have a good balance of planning and flexibility. Planning meals helps me eliminate the stress of 'oh shoot, what are we going to eat tonight?' But when I plan them, I always keep in mind that things might not go according to plan!

Here is our menu for this week!
(I typically only plan 5, maybe 6 meals a week. We normally go out at least one night on the weekends.
Also worth noting--my husband is a carnivorous beast. We have to have meat every night.)

 I try to have fresh (not frozen or canned) vegetables with our meals as often as possible, preferably every night (doesn't always happen...but I try!) Stir-frys are a great way to get a huge fresh vegetable intake, and since the veggies are mixed with meat, chances are my husband will eat them too! :)
I also always go for brown rice instead of white. We aren't health nuts by any means--I can eat the heck out of some french fries--but I do try to make a habit out of cooking healthier meals.
(The egg rolls are just frozen version. Gotta cheat sometimes. :)

 I've never made this but have been dying to try it!
Also..Qunioa...Have you tried it? It's not my favorite thing to eat, but I try to have it every week because it's so healthy. This week, I'm actually trying a version that sounded super duper delicious that a friend told me about. If it turns out, I'll post the recipe!

This is an easy one that doesn't even need a recipe. I cheat--store-bought tortellini, (or any filled pasta of your choice!) cook according to package directions. Cook Italian sausage separately (turkey sausage if you're wanting to go extra-healthy). Combine the pasta & meat when done, then you literally just throw in a jar of your favorite sauce and some fresh spinach and heat on low until it's all warm. Told you--easy!
I always have lots of fresh produce in my fridge to make a fresh salad. I try to get romaine & green leaf lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots, avocado--and we always have several 'healthier' dressing options.

I try to have at least one crock-pot recipe meal on my menu each week. This one I've actually made before, and it's super easy, healthy, & delicious! It literally gets thrown in the crock-pot in ten minutes in the morning (Cheater tip: I use canned chicken instead of grilled chicken breasts. Still tastes great!) Since I don't plan my meals by the specific day, I will do this meal on a day that I know will be particularly busy.

My hubbs isn't super keen on bell peppers, but he does love the filling. This is another one of those recipes that's great for getting a nice serving of fresh veggies!

(I haven't tried this one yet, either, but can't wait to!)

Stay tuned for next week's edition, I'll be posting grocery-shopping tips!

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