12 March 2009

More Meal Planning Resources

Just added!!! Kendra at My First Kitchen has something up her sleeve. She's taking a quick survey on shopping/eating habits that she's going to use to help us all with this meal planning/cooking dilemma we're dealing with. She's making it worth your while by giving away a set of her fabulous spices to one lucky winner.

photo credit:hafizismail

Many thanks to Jen from Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for sharing part of her meal planning process with us yesterday. Feeding a family of 7 really does make you an expert in efficient cooking.

When I started the Building a Soft Place to Land series, I was surprised by the number of you who said that meal planning was one of your biggest struggles. I know that it is for me, but I kind of figured that everyone else had it figured out.

I want to make some improvements in this area for my family. The Hubster is a total peach, but I know it makes him nuts when he walks in the door and I'm standing there saying, "What do you mean we need to eat dinner? We just ate dinner yesterday?" Nuts, I tell ya!

I'm going to take some advice from Jen and get my freezer stocked up with the basics for a quick meal with some additions from my pantry. I like the flexibility of Jen's more casual approach of having the pieces ready to throw something together quickly rather than being tied to a specific menu for each day.

There are obviously lots of benefits, though, to using a traditional meal-planning approach with a scheduled menu. Here are some resources if you want to use that approach:

A great post from Simple Mom where she explains her 2-week menu planning process in detail.

Another one from Simple Mom (because she's just that awesome) where she shows her actual 2-week rotation. This one was REALLY helpful for me.

A post at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam about organizing her stockpile in the kitchen pantry. Do you think I can convince her to come do mine?

Now, fess up! I know some of you have tips, tricks and ideas about keeping your family fed. Give 'em up! I want to hear what you do that works (and even what doesn't work).

30 comments {Click here to leave a comment}:

Southern Charm said...

Well, I have my family chime in on what they would like to eat for dinner during the week to avoid mealtime complaints. I base our meals off the sales ad for my grocery store to cut back on spending but I give them meat choices and tell them to come up with a couple of meals they want to eat and I have found when I am preparing the meal that someone requested they come into the kitchen to help me and they feel like they "own" the dinner that night and want it to taste really good. Plus, I get some relief in the kitchen which is nice. I also try to prepare at least 2 meals that are done if 20 min. or less because I hate cooking just that much. But I sure love Jen's ideas and I'm gonna do it.

Chris said...

I find that what works best for me is $5.00 pizza, chicken nuggets (again), and McDonalds. All joking aside, meal planning is a constant thorn in my side. These posts are sooo helpful. I don't know that it will change things for me anytime soon, but it sure is nice to know I can refer to them when I get a swift kick in the rear!

Sarah said...

Hello! I LOVE to meal plan...and grocery shop! Yes, I am "one of those people."
I have several recipes that I keep in the rotation as well, but I plan out meals for 2 weeks and make my grocery list accordingly. This saves a ton of money and I'm not buying things I don't need or won't use. I am big on trying new recipes but stick to the ones that use ingredients that I use often. I have my husband rate each new meal and those with a 7 or higher get marked so that I know I can put them in the rotation.
I make a run to the grocery store every 2 weeks for "big" shopping but will go again the following week so that the veggies, milk, bread, eggs, etc. are fresh for the next week.
Thanks for doing this post!

Leila said...

Hi Kimba!

Since you ask, I would like to invite you to view my menu-planning advice on my blog, Like Mother, Like Daughter!

I offer you a way to come up with menus that's actually fun and that works!

Jen did a good job explaining how to get ahead on meals without much effort -- thanks for sharing her ideas!

Sara said...

The biggest thing for me is having the food in the pantry. I've started following some of Jen's tips recently so the mealtime chaos isn't there. I've stocked up my freezer with meat that was on sale and try to keep the pantry full of the basics that I use all of the time. That way I don't make half of a recipe and realize I'm out of something. It's made things so much easier!

Laurel @ Ducks in a Row said...

My good friend took a cheap free calendar last year and wrote down everything they ate for dinner - for the entire year. She hated it, but kept thinking that she will never have to think "what should we have" again. Now, this year, she just uses that calendar as a guide. A lot of work up front (she also took notes every night), but pays off in the end - as all good things do.

NCJill said...

