How I do Meal Planning

I’ve noticed a lot of chatter online these last couple of weeks about meal planning and the dreaded question of “what’s for dinner?”. It got me to thinking about my meal planning…it’s something I’ve been doing for quite a while and while I’ve posted about it before in various areas, I thought I’d pull all my thoughts together in one place.

This week for dinner I have oven fajitas, pork chops & rice, crock pot mongolian beef, pesto italian paninis and more on my menu plan. We rarely eat out. All in all it’s not that big of a deal. If you ask me, it’s just as quick and easy as going out to a restaurant, going out to bring something home or waiting for dinner to be delivered. Of course, my biased could also come from us not really having the luxury of option thanks to budgets.

Originally posted on Liberating Working Moms, here are some of my favorite tips & tricks I’ve learned over the years…

  1. Plan Ahead. I feel like this is kind of the glaringly obvious one, but needs to be said anyway. Each Friday night after the kiddo is in bed, or even Saturday morning durning breakfast, I’ll sit down to make out a meal plan for the week. I only plan out a week at a time, but I know people that will do an entire month at once…that’s a little too ambitious for me. I’ll look at the week coming up…anything special going on that I need to plan around? Hubby planning on working longer than normal any nights? Once I know what’s going on, I’ll see what’s on sale this week, see what we’ve already got on hand, make out my meal plan day by day, then make a grocery list accordingly. I created my own meal planning sheet that I use literally every week. 
  2. Stock Up & Save! This isn’t just some clever grocery store marketing. For example: I can’t stand eating chicken off the bone, so I only buy the boneless, skinless chicken breast. If I see it on sale for $1.88 per lb I will buy about 10 pounds, bring it home and vacuum seal them in 2-packs. It’s a great way to always have meat on hand and save some moola. We also buy a HALF of a beef at a time and it lasts us just over a year…deep freeze recommended for this one, folks.
  3. It doesn’t always have to be fancy! For real you guys…not every night needs to be some gourmet meal…in fact most nights are not. We have tacos every single Tuesday…my kids LOVE Taco Tuesday! And? Confession: we eat pasta-roni as a side dish every once in a while too.
  4. Be resourceful with your leftovers. When I roast a whole chicken, we always have a ton of leftovers. I also have a husband who is super picky when it comes to eating said leftovers. So, instead of tossing what we don’t eat, I’ll debone the chicken and use it within the next couple of nights and make something like homemade fettuccine  alfredo, tortilla soup or chicken curry.
  5. Pre-Make when possible. On a Sunday evening, it’s not uncommon that I pre-prep a pan of enchiladas or lasagna or something else that otherwise takes too long to prep on a typical weeknight to eat later on in the week. It makes the evening rush after work so much smoother. For that same reason, I also love prepping freezer meals. {more on this later}
  6. Repeat after me: The Internet is your friend! Sure, I have some favorite cookbooks, but I have found some of our favorite go-to recipes on the interwebs. It also serves as a great place to find some new ones for spicing things up a bit. Obviously Pinterest is a good one, but I also really like Kraft Foods for easy, weeknight meal idea. Bonus: Kraft Foods has a search feature that let’s you put in ingredients you have on hand and gives you recipes to fit!
  7. Always have an easy back-up. Sometimes, I plain forget to take meat out of the freezer in enough time for it to defrost, so that grilled steak kabobs I may have had planned? Not really going to work. In our house, our go-to back up dinner is grilled cheese & soup. Nothing has to defrost and dinner can be ready in about 15 minutes.
  8. Save the in-depth stuff for the weekends. I typically don’t cook anything during the week that’s going to take longer than 45 minutes to get on the table, or about 30 minutes if the whole thing is hands-on. I don’t normally try a new recipe during a weeknight either. I also only do my crock-pot cooking on the weekends…but then again, I hate my crock-pot, remember?
  9. Keep your staples stocked. For us, our staples are cheese, bread, tortillas, yogurt and black beans. We also always have a few boxes of pasta-roni and cans of vegetables in the pantry ready to go as sides in a pinch.
  10. When in doubt…invite someone over that never cooks and be prepared to be worshiped. I’m mostly kidding, but I remember one time we had some friends/Andy’s coworkers over for an impromptu dinner that had never been over before…Taco Tuesday even, so nothing fancy. Anyway, as I was making dinner, she was looking at my calendar where I write out our dinners and she.was.amazed. She called into the living room to our other friend and was reading off some of the dishes…Stuffed Manicotti…Elk Stir Fry…Halibut…Turkey Burgers. Then next week at work? I guess she was STILL talking about it. What’s funny, is the week before, I was really feeling like we were getting into a food rut.

So those are some of my tips! One thing I’m super excited to incorporate into some of my meal planning tricks is Trader Joe’s meals…my new office will be just down the road from one!

Do you meal prep? What’s your favorite go-to weeknight meal?

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