Successful Meal Planning: Putting It All Together

Successful Meal Planning: Putting It All Together

Last week I shared my essential tools for successful meal planning:

  • My menu plan subscription (I use Gnowfglins)
  • Meal-planning software (I’m loving Paprika)
  • Recipe sharing sites, link-ups, and cookbooks (one of my faves is Eat Nourishing)

Now I’m going to briefly outline for you how I put it all together to come up with a successful meal plan. Here’s what my typical weekly routine looks like…
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Successful Meal Planning: My Essential Tools

Successful Meal Planning: My Essential Tools

When it comes to preparing healthy, nourishing meals for my family, I’ve found that meal planning is absolutely critical for success.

In fact, when I stick to a meal plan, my grocery budget is even less than it was when we still ate a more conventional diet! It’s also less time-consuming.

There are several factors that I’ve had to consider that make my meal planning unique though:

I don’t cook every day.

My hubby isn’t always off in the evenings, and we have extracurricular activities like dance and karate virtually every night of the week. This means that at least a couple of evenings a week, I’m playing taxi right during dinner prep and mealtime. So, I cook about three evenings a week and we eat leftovers or something simple on the other nights.

I don’t plan out breakfast, lunch, and dinner like I see many meal plans do.

We have eggs for breakfast a couple of times a week, the rest of the time it’s pretty much “fend for yourself” (I try to keep biscuits, English muffins, fruit, etc. on hand). Lunch is usually similar: sandwiches or leftovers, but not a planned meal. So, I really only schedule dinner, and then decide what days I’ll need to make baked goods like bread or biscuits.

Many of the meals I make require advance preparation, like soaking.

Most of the preparation isn’t hard or time-consuming, but it calls for different habits to be formed. I’ve had to train myself to check to see what I’m planning to cook tomorrow, so I know if I need to do something like soak beans or start a sourdough batter the evening before, instead of not thinking about it until the day of. I actually think this is a real advantage of this way of cooking, because it reduces my prep time right before the meal, and it really takes literally minutes the night before to get things started. Breaking meal preparation into several shorter steps rather than doing it all at once is easier to fit into my day. [Read more…]

Frugal & Healthy Make Ahead Meal Makings

Frugal & Healthy Make Ahead Meal Makings

As a busy home manager and mom, my freezer is an essential tool for me!

In fact, I have three of them…the one in my kitchen, one on my “extra” fridge in my laundry room, and a chest freezer just outside the laundry room door in the garage.

Like many moms, I’m prone to make a double batch of many of my tried and true dishes…things like casseroles,chili, and spaghetti sauce…and freeze one for later. I’ve also found that it GREATLY simplifies my cooking efforts to make ahead and freeze some of the main “ingredients” of many dishes…things like ground meat and sauces.

I try to use as little “prepackaged” food as I can to avoid unhealthy additives like MSG (found in almost ALL canned soups and multiple other boxed/jarred/canned items) and various other preservatives and artificial flavorings. Yet many of my favorite, tried and true recipes use things like cream of chicken or mushroom soup, canned chicken broth, or jarred pasta sauce. Since I miss the convenience of just grabbing a can or jar to add to my recipe, I decided to make my own “convenience foods”.

Every six weeks or so I use my trusty stockpot to make big batches of both homemade pizza/pasta sauce and cream of “whatever” soup substitute, which I then package in about 2 cup portions in freezer containers and freeze.

My trusty stockpot

The Pizza Sauce is delicious! I use it not only for my homemade pizza, but anywhere jarred pasta or tomato sauce is called for, like in my Mexican Pizza recipe. Here’s my recipe…I usually make a quadruple batch!

The Cream of “Whatever” soup substitute is SO quick and easy, and let me just say that it BLOWS AWAY the canned stuff! There is really a difference in a dish made with it versus a canned soup. Here’s that recipe…I usually quadruple it too.

The recipes are super simple and each batch takes me maybe 30 minutes to make, start to finish. The next time one of my menu items calls for one of these ingredients, I can pull one out, thaw it in just a few minutes, and be good to go!

I also make homemade chicken broth every few months using free-range whole chickens I get through our meat co-op. I let the broth cook down until it is very concentrated and then freeze it in ice cube trays. After it’s frozen, I pop the “broth cubes” out and store them in a freezer bag. When a recipe calls for chicken broth, I pull out a cube or two and dissolve them in warm water.

