Meal Planning Monday ~ My Best Time-Saving Tips

This week’s blog post is by Christine Luken.

My schedule has been absolutely CRAZY this month!  I’ve got lots of great things going on, like teaching Financial Peace University at my church (a nine-week class) and attending the Referral Institute once a week (a year-long program) to work on growing my business.  Not to mention coaching appointments, lunch with friends, Chamber of Commerce meetings, doctor’s appointments, painting classes, cookie-baking sessions with my mom and niece, and so on.  I’m sure your schedule is just as crazy as mine – especially if you’ve got kids!  In order to stick to my meal plan, I’ve got to pull out my bag of tricks and use my best time saving tips… And, of course, share them with you!

Prep Work ~ Whenever I’ve got little snatches of extra time, I’ll use that for prep work for a future meal.  For example, while I’m keeping an eye on Sunday’s chili dinner simmering on the stovetop, I can start chopping carrots, celery, and onions for Monday’s beef stew.  I’ll just put the chopped veggies in a Tupperware container in the fridge, so that when I go to throw everything in the crock pot Monday morning, the prep work is already finished.  If I’m feeling really ambitious, I might assemble everything in the crockpot on Sunday night and put the whole thing in the fridge.   That way on Monday morning, all I have to do is put the crock into the base and plug it in!  I also wash and cut up fruit and veggies and put them in bowls or containers in the fridge.  This makes it easy for me to toss healthy things in my husband’s lunch box or just to have to a quick snack.  Sometimes I will cook meat in bulk – like ground turkey or chicken breasts – in advance so I’ll have it to toss into pasta sauce or a casserole on busy days to cut my cooking time.

Double Time ~ One of my best time saving tools is cooking double or triple batches of recipes and freezing leftovers.  Right now, I have Eggplant Rollitini, taco soup, turkey chili, chicken soup, pumpkin bread, two different kinds of pancakes, and zucchini chocolate chip muffins in the freezer.  Think about it – it doesn’t take twice as long to make a double batch of chili or banana bread.  It takes a miniscule amount time and effort up front to do this.  I love doing this because I only have to do dishes once but have two or more meals.  Last year, I stopped buying frozen dinners and canned soups, mainly because of the sodium.  It’s pretty easy to freeze leftovers into “homemade frozen dinners” and put soup into individual containers and freeze it.  It’s probably going to be cheaper, healthier, and tastier, too!

Know What You’ve Got ~ Don’t waste the time and effort you’ve expended to cook and prep ahead by not knowing what’s in your freezer!  I always consult my Freezer Inventory sheet, which is hanging on my fridge, when I’m putting together my Meal Plan.   You can download my template for free, along with a Meal Planning Calendar.  Before I do my weekly grocery shopping, I make sure to check both my inventory sheet and my meal planning calendar so I can add missing ingredients to my shopping list.  This way I don’t forget anything or don’t accidently buy something that I already have five or six of on hand.

Here are some of my best blog posts with great recipes for batch cooking and make-ahead meals to make your busy life easier!

Meal Planning Monday ~ One Meat, Many Ways

         I love the versatility of ground turkey!  I don’t eat beef or pork, which means I can get sick of chicken pretty quick.  My husband says he doesn’t notice much of a difference in taste between ground turkey and lean ground beef, so we’re both happy.  I’m a fan of ground turkey because it’s high in protein, low in fat, and inexpensive.  The Meijer brand frozen ground turkey goes on sale at regular intervals, so I’ll buy six to eight pounds at a time. It typically makes an appearance in our meal plan, in one form or another, once a week.

            I love to experiment with new recipes, and we tried a great one the other day called Firecracker Casserole (recipe below).  It’s a Mexican style casserole with ground turkey or beef, and black beans.  When I first read the recipe, I thought it was strange that there was a can of cream of mushroom soup in it, but it tasted fantastic!  Nick and I both had seconds, and leftovers were gone within 24 hours.  That fits my definition of a keeper!

            I also experimented with my turkey meatloaf recipe.  Last fall, I was on a quest for an awesome recipe.  After trying five or six different varieties, hubby and I agreed that the McCormick’s meatloaf spice packet made the best one.  I try to eat as naturally as possible, so when my friend, Julie Brawley of Eating Clean 4 Life shared a copycat recipe for the McCormick’s meatloaf mix (the original has added gluten) , I knew I had to try it.  It was pretty tasty; however, the recipe was not quite as good as the real thing.  (Why does gluten have to be so darn delicious??)  However, if you or someone in your family can’t eat gluten, you could certainly use this recipe with gluten free breadcrumbs for a good meatloaf.

Sometimes, I brown several pounds of ground turkey at one time and freeze it.  This saves me a ton of time on busy evenings!  In the morning, I will just take a pound of cooked ground turkey out of the freezer and it’s ready to add into recipes by the time dinner rolls around.  Here are some of my other favorite ways to eat ground turkey.  Of course, you red meat lovers feel free to substitute ground beef.

  • Pasta – There are so many ways to use ground turkey with pasta dishes!  I make turkey meat balls, meat sauce, and eggplant rollitini with it.
  • Mexican – Besides the Firecracker Casserole, ground turkey can be used to make tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.  I found a recipe for homemade taco seasoning that I’m going to try this week.  (Hopefully it will be a better success than the meatloaf seasoning!)
  • Comfort Foods – Ground turkey makes great cheese burgers and is a good addition to all kinds of casseroles.  One of my favorite comfort food recipes is turkey stroganoff.  If you like mushrooms, you’ll love it!
  •  I’ve been eyeing this yummy-looking recipe for Turkey Barley Stew which I plan on making in the next week or two.

What’s your favorite ground turkey or beef recipe?  Comment here with a link, because you know I love trying new recipes!

 

Firecracker Casserole  (From TasteofHome.com)

8 Servings Prep: 15 min. Bake: 25 min.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 flour tortillas (6 inches)
  • 1 can (10-3/4 ounces) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes and green chilies, undrained
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese

 

Directions

In a large skillet, cook beef and onion until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Add the beans, chili powder, cumin and salt. Transfer to a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Arrange tortillas over the top. Combine soup and tomatoes; pour over tortillas.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 25-30 minutes or until heated through. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 each) equals 363 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 72 mg cholesterol, 941 mg sodium, 21 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 28 g protein.