Meal Planning – for a Month (ish)

Dear readers,

Dear readers!

I am SO SO SO SO excited about today. We’re still talking all things meal planning, but today it’s not me rambling at you, it’s CARI FAYE! Cari Faye, of not-cooking fame! She’s sharing some insight on her own meal planning process, which is vastly different from mine. Because, again, say it with me now, there is no right way to meal plan! I plan every week. Cari Faye plans by the month.

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As someone who is a picky eater (scratch that – I have a discriminating palate), meal planning is an easy task.  There are only so many things I’m willing to eat, and  even fewer things I’m willing to spend time in the kitchen preparing/cooking/etc.  Our weeks usually go as follows – Sunday night through Wednesday night is home cooked meals.  Thursday night is some grab bag assortment of stuff from the freezer (I’m talking frozen ravioli, bagel bites, chicken nuggets – total kid food) and the Friday night and Saturday night are reserved for carry out.  Home cooked meals for 4 nights equates to 2 different meals with leftovers for 2 nights.  As someone who finds cooking to be a total chore, this makes it more manageable by only cooking every other night.

2 different meals = 1 meal of chicken and 1 meal of beef.  My beef recipes include meatloaf and meatballs.  My chicken recipes include gourmet things like shake and bake and corn flake chicken.  There’s 2 weeks worth of dinners right there.  The third week is usually baked ziti week – a meal that lasts for 3 nights instead of 2 (score!!) and my husband’s favorite.  That week we have an extra night of carry out (my favorite).  And then we start back over again in week 4.

In the summer, we get to rotate in things like hamburgers and grilled chicken, which I love because it’s tasty AND I don’t do the grilling (although this means I’m the one cleaning dishes; everything in life is a trade off). In the winter, the slow cooker is used ALL. THE. TIME.  BBQ chicken, coke chicken, any chicken recipe I can find.  Yes, the only thing I cook in my slow cooker is chicken (told you I had a discriminating palate).

After giving birth to our daughter and going back to work full time, I decided I really did not even want to spend 2 nights a week cooking dinner.  I now take 1 weekend a month and spend a day preparing enough meals to put in the freezer to last for a month.  This seems to be working well.  While defrosting meatballs and microwaving them isn’t quite as tasty as the freshly cooked version, it’s so much easier for us right now.  And easy = winning.

Don’t even ask me about sides.  I suck at those.  For many reasons, but the main one being I only eat foods that are beige.  So we rotate between tater tots, mashed potatoes, rice and macaroni and cheese as our sides. No joke.  In the summer, we eat corn on the cob!  And sometimes I’m feeling adventurous and will heat up some string beans out of the can, because those are the only vegetable I like.
Lessons you can take away from this?
1. Being a picky eater makes meal planning so much easier
2. As long as you don’t mind eating the same 6-8 meals on repeat, meal planning is a win
3. Tell your husband whenever you go out to eat to order the thing on the menu he loves but you will never cook for him.  this way he still gets to eat what he likes too! (For my husband, this ends up being a lot of pork and seafood.)

Meal Planning – For a Week

Let me walk you through the story of this week, dear readers. Tomorrow, we’re talking to Cari Faye, who plans out a month at a time.

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Monday was a leftover night. We fed people in some capacity for both lunch and dinner on Sunday, and thus, our refrigerator runneth over. I had some tomatoes and mozzarella mixed with pesto, so for dinner, I added cooked pasta, corn, and a little chicken for my husband, and we called it dinner. If we hadn’t had anything in the fridge, it would have been a “frozen stuff from Trader Joe’s” night, because Gooplet and I had plans with friends, and then I was out for the hour before dinner.

On Tuesday (today), I’m re-purposing our leftover sausage, onions, and peppers from Sunday Dinner, adding some cheese, and making an egg-bake. I rarely look at recipes for them anymore, but this is a good starting place. Since it’s just a matter of throwing food we already have together, I can make this on the spot right before it needs to go in the oven.

