Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The A,B, C's of Meal Planning

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The A, B, C’s of Meal Planning

I want to share my quick and easy guide, a start up if you will, for meal planning. Hubster and I plan meals for a week at a time and we've been doing this for, quite a while.  We've dabbled in planning for the whole month, and while it was really nice to NOT think about what I was making every week, I felt it got repetitive.  Soooo...we are back to once a week planning-WITH adjustments as needed.

My apologies, I shall digress for a moment, and share the story of how this came to be and then the guide and then fin! 

Picture it, Rockland 2007.  Hubster (who was BF at the time) and I had just moved in together and it was super nice. When you live with your best friend, it's pretty awesome. So here we were, living, loving, working, and eating our way through life.  

We both had 9-6ish jobs (I worked/work sales and he worked/works IT so schedules were...flexible). Coming home some nights was TORTURE if we didn't have dinner was an endless stream of, "what do you want for dinner?" "I don't know what do YOU want for dinner?" "I Don'T KNow WhAt Do yOU WaNt fOr dInNEr?" There's a meme for that:
The meme...about relationships...I'm sure there are more.

Anyway...this was us...every night. And the worst part, the WORST, was that we had to defrost meat in order to eat we would shop for meat and stuff on sale, buy a bunch and freeze it knowing we wanted to eat it later...but not knowing when later was. It was very much left up to our fanciful whims.  When we did, FINALLY, decide that we were going to have steak, we now we had to defrost it to cook bueno. 

We finally got fed up and started planning our meals. It started one Saturday during breakfast when I was thinking about dinner and putting together the grocery list. I'm the type to plan my next meal while still eating my first meal...I REALLY LIKE FOOD!  

So here I am, trying to put together a grocery list and we were trying to decide what to buy and we stumbled upon talking about what to eat and what we were in the mood for and what was on sale and that was the start of the meal planning.

Not a grandiose start to meal planning, but it did evolve, and now we’ve been doing this for over 10 years and I’ve recommended meal planning to countless friends, AND I’ve got some tips that I think will help you.

Tip One…or Tip A…About

Make it ABOUT you and your family.  

If this is your first-time meal planning, this is a great place to start. Poll your team about what is everyone’s favorite dish or dishes and if you are a family of 4 BOOM two dishes per family member-there is your week’s worth of dinner meals!  Add the items to your grocery list and decide which night you will make everything. 

Don't worry about repeating meals. The goal is to get your team to sit down and start the planning process...what better way to do that than by asking everyone what their favorite meal is and then cooking it!

My family likes to separate meats and starches during the week, so it doesn’t feel like we’re having the same meal every day. For example: if we have pasta and meat sauce on Sunday, we will have chicken and potatoes on Monday, so we can have steak and rice or pasta on Tuesday, or even Fish and rice on Tuesday.  Does that make sense?

If your family has more than one favorite meal or you can get 3 or 4 favorites out of them, this is where you start to build your arsenal of menu options and can plan 2 or even 3 weeks out. Designate a time each week where your team can come together and decide on the next weeks meals. Again, a time that works for you and your family (it is ABOUT you guys isn’t it?!).

Also note: Keep it about your family. If you have sports, or dance or evening activities where eating out or eating quickly is the norm, put that in there too! Sandwiches for the baseball game, fast food between dance classes, take out on the way home from an evening class, add it to the menu! The goal is to get the information in a place where your family knows what’s for dinner and what’s going on.

The dinner menu from the week my sister got married.

Future Note: If you want to be a little ambitious, start asking family members to participate in prepping and cooking or designate a family recipe night, where you pick something out of a cookbook or Pinterest to make for dinner. A new twist on a family favorite, a healthier version of your guilty pleasure, a new genre of cuisine your family wants to try. Adding this to the meal meeting ABOUT your family will help with the variety of dishes after you get the hang of meal planning.

Tip B…Bulk and Batch

Make items in bulk or batch cook/plan. 

Think about those potentially repeating items from Tip A.  One month a couple of years ago, we had hot dogs with macaroni and cheese 3 weeks in a row.  If you have a repeated item on your menu that a family member loves, make it in bulk (but maybe not hot dogs).  

When you're sitting down as a team and throwing out dinner ideas, start thinking about how you can bulk cook and batch. Say if you choose two chicken dishes this week…a sheet pan chicken dish, double up the recipe and use the roasted chicken later in the week for something else (tacos maybe?). Rice is another example…double it up and serve it twice in the same week (white rice for one dish and stir fry the rest for a different meal). 