Unlike storebought broth, which is full of sodium, MSG, and additives, homemade broth is delicious and full of wonderful vitamins and minerals! It’s truly a super food! ! I cook the broth down so long that there really isn’t much meat left, but I do use what’s there to make a batch of chicken salad or a quick casserole. I use the recipe found in Nourishing Traditions, but almost any basic cookbook will have a chicken stock recipe in it.

I also use my trusty stockpot to easily brown large batches of ground meat. I often do about 10 lbs at a time and then package it in 1 lb servings individually in quart size freezer bags. These stack neatly and compactly, even in a small freezer…I keep mine in my kitchen freezer. Then, when I’m preparing a meal, instead of having to brown my meat, I can quickly pull and thaw a couple of bags anytime a recipe calls for ground meat, saving me quite a bit of time in putting together my dish.

The small amount of time I spend making and freezing batches of these “makings” saves me oodles of time when it comes time for actual meal preparation!

Menu Plan Monday 8.10.09

This is my first week to participate in Menu Plan Monday! I’ve been planning my menus off and on for years and I’m excited to participate and get some new ideas.

This is a particularly busy week for us, so I’m only actually cooking three nights! Two nights we will eat leftovers and one night we will eat a meal out of the freezer. My oldest daughter has a summer workshop for her ballet company every day this week, ending with a pool party on Saturday, so I’ll be doing a lot of running! On top of that, my husband works late Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I usually don’t cook a big meal on nights he works late (normally that’s only one night a week). So, my first week to share with everyone is really not a typical week for me…but I’m just going to go ahead and jump in anyway!

So, here’s the breakdown:

  • Monday: Homemade pizza (which means I’ve got to get busy and get a batch of crusts made!)
  • Tuesday: Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup and green salad….I found this one on Laura’s list of favorites and can’t wait to try it!
  • Wednesday: Leftovers
  • Thursday: Green Chili Casserole from the freezer (recipe below) and green salad
  • Friday: Leftovers again
  • Saturday: Baked potatoes with all the fixings

I try to keep the ingredients for pizza handy for quick lunches and dinners. When I have it handy, it’s a lot less tempting to blow my budget ordering pizza or picking up fast food or take out. I make and freeze several crusts at once. I also make and freeze big batches of sauce in individual containers that hold about two pizzas’ worth. I keep a big block of mozzarella from the warehouse club on hand and turkey pepperoni and Italian sausage in the freezer. This way I can throw together a quick, basic pizza in minutes. If I want to, I can get fancier with the toppings, using anything else I have on hand.

I usually do a crockpot meal at least once a week. During the school year it’s usually on Thursdays, when we’re out of the house virtually all day with homeschool co-op and the kids’ extracurricular activities. This week, Tuesday will be the most hectic, so a crockpot meal is definitely in order!

Green Chili Casserole is a recipe that has been in my family as long as I can remember. My whole family loves it with a nice green salad and it’s quick and easy. I don’t even have it written down, but I’ll type it up here in case anyone is interested in it.

Green Chili Casserole

  • 1 lb ground beef (ground turkey works well too)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (I use a homemade substitute for this…I can share that recipe if anyone is interested)
  • 1 small can diced green chilis
  • 1 package corn tortillas
  • shredded cheddar cheese…gosh, I don’t know a measurement on this!
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions: Brown the ground beef and onion (I always have my meat prebrowned in the freezer, so I add the onion after the fact and it turns out fine too), seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Mix the meat, soup, and green chilis in a bowl. Tear the corn tortillas and place a layer in the bottom of a greased 9×9 pan. Cover with a layer of meat mixture, then a layer of cheese. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, then meat mixture, then cheese. Top with a final layer of tortillas and cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes until heated through and cheese is turning golden brown.

That’s all there is to it! I have to double this recipe for my family…I use a 9×13 pan and it fits fine. This is one of my freezer standbys. It’s one of those recipes that doesn’t take any more time and effort to assemble two of…one to eat and one for the freezer. It freezes great! I almost always make an extra one to pop in the freezer for weeks just like this one.

I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s menus and getting some great ideas! I’ve been feeling kind of in a rut lately. Be sure to hop over to this week’s Menu Plan Monday for a ton of great links and ideas.