And then on Wednesday, which is always my busiest evening, we’re eating leftovers again. Yep! If I’m truly on my a-game I’ll roast some veggies to keep working on over lunches and dinners for the rest of the week, but that only happens about half the time.

On Thursday, I have a pretty quiet day, so I’m using some of naptime to make spaghetti pie. My favorite dinner!

On Friday, with any luck, I’ll get to make salad for lunch, and get something in the slow cooker for dinner. I didn’t make cassoulet like I planned last week, because I couldn’t find good kielbasa. So that’s an option (which still requires some grocery store searching), or I can pull the chicken thighs out of the freezer, and put them to use in another capacity.

Saturday is a grill night for my husband, with any number of my family members joining us for dinner.

And on Sunday, we’ll be going to our friends’ for Sunday Dinner, so no planning on my part! The timing on that works out beautifully, as we will have just said goodbye to our guests.

Meal Planning – For a Week

Welcome back to my series on meal planning, dear readers. No need to have been following along from the beginning, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point you toward my original meal planning post, if you’re so inclined.

I’m going to say something completely crazy. There is no right way to meal plan. There is no one way to meal plan. If there was, we wouldn’t all feel the need to write zillions of blog posts and make oodles of cute printables about it. But rather than give you a bunch of vague guidelines and tell you to adapt them, I want to get specific in terms of some different approaches to planning ahead.  First up, me! I plan a week at a time.

I have a pretty set weekly schedule. Gooplet and I do more or less the same activities on the same days. And I have a similar evening schedule from week to week as well. I used to make one weekend stop at the grocery store to cover us for 7 whole days, but now that there are 3 of us eating, instead of just 2, I’m there all the time. I’m not in a groove yet, and I doubt I will be as the little one keeps growing and eating more.

Let me walk you through this week, a totally crazy one in terms of life-happenings. Stay tuned for more weeks’ plans, and a closer look at how I figure out what to fill in each dinner slot.

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Most Mondays, I’m home for dinner, but I’m not home right beforehand to prep it. I was going to ask my husband to grill some pork (pre-marinated) from Trader Joes, but we scrapped that idea when we realized how late he’d have to grill because of his own schedule, so he ate leftovers from a slow cooker meal last week, and I grazed on whatever I could find before heading out the door again.

This Tuesday I’m gone before dinner even happens, so my husband is left to fend for himself again. He’ll likely have more leftovers. All this eating what’s already there is working in my favor, as I hope to wipe down our fridge this week – it needs it! But I am nervous that after today we won’t have much of anything left.

Wednesday I’m gone before dinner, but will be home to eat it. During naptime, I’ll prep Parmesan Ranch Chicken, and stick it in the fridge for my husband to bake later. He’ll probably cook rice to go with it, and we’ll steam some broccoli.

The fate of my Thursday evening is still up in the air. I know I have a couple of possible plans, but haven’t quite worked out the kinks to know my schedule. This is a perfect slow cooker day. I’ll make cassoulet, but probably sub out the pork ribs and add carrots instead.

By Friday, we’re almost always exhausted from the rest of the week, and we’ve got a kids’ baseball game to go to right around dinner time. This means one of us will put Gooplet to bed, and another will stick something from the Trader Joe’s freezer section in the oven. Potstickers are sounding good. I could do a whole post on what Trader Joe’s frozen foods that are always on hand in this house.

Saturday feels so far away right now! I’m pulled in 3 directions this week and will likely be out from 9-6 that day. I need something that will be ready when I walk in the door. Another slow cooker day! Looking at this slow cooker chicken barbecue, which is a recipe Cari Faye shared.

Sunday. Ahhhhh, Sunday.  I don’t know. It’s my husband’s job to grill something, and I will gladly purchase whatever meat he wants.

If that seems complicated, it’s because life is complicated and we have a lot going on this week. They secret to this week, though, is that almost everything is make ahead. And the two slow-cooker nights are practically no prep nights. Make meal planning work for you!

Meal Planning – Baby Steps

Welcome back to my series on meal planning, dear readers. No need to have been following along from the beginning, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point you toward my original meal planning post, if you’re so inclined.