For a while I tried the suggestion of keeping a theme each day of the week but varying the actual item. For example Mondays are Italian, Tuesdays are Mexican, etc. That made it easier to think creatively within smaller parameters. I admit I haven't done it in a while, but it really does work great. Also,a random tip, but sometimes I serve dinner on my smaller plates and load 'em up. It looks like more and fools my family of six!(except for the hubby who sometimes says,"Oh, using the small plates tonight, dear?"):)

marty39 said...

I have a real thing about having plenty of staples and meat on hand. I arrange my pantry like a grocery store, you know 1 row of corn 1 row of beans and so on and I keep that full all the time with all the basics. I read the ads and grocery shop according to what's on sale and stock up with all the sale items. I don't plan each days meals but know that we're going to eat chicken, stead, chops, roast and etc so they are always in the freezer. I do like to keep a couple of meals ready to go such as a casserole that can be thrown in the oven at a moments notice of some cooked hamburger that can be thrown in the micro and thawed and made into a million things. That's about all I do, but that way I can cook whatever sounds good at the time. Hugs, Marty

steadymom said...

We have almost the same thing every week. Every Monday is pasta and sauce, etc. Every meal is something we all like. Every meal can be made in about 25 minutes. They are all very healthy meals. None of the meals include meat (usually - such a time saver!)

This works for us and it is freeing since cooking isn't my joy or strength!


Teri from Indiana said...

I have nine children, three at home yet but the others drop in often at mealtime. I found meal planning works up to a point for me. My oldest two sons, lunch seems to be the time to see Mama. Cheaper than eating out according to them.
I like to buy meat, like hamburger in bulk. You can get some great deals if you buy ten pounds. I break it down into pound packages, using quart freezer bags, rolling the meat flat with a rolling pin. You would be surprised how much space you save in a freezer!
I always keep jars of pasta & pizza sauce handy. Add pasta, a couple of pounds of beef, top with cheese, throw it in the oven and bingo! Main course. Cans of tomatoes can become salsa in a blink of an eye.
Whole chickens are great to have too. Throw one in the oven before church and by the time you're home, the meat is falling off the bones. Boil another, shred and freeze for chicken dishes. Freeze the stock for soups. Tortilla soup can be made really quick from the freezer ingredients.
I make larger batches of things like bean dip or soups, freeze those in single servings for those rushed Saturdays when everyone wants something different.
I'm really into seasonings. The 'net is great for rub recipes that you can make and use later. My favorite two are Tennesse Rub Down for ribs ( works great on steaks or burgers too) and Paula Deen's House Seasoning.

It' an Evolution said...

I have to say the freezer is my best friend. I keep the essentials that I know the kids will eat. Basically organics, frozen veggies, turkey meat and lots of soy based products ...

I unfortunately can not say I am organized when it comes to meals. I am a creater and when I see a new recipe, I go for it. I will tweek and make it more what I like. So planning for me stinks...

I have everything very organized but never really have everything I need in one place.

So when it comes to this topic I stink. If you are looking for something new to make, I am your gal.

Have a great weekend.

Jemm said...

I make a menu for a week and and shop once a week. I have one crazy day instead of 7. I also keep stockeed up on essentials. I organize my grocery list according to isle at the store. I typed up a list on the computer and I just print that out and write in what I need in the different isles. Baking, produce, meat, breads etc.

Windy said...

I have a list of my family's faves. I take the calendar and write out a menu plan for the whole month. I make my shopping list according to what's on there. If I don't feel like cooking or eating what's on the list for the day, I switch with another day! I grocery shop every week, comparing coupons and buying meat that is on sale. Because I know what we eat most often, I usually buy the same things and keep the same things stocked up, so we always have what we need:)

bec4 said...

I try to meal plan one month at at time. I print off a calendar and write in all of the events for that month, bible studies, games, etc. That way I know which days I need a quick meal. I then have soup and bread one night every week in the winter, salad and bread in the summer, usually on Sundays. We have homemade pizza or calzones 3 Friday nights a month and take out or take and bake once a month. I then write in a crockpot meal once a week, usually on a busy night. That is 3 meals for the week taken care of. A fourth is leftovers, so I write that in, usually after 3 good meal nights. I then go through a cookbook or magazine and pick out a new recipe--1 for each week. I night gets a family favorite like spaghetti or tacos and that last night to fill in for the week is usually breakfast. We never have the same meal in 1 month, except for pizza. I write on my calendar if I need to buy something fresh for a meal, otherwise I do all of my shopping once a month. I balance out nutrition and types of food over the week, such as 2 chicken meals, 1 hamburger, 1 no meat, etc.

