Meal Planning – For a Week

Oh, how I hope you enjoyed hearing from Cari Faye and The (Not So) New Girl and #ChefJon. If you’re just checking in on things for the first time in a little while, we’re talking about meal planning, and I’ve walked you through my thought process while planning a week of meals, twice.  Here are a few final thoughts, and a huge round up of meal ideas for you.


After taking a look at our family’s calendar for the week, my meal planning has a lot to do with types of meals. When I notice what our level of activity looks like, I pick a meal based on how much time I have to devote to prep, and leftovers are almost always an option. Here are my main categories, and our favorites from each. 


But first! Before we started this whole series, I had a lot of commenters tell me they ended up with nothing for dinner by the end of the week. And CV(D) mentioned she sometimes doesn’t know exactly how much food she needs to cook on any given day. So you’ll see a * by any recipe that’s easily doubled and/or frozen. For those of you who run out of food, cook a double batch of these dishes whenever you make them, and freeze them. That way when you realize you’re in a pinch in a week or two, you can take something out of the freezer and you’re all set. I have a lot of these options waiting for the same emergency right now. And CV(D), these are the ones I’d recommend for you, too. Instead of making one giant casserole in case of 20 people, make 4 in those 8×8 baking tins you can easily grab in the baking aisle of the grocery store. Twenty people show up? Great! They’re fed! Just the usual 3? Eat one and freeze the rest for when those other 17 show up, or for you again another week. 


Make aheads: easy meatball stroganoff*, baked pesto rigatoni*, baked beans with hot dogs, Outlaw Plantation barbecue chicken, eggplant parmesan, sausage and kale stuffed shells*,

Slow cooker meals: Mississippi roast*, carnitas tacos*, Italian chicken, gnocchi with pork sauce*, Buffalo chicken sandwiches

Easy, on-the-spot dinners: mediterranean chicken with couscous*, meatball subs, baking sheet macaroni and cheese, chicken piccata, pesto risotto, frittata,

Dinners on heavy rotation: spaghetti pie*, slow cooker white chicken chili*, beef chili*, Parmesan ranch chicken, apricot glazed chicken, wings, rich people meat, macaroni and cheese*, Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk,

 

 

May Reads

This month was shaping up to be a total dud. I had two weeks with the craziest schedule of commitments, and when all was said and done (plus a couple days of more Netflix than I’m comfortable admitting), I am so glad my New Year’s resolution is to read every day. My life felt out-of-whack, and I couldn’t figure out why my calendar had more wiggle room, but I still felt stressed and confused.

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I wasn’t reading.

Just Read:

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn – This is the book that brought me out of that spell. I hate the title, and I don’t use that term lightly. I think a lot of people will glance at this book and think, “I don’t hate my husband and I have kids, so this isn’t the book for me.” And it IS! Or, it might be! For a lot more people than the small amount who would go so far as to use the word hate to describe their feelings for their spouse.

Confessions of a Slacker Wife, by Muffy Mead Ferro – This book had been lingering on my to-read list for years until I found a used copy and decided to pick it up just the other day. I assumed it was a novel, but no. A delightful collection of essays from a Wyoming-based writer. I love anyone who makes their ordinary life sound beautiful.

Also, this, this, this, and this, all largely forgettable.

Reading:

Confession of a Slacker Mom, by Muffy Mead Ferro – The volume I read is actually her second book, so I’m backtracking here to read the first.

Maeve’s Times, by Maeve Binchy – Wooden Nickels introduced me to Circle of Friends years and years and years ago, and oh, how I fell head over heels for Maeve. She writes these cozy novels, usually set in small towns in Ireland, and delightful is an apt description of almost all of them. If you read enough, you’ll find some of the same characters pop up here and there in other novels, which is like meeting old friends again. This is a collection of columns she wrote for the Irish Times, compiled over about 40 years. I’m reading them here and there when I have short bits of time.

Want to Read:

Pretty much anything frothy and light* for summer, especially this and this.

*It should be noted I have both Americanah and Cutting for Stone on loan from readers I respect and admire, but they might be on hold until our beach trip, during which I hope to have at least a couple of stretches of more than 30 minutes in which to fit my reading.

Meal Planning – For a Couple Days

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 plan out meals a week at a time, because that’s what works for me. But that’s certainly not the only way.  Last week, you heard from Cari Faye who plans about a month at a time. Today, we’re checking in with The (Not So) New Girl and her husband #ChefJon who have a much looser planning system, and who share kitchen responsibilities pretty evenly between them.

Our only weekly planning is, what meat do you want this week?, and remembering to take it out of the freezer. If that doesn’t happen, we resort to vegetarian or sausages since they can be chopped and cooked from frozen.

We usually consider how many nights we need to make dinner before going to the grocery. Then we just buy x number of veggies, 1-2 more veggies than nights. Whoever is shopping gets the pick of the litter. Grocery/Costco almost exclusively only happen on the weekends. We’re not particular about our meats, oh hey, hormones, so we bulk up on meat at Costco about once a month and keep it in the freezer. It’s usually a variety of chicken, salmon, and sausages. Recently we’ve been trying to get more red meat in the house.

#ChefJon is the brain behind cooking and loves to look at  whatever we have, google some combination of ingredients, and then still put his own spin/modification on whatever he comes up with.  Once a week or so I’ll find a recipe I want to try or mention something I’m craving. The best nights are when we can actually manage to get in the kitchen together, #ChefJon and his #souschef.

It all works for us bc #ChefJon enjoys cooking and creating. The rare nights he’s not up for cooking I sometimes get stressed bc we didn’t “plan” on that. Those nights we usually end up with brinner* bc I am the queen of brin.

Outside of dinner, I make vats of oatmeal once a week for me, and an extra or so for our son. I Tupperware them all with necessary ingredients and usually eat at work. On the weeekends we eat cereal or eggs. And then we do lunch-making nightly. Usually turkey sandwiches** or leftovers. Whoever isn’t on cleanup duty takes care of lunches so neither of us is stranded in the kitchen.
Some of our staples, repeats, and go-to’s, which sometimes get their own spin are cauliflower bites, brinner (eggs over a veggie/meat/potato hash), eggplant Parmesan, winter soups/stews/chilis, stir fry or curry typically once a week (versatile because you can use any meat and veggie you have with a simple sauce), kale salads with combo of meat and veggies, veggie pasta with a different sauce typically canned tomato based, and homemade pizza on Trader Joe’s crust.

* aka, breakfast for dinner

** Part of the reason my husband likes The (Not So) New Girl so much is because she takes sandwich-making very seriously, just like he does.

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.