Gretchen Rubin is one of my all-time favorite authors. I read The Happiness Project when it came out, and have loved watching her work evolve into some seriously intense studies on both happiness and habits. She would explain it far better than I, but the two go hand in hand beautifully. May I point you toward her newest book and her podcast? Both are worth your time.

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(Not my kitchen! This is from Homearama, and you’ve still got time to go!)

I mention Gretchen Rubin not only because of her general awesomeness, but also because if you’re seriously serious about getting in the habit of meal planning, then you’re looking to form some new habits. Those take time. Just start, but start small. Give yourself some easy victories.

What I’m suggesting is that if you currently plan 0 meals per week, month, or season, you resolve to plan one. Maybe two. And once you’ve got that under your belt, up the ante and plan three. Maybe four.

And whatever your choice is, CELEBRATE (!) when you succeed. Maybe the reward is take out one night because you successful cooked another. Seriously! Do something that feels over the top to celebrate your wins.

Meal Planning – How Many are You Feeding and Do You Need Lunch?

Welcome back to my series on meal planning, dear readers. No need to have been following along from the beginning, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least point you toward my original meal planning post, if you’re so inclined.

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When I ran this post a while back to ask you all what you wanted to know about meal planning, I was struck by CV(D)’s comment. She has some nights, and they tend to vary by season, where she might be cooking for 2 or for 12, and she’s never really sure until those 10 people either show up, or don’t. So what’s one to do to have enough to feed a crowd, but not so much that you have to throw out leftovers that there was just no possible way for them to get through?

I promise, we’ll get back to addressing this predicament, dear readers, but first, two questions: How many people do you need to feed with your meal plan? And do you require lunch (or leftovers)?

How many people?

There may not be one straight answer to this question, a la CV(D), or your answer may be as simple as, I feed myself every night, thankyouverymuch. Either way, it’s important to consider the number of mouths you need to feed.

We feed 2.5 almost every night, save for Sunday, when we try to invite people over.

However going from feeding 2 to 2.5 every night has made a huge shift in my meal planning. Way bigger than I anticipated. I need to buy so much more at the grocery store than I did before. And Gooplet has his own preferences about food, which I do take into consideration when I plan and shop. (Hello, buying out the berry aisle of the grocery store.)  If you’re feeling like you had a system that was working, but something is off, think about whether you’re feeding more or fewer people than usual. Are your kids all of a sudden inviting friends to stay for dinner every night? Have they left the nest, whether for school or for sports? Did you add a significant other to the picture? These changing dynamics make a huge impact at the table.*

Do you need lunch or leftovers?

One last point to consider before we get into nitty gritty details. What’s your daily life like? Who is home for lunch and who eats at work, at school, or on the go? For us, I make recipes that might feed 4-6 people because we love having leftovers. My husband will take them to work for lunch on busy days, and I cook so much in the evenings, I’m not looking to prep another meal midday. Leftovers work for us. But if you’re a sandwich-packing household, or a lunch-meeting kind of person, dinners that get eaten up entirely might be right for you.

*For the best take I know on how to make family dinner a priority when soccer schedules attack, check out all that Jenny has to say.

Meal Planning – Planning to Plan

Today we’re taking a bit of a step back in order to take a step forward. Hear me out.

It's a light day. I still haven't decided what we're going to have for dinner and I wasn't sure what my top three priorities should be. And then I realized if I could make something beautiful make something useful and make something fun that this day would be a win. But then again wouldn't every day be a win if you could say you had done those three things? #newgoals:

(Day Designer; the planner of my dreams)

I don’t mean to pull the rug out from under your feet, dear readers, but I do need to let you know that a big part of the reason I have a meal planning system that works is because I have a life-planning system that works. It involves a paper planner, a wall calendar, and endless, nagging texts sent to my husband about what is on those. He is allergic to calendars. Breaks out in hives when I try to tie him down to something on a specific date.

Your life-planning system might look like mine, or it might be more digital, or it might not exist at all.