Holly said...

If I had only myself to feed, I could make whatever I wanted, but. . .I have a husband who says 'if there isn't meat it isn't a meal,' and my girls who say 'why do we have to have meat at every meal?' So, I do what I can to make everyone happy. Some nights we do pancakes and bacon or sausage, pasta about once a week, and maybe some homemade fried rice once in a while. The nice thing about fried rice is that you can throw in whatever you have on hand for meat or veggies!

I do love the ideas you share about meal planning and mass cooking, so I am definitely trying to learn what I can!

queenbee said...

I need all the help I can get in this area. I think being prepared ahead of time is key. For instance while you are preparing dinner you could easily chop onions, peppers etc. that may be needed for the next day. My biggest thing is keeping the pantry stocked full of the basics. Does anyone know of a list of all the basics that should be in the pantry and how much of each? Thanks for the post and please stop by my blog and take a look at my DIY spring wreath.

Kameron said...

During the week, while I'm reading my food blogs (thank heavens for Google Reader!), I copy and paste into an email any recipes I think my family will like.

Then, on Saturday afternoons, I take about half an hour and create the week's menu. I put it all into a word document and create the grocery list right there. Since I cook for another family Mondays through Fridays (yes, all year long), I often spend enough on groceries to warrant using Safeway's free delivery. Thank heavens!

So I have it all planned out and can start the recipe the night before (if necessary), or throw it all in the crockpot in the morning. I use my crockpot as much as possible, and try and adapt any recipe that lends itself to crock cooking. Such a great tool!

I have some recipes I will rotate through, but I am a huge fan of trying new recipes. My kids are (kind of) used to eating new things, but I won't say they're always the biggest fans! And sometimes the recipes I think will be their favorites end up bombing. Kids...

I will admit I try and double, triple or quadruple a recipe if it can be frozen (remember, I cook for two families), so my garage freezer is often pretty full. So I'm excited to try Jen's ideas about cooking all that meat - such a great idea!!

emily said...

This is such a great topic, Kimba. And Kendra over at My First Kitchen is actually hosting a survey (up until Monday) asking people what their shopping/meal planning/cooking habits are. I think when its all over, she will bless us with the results as well as fabulous tips as well. Check it out!

The Scooper said...

I am SO not a meal-planning maven like Jen, but I've developed some things that work for us.

One thing I like is making one meal in bulk than can turn into 2 additional meals later in the week.

That meal is "Salsa Chicken." You take frozen chicken breasts or tenderloins, put them in the crockpot, and dump in salsa. Seriously, that's it.

That meal is served over rice with lots of yummy toppings like cheese, sour cream, cilantro, avocado.

The same meal can magically transform into chicken quesadillas.

And also into a yummy Mexican chicken soup.

One meal. Three ways. Super easy.

It's on my blog under "Food: Recipes."

(And since I'm a vegetarian and the rest of my family isn't, I just make a small separate batch on the stove and replace the chicken with black beans. I can still do all the same additional meals with it.)

Connie Kool said...

Here are some of specifics that seem to help me. It might seem overwhelming, but YOU CAN DO THIS!!I am blessed to have a hubby who helps, so we pick one weekend every 3-4 mo to to our stock-up run to a warehouse store. I purchase all our meat for several months. Even the highest quality ground chuck is cheaper than local stores, so at least 10 lbs of it and 10 lbs of ground turkey. Mix it well and no one will ever know! Then I portion off 1/3 for meatloaf--mix and portion into foil loaf pans for freezing... I always add lots of shredded carrots, onion and celery for extra 'hidden' veggies! A bit is seasoned and made into patties. Another 1/3 is browned with onion and frozen in portions for casseroles, soups, etc. The last 1/3 I brown w/cumin, chili powder, onion, garlic and black beans for tacos, chili, enchiladas, etc.
We also buy fresh chix breast or thighs and bake 2-3 pans of them until they are almost done. Then, sliced, diced and frozen into servings for quick soups, casseroles, fajitas, stir fry etc. Large pork loins can be sliced into roasts & chops, and frozen as well. I sometimes put a marinade right in with the pork before freezing, which saves even more time later! I often make several pans of lasagne ahead as well and freeze in 8x8 foil pans-- Our family of four will have at least 2 meals from one pan. The key is to be sure to have all your supplies on hand. I often even chop onions, celery, etc. ahead so it's ready to go. I use a vacuum sealer and between hubby and me we are usually done in about 3-4 hours---and WOW is it worth it! Good luck!

