Saturday, April 21

Meal Planning

You guys, guess what?!?!?! On Monday I created a meal plan for Hubs and me, for two weeks - and we are FIVE FOR FIVE! Translation: We're on day 5, and we've cooked each meal on the plan for the past 5 days! I've cooked two and Hubs (incredible man that he is) has cooked three. This is a really big deal - it means we're getting this thing down! "This thing meaning" being adults and planning ahead and cooking real dinners every night - finally! ;)

This written plan wasn't for anyone outside my household to see, but I figured this post wouldn't be complete without it. I know it's a bad quality photo and scribbly notes - you can deal with it :)

Next Monday is a big day - we're going to try Arborio rice in a risotto! Haven't had rice since January.
If all goes well, we'll have it again with the curry stir fry on Thursday. We'll see...

Week 1
Monday: Grass fed beef hamburgers with grilled onions and mushrooms, guacamole, baked sweet potato fries

Tuesday: Slow cooked clam and vegetable chowder [Recipe coming...]

Wednesday: White Wine Oven Roasted (organic free-range) Chicken

Thursday: Alaskan cod "tacos" with broccoli slaw and avocado dressing [Recipe coming...]

Friday: (Repeat Monday) Grass fed beef hamburgers with grilled onions and mushrooms, guacamole, baked sweet potato fries

Saturday: Slow cooked boneless pork roast "carnitas" (freeze leftovers)

Sunday: Tangy Asian Chicken & Mushroom Soup

Week 2
Monday: Asparagus Mushroom Shrimp Risotto

Tuesday: Salmon croquettes

Wednesday: Leftover pork carnitas from freezer OR Slow cooked Beef Bourguignon

Thursday: Slow cooked Spicy Coconut Chicken

Friday: Shrimp Ginataan Curry with rice [Recipe coming!]

Saturday: Grilled Salmon

Sunday: Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Designer Salads

The plan is made up of mostly favorite, "stand-by" dishes that we love. That's partly why I haven't posted any new recipes lately - we've been eating the same dishes over and over. (Well that and I've been under the weather a lot, so no exciting cooking or blogging for me. And I've been spending my time enjoying my baby girl-who is growing up too fast!) But there are two new-to-me recipes on the plan, and I'll post them eventually if they work out. They both involve shrimp... yum!

There's not much to this post; it's not rocket science or anything brilliant I'm reinventing here. But I am very excited that this meal planning stuff is finally working for us. I've tried before and it didn't work out so well. Probably because I bit off more than I could chew. That leads into...

One tip I have for you is to make a plan of all or almost all tried and true recipes. You can't plan a week or a month with a new recipe every day -especially with an infant at home, a full time job, family extracurriculars, or anything else like that- and expect to succeed. If you want to try meal planning, choose recipes and foods that you're familiar with and dishes you can cook fairly quickly by experience. You can throw in one or two new ones to keep things exciting, but don't overwhelm yourself.

Another tip is to keep your budget and your pantry/refrigerator stock in mind. Take a look around at what you have before you start planning. Write down a different protein for each day and structure your meal around that - if you're concerned about preventing allergies, rotate your proteins in a four day cycle. For example, we are doing this and cooked grass fed beef burgers on Monday, clam soup on Tuesday, roast free range chicken on Wednesday, Alaskan cod on Thursday, then beef burgers again today and so on...

If you're at all like me, you have a limited food budget and it can sometimes be a challenge to make it to payday without running out of fresh food. Another great feature of this meal planning is no worry of running out of food to cook...

So here's another tip: plan according to what you can afford, or what you have on hand hiding in the back of the freezer or the corner of the pantry. This is where my clam soup on Tuesday came from - I had eight cans of chopped clams in the back of my cupboard! When you plan this way, everything is intentional and you'll need less so you'll in turn spend less.
Once you have that done, make an ingredients shopping list for the two weeks' worth of recipes. I did this, leaving off the usual basics we always have around like spices and oils, and frozen items like the Alaskan salmon and cod I purchased last week:

Everything is checked off but the pork, because it's the one thing I have to wait
 until the Saturday Farmers' market to purchase

Twice now I've looked over my list shown above - once on Tuesday and once today - to make sure we have what we need for the following couple days' recipes.

My final tip is to plan ahead by making a shopping list and make sure you've got your core ingredients ready when you need them. If you go to the farmers' market on the weekend, buy up only what you'll use in the next few days. Then mid-week you can go to the local produce stand, a mid-week farmers market or the grocery store and buy up the next few days' worth of ingredients. When you go to the grocery store, buy your frozen veggies and meats and fish in multiple packs, so you have plenty to use and they'll keep in the freezer until you need them. Frozen vegetables are preserved right off the field and go great in slow cooker recipes or soups, or steamed as a side dish. Thaw the proteins a day or two ahead, so each evening all you have to do is cook and eat!

One last suggestion: I am thinking that a great way to meal plan is to create lots of weeks of plans; four seems ideal. You can identify each week with a letter, for example I have created weeks "A" and "B". Then create two more, "C" and "D," and keep those weeks of meals and rotate them in different order each month. You will be able to successfully cook and eat healthy meals that fit your family's needs, while taking the stress out of dinner time, and staying within your food budget. You'll be able to get your food spending down to a very predictable amount, and that is pretty cool for financial health!

If you have any meal planning tips, go on and share them below. Happy planning, shopping, cooking and eating! :)