It’s not that you couldn’t be successful at meal planning without a life-planning system, but I’m going to venture a guess that if your life is more complicated than, we are all home for dinner every night, you need to have at least a working understanding of what is going on each day, and how it will interfere with meal planning.

I love peeking into the ordinary details of people’s lives, especially when it comes to seeing how people appear to make it all work. So for the sake of imagining myself as a reader, I’ll share a couple of my planning systems. Please don’t feel like they should be yours. Rather, read them and think about the systems (even the beginnings of systems) you have in place in your own life.

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Long Term Planning – We have a desk calendar that hangs on the wall between our foyer and kitchen that I update at the beginning of each month. That’s about how far out I plan things. We don’t have as many “save the date” worthy social events as we used to, so while I can always tell you the next time we’re going to the beach, I don’t need to look more than a few weeks ahead at any given time. I love that it’s right there in plain sight because I know my husband checks it every single day when he walks by. He likes to know what Gooplet and I are up to during the week when he’s a work, and I like being able to get a quick glance at whether we’re headed into a busy week, or one with more down time.

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Weekly Planning – Because we’ve got the same flexible weekly routine more often than not, I’ve changed how I plan my weeks. I used to use the Day Designer (from Whitney’s Target line) religiously, filling in to do lists by the day. Now, I make one to do list for the week, with things that need to happen, and I use that to guide our pockets of time in between naps and activities.  Some highlights from this week’s lists include calling to schedule appointments, running to grab the dry cleaning, joining the zoo (!), and making progress with this whole spring cleaning undertaking I’ve, well, undertaken. I like that it shows me what needs to happen, but gives me the flexibility I need to shuffle things around by day.

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Daily Planning – This happens whenever I check in with that weekly to do list, which can happen nightly, every morning, or every couple of days. I simply look at what still needs doing and try to figure out how it’s going to fit. On a particularly busy day, I’ll pop back to my Day Designer and fill in a more hourly kind of schedule, but that’s a rare occurrence these days.

Oh, dear readers, this sounds like a lot, and to many of you, it probably seems like a giant chore. But truly, it’s a much more automatic system than it appears when it’s all typed out, and at this point it requires very little thought and effort on my part. And that is what I’d encourage you to play around with. Finding a planning system that takes 0 thought and effort, and maybe 5 minutes of time here to keep up with.

Meal Planning – The Series!

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It’s time.

I can’t have had a blog for as long as I’ve had a blog and not talk about meal planning. This little series comes with a big shout out to a friend who said she wanted to pick my brain about meal planning. Here’s all I got. Well, the first installment of it, anyway.

I’m not going to give you cute printables or pre-fab grocery lists, where you just fill in those couple quirky items your family enjoys, and you’re all set. I can’t. We’re all different. We have different lifestyles, different tastes, and different numbers of people in our families. I’m going to tell you the process I go through in general when planning, and you can take the pieces that seem smart, and fit them into your own lifestyle.

For today, two thoughts:

  1. Just Start! It’s a great mantra, and, credit where credit is due, it’s from Elise, who I simply adore when it comes to all things internet and productivity. If you want to meal plan, start meal planning. It won’t be perfect, but every single time you sit down to try (endless scrolling of Pinterest does not equal trying), you’ll get closer to what is going to work best for you and the mouths you feed. To give you another mantra, one that I repeat all the time: don’t make this harder than it has to be. You want to meal plan? Plan some meals!
  2. But start small. At the start of 2017, I wanted to read every day. So that was my new year’s resolution. I would read every day. You know how much I had to do to count it as “reading?” One page. Because reading every day wasn’t something I was doing before, and I didn’t know how my efforts would go. I set the bar super low and promised myself a huge reward at the end of every month I was successful (a splurge at the bookstore, duh!). I’ve read every single day since the beginning of the year. And only a handful of them have been days I just read one page. All this to say if you’re planning 0 meals a week, make it your goal to plan 1 meal a week for a month. Set yourself up to succeed, not to fail. Baby steps.

Cheers to a fun little series, dear readers. I’m excited to get started.