This week’s post is by Christine Luken.
There are plenty of great reasons why regular meal planning should make it on to your New Year’s Resolution List. Meal planning helps you save money, eat healthier, stress less, spend less time in the kitchen and more time with your family. These are all things that we want, so why do we resist doing it?
I think what holds many people back from meal planning is thinking that, in order to do it “right,” they have to plan a month in advance, spend every weekend batch cooking and freezing, AND be super organized. Sure, you can start that way if you want to, but for most folks it’s easier to begin gradually rather than cannonballing into the deep end. So, here are some baby steps, tips, and tools to get you started on your meal planning adventures.
- Plan a week of dinners. Look at your calendar for the next week and plan your dinners based on what you’ve already got on hand in the fridge, pantry, and freezer. Save more complicated, labor intensive meals for weekends or other non-busy days. Plan on slow cooker meals or meals that can be on the table in 30 minutes or less for busy nights. Next week, try planning out ten days to two weeks in advance. Before long, you’ll be on a monthly meal planning schedule. (Which is great, because you only have to do it 12 times a year vs. 52 times a year!)
- Make a double batch of a family favorite meal and freeze half of it. It doesn’t take twice as long to make a double batch of a recipe! In fact, it usually only takes a few extra minutes. You’ll be grateful two or three weeks from now when you’re short on time. You’ll have a great meal you can dump frozen into the crockpot before heading to work and come home to a wonderful smelling house and dinner ready to serve! I highly recommend a dish like beef stew, spaghetti sauce with meatballs, chili, or vegetable soup for your first freezer meal.
- Stock up on freezer cooking supplies next time you’re at the store. If you don’t have plenty of zipper freezer bags (quart and gallon size) and plastic containers in various sizes for freezer cooking, be sure and stock up so you have no excuses.
- Search Pinterest or Google for good freezer cooking and batch cooking recipes. It’s more fun to meal plan if you have recipes you’re excited to try!
- Check out these great Meal Planning tools! If you’d like a FREE blank meal planning calendar or freezer inventory sheet, just click here to download. If you’re ready to really get serious about meal planning, invest a few dollars in my e-book, Discover the Magic of Meal Planning. (Kindle Unlimited members get it FREE!)
Whether you’re trying to save money at the grocery store, eat healthier, or spend more time with your family, meal planning can help you with those resolutions. Here’s to a Happy New Year and Happy Meal Planning in 2015!
If you’ve been following our blog for even a few weeks, you know that one of the keys to successful Meal Planning is being organized. Now, you don’t have be anal-retentive, get out your label-maker and alphabetize your food, organized. However, a little bit of organization and planning is required to be successful in your Meal Planning endeavors. I thought I would share with you some great tools and resources that will make this much easier for you!
I am a big fan of Freezer Cooking, and I frequently make extra pancakes, muffins, batches of chili, soups, and stews to freeze. These really help me on mornings or evenings when I don’t have time to make a proper meal. I can pull something out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and have a tasty, home cooked meal in minutes. However, I was running into the problem of not remembering what exactly was in my deep freezer. I would either forget something was in there and have to throw it out, or would swear that I had a couple of serving of turkey chili in the freezer only to find out that I’d already used it a few weeks before. So I decided to start using a Freezer Inventory Sheet to keep track of what is in my freezer. I hang it on my freezer and every time I add or subtract something, I write it in. For example, I would write “Turkey Chili” with a 4 for the number of containers I put in the freezer. As I pull them out, I make an “X” in one of the boxes, so I know how many I have left. When the item is all gone, I cross it off the list. I update the whole thing once or twice a month on my computer so it doesn’t get too messy. This has really helped me make better use of what’s in my freezer.
I certainly hope that you are using some type of Meal Planning Calendar to keep track of your monthly meals. I use the Coupon Wizard Software for this because it makes it easy to add meals to a day on the calendar and add any missing ingredients to my shopping list. If you’re not computer-savvy, you can just as easily use a paper calendar and write your meals on it. However you decide to do your Meal Planning Calendar, I suggest you hang a copy of it on your refrigerator, so that your family can see what’s for dinner each day. You might even ask your family members to put stars by the meals they enjoyed so you’ll know which recipes were a hit.
Another Meal Planning tool I can’t live without is my Recipe Binder. Once I try a recipe and decide that I like it and will make it again, I add it to my recipe binder. It’s simply a 3-ring binder with sheet protectors in it. This makes it easy to pull out the one page recipe that I need and I can easily wipe off any flour, water, etc. that I might happen to drip on it while cooking.
I also stumbled across this post on the Money Saving Mom website which has a Recipe Cost Calculator that you can download FREE. It seems to be geared towards baked goods, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t add other ingredients for your dinner recipes to see how much your recipe is going to cost you. This may seem like work, but it may reveal some surprising insights about how much your favorite recipes truly cost to make. Based on what you discover, you may decide to make certain recipes more or less to help ease the strain on your grocery budget. I am going to use this tool to figure out how much each of my meals costs per person this month and see if it changes my meal planning strategies.
Here’s my Meal Plan for this week:
~ Monday – Turkey Stroganoff served over Egg Noodles with Peas
~ Tuesday – FFY (Fend For Yourself). I am teaching a Coupon Workshop at my church tonight. I will probably eat one of my freezer meals (like Chicken Soup) before I go.
~ Wednesday – Fiery Fried Chicken with Potatoes and Broccoli
~ Thursday – Turkey Sausage, Perogies fried in a little bit of butter with onion, Green Beans
~ Friday – Meat Loaf with Freezer Mashed Potatoes and Salad
~ Saturday – Foil Packets on the Grill (See Recipe Below)
~ Sunday – Chicken Tacos with Refried Beans
Foil Packets on the Grill
1 ½ pounds of chicken breast tenders, cut into 1 inch pieces
¼ pound of asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
4 oz. of sliced fresh mushrooms
1 bell pepper, sliced into 1 inch pieces
2 tablespoons of diced onions
¼ pound of zucchini, thinly sliced
¼ cup of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can of petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning
¼ cup capers, drained
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the sauce ingredients in a large bowl. Add the diced veggies and chicken. Stir to coat veggie and meat with the sauce. Use four 12×12 inch sheet of heavy duty foil. Divide the meat and veggies among the four foil sheets. Fold the foil edges toward the center and crimp to seal. Fold up the outside edges to seal as well. Place foil packets on a hot grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes. Let stand 3 minutes before serving. (This recipe can also be made on the stove top with a large deep frying pan. Brown the meat first, and then add the other ingredients. Cover and cook for 8 minutes.)