Batch prepping vegetables is another tip for meal planning.  But I'm not talking about having a special designated time for veggie prep. Nope. I'm talking prep them when you’re prepping other ones for dinner tonight. For example:  "I'm using these peppers for Keilbasi Red Beans and Rice tonight, so I'm going to dice up some extra peppers for fahitas later in the week."

The London Broil we grilled on Saturday was the meat inside the Rockland Bakery Roll Sandwiches on Monday.

As you're planning your week, keep an eye on what vegetables, meats and starches are repeaters and try to leave a couple of extra minutes during some meals to double up the recipe for time saving later in the week.

Once you get the hang of batch and bulk cooking, you can start freezing things for future weeks. Make 2 lasagnas on a Sunday but freeze one and serve one.  Enjoy the taste of your Orange Ginger Chicken? Make one for dinner tonight but double the raw ingredient recipe and make it a “dump” dinner so you can freeze that in a gallon Ziploc all together then just defrost and cook when you need it.

By cooking in batches and bulk you’re saving your future family time. You can manage meals and plan them around events, the evening schedule, your daily schedule, whatever. I know that once a month…I have a long day…like leave the house at 7am…drive an hour and half, sit in a two hour meeting, drive another 2 hours to another 2 hour meeting, drive 30 minutes home, WHILE sitting on a 45 minute conference call….it’s long…and draining. Those days are great for my batch/bulk cooking when all I have to do is heat something (or to be completely fair, all the Hubster has to do is heat up something)!

Future Note: Once your family starts to get the planning and bulk cooking thing, you can extend meal planning to month long if you want to…and you can start utilizing more in depth Tip C.

Tip C…Couponing and Sales

Using your family’s favorite meals check for sales on meat and produce and pantry staples. 

I would suggest having the circular opened up in front of you during family planning sessions or get it on your phone. Then you can use those sales to drive your dishes and choices in the meal planning sessions. You can use this to buy more pantry staples when they go on sale or you have a great coupon, then you have a pantry full of rice or pasta that you can pull from. Double or triple up on certain meal staples when it goes on sale, and bulk/batch cook and prep it. 

For example: chicken thighs go on sale, every 4 to 6 weeks at my local Food Lion. When it does, I plan a chicken thigh meal, but I’ll buy enough for my family for 2 or 3 meals. I’ll make one meal that week, and separate the rest for next week and then the next week. So with one sale item, I’ll plan 3-4 weeks ahead, or at least 3 or 4 meal ideas ahead.

Don’t know what you want to do with that chicken thigh, no worries. Throw it in the freezer and think about it next week when you sit down with the family!

Utilizing sales and coupons allows you to save for your family. It could also drive some creativity for your family meals. See something you want to try…oh it’s on sale! Let’s try it fam!



I did say this was The A, B, C’s of Meal Planning didn’t I…so the last suggestion to help make it easy and get your family started…is The…the…theme…THEMES!  

If you don’t know what to cook or when to cook it, theme certain nights to help your family get creative:

Meatless Mondays
Taco Tuesday
Pizza Friday are just a few options. 

My team does a pasta dinner on Sunday because we have Italian in our family history and we like the idea of it. So we always plan for that…it helps us think of ideas when we have our talk about the meal plan for the week. Pasta on Sunday, Salads on Monday (Soup when the weather gets cold), Pizza/Tacos on Friday, and something grilled or fried or baked on Saturday (something that takes longer than 25-35 minutes to get on the table).

So the quick TLDR: 

A-Make it ABOUT your family. Pick family faves to start. 

B-Think about BULK and BATCH cooking, schedule to eat rice two times this week but only cook it once! 

C-Shop the COUPONS and sales to help determine what dishes you’ll make for the week. 

The-Get some THEME nights going so it’s just plugging in the recipe to that spot-Taco Tuesdays-hard shell or soft? Chicken or beef or fish or shrimp? Rice and beans or some kind of slaw? Pasta Sunday-Spaghetti and Meatballs, Chicken Alfredo, Baked Ziti, Lasagna, Shrimp Scampi…you get the idea

I hope this helps you to start planning your meals WITH your family not just for your family. Also, please remember, if you miss a day or forget to plan one week. NO WORRIES! Pick it up tomorrow and you can skip the meal or shift everything a day or so. Again, remember the first suggestion is always make it ABOUT your family.

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