Darlene said...

great post!

I have staples that we eat over and again on those nights when I just can't deal. They always include just a few fresh ingred.s, but mostly pantry regulars. I rotate these staples throughout the month, and I have about 6-8 of them. Otherwise, I do try to plan using Martha's Everyday Food, a few fave cookbooks, and whatever-it-is that is on special in the meat department.

Ugh. I just LOVE what you wrote about Dinner? didn't we just have dinner last night?
you had me roaring!


Kristi said...

At the beginning of each month I sit down and write out a list of recipes I want to make that month. Some are new, some are tried and true. I go out and get the non-perishable items in one big grocery shopping trip. Then as I proceed through the month I can quick dash to the grocery store for the few perishable items needed for the recipe. I like this method as I still have flexibility and choice throughout the month, but am prepared for each night.

Amber said...

It's just me and my hubby, but I have a chronic illness that often leaves me worn out by dinner time and with little time to spend in the kitchen. But, we also live on a budget, so we eat at home most nights and work hard at eating healthy. Over the last year, I've made a real effort to re-vamp my meal planning and grocery shopping to be more time and cost effective and it has helped a TON with the dreaded "what's for dinner tonight?" dilemma when I get home from a full day.

Some of my tips and tricks...
I like to keep a couple homemade frozen meals on hand that freeze well and I can just pop in the oven on a night when I have been too busy or are just too tired to put much effort into dinner. We then still have a healthy choice with the convenience of take-out or eating out without the expense. I often will make 2 of a dish on a night when I have time so I have one to freeze for later.

I keep a folder of new recipes I've printed out from online or pulled out of magazines that I want to try. When I make my grocery list, I usually plan to try one or two new recipes a week. If it isn't a success that we'd like to have again, I toss the page. If we like it and want to add it to our rotation, I'll write it on a recipe card and stick it in my favorites box. I also have a word document with all of the different meals that we make, to quickly jog my memory when I sit down to make a grocery list. This helps me not spend 15 minutes trying to brainstorm what I should make for dinner for the next week.

I like having the option of eating what sounds good, so I don't use a strict meal plan that assigns meals to a particular day. But, I often found that I would make out my grocery list and then, several days later, forget which dishes I had bought ingredients to make. I started making a list of the dishes I was planning to make and posting it on the fridge to jog my memory so I wouldn't forget what I had intended to make with that fresh produce in the fridge and end up not using it before it went bad.

Those are some of my tips and tricks!

greedygrace said...

I make a menu once a week, do my grocery shopping based off the menu, and I stick to the list! It saves money at the grocery store because I'm not wandering up and down the aisles picking up whatever strikes my fancy, and it's healthier, because we're not eating take-out unless we planned for it.

Also, about grocery shopping, we make it a family event! My husband and I both work full time, so we don't want to waste our weekends being separated. We go shopping together, and it makes an otherwise mundane chore a lot more fun!

Mommy said...

Well, we haven't started back after the holidays but I thought I would share anyway. I have three friends who participate with me in a Once a Month Cooking swap. We each make 4 meals of 5 different recipes. We set a deadline to complete our meals. I usually cook them all on one long day and then I'm done. On swap night we each go home with 20 frozen meals to be used for our family. We save alot of money by buying in bulk. I make a list of what's in the freezer (so we do not forget what could potentially get lost in there). It also helps with the urge to eat out when nothing is prepared in advance. It works for me.

Kim said...

I enjoy cooking and I'm fortunate to have a part time job, that allows me to still have time to cook for my family. However, meal planning, shopping for food, and considering healthy options are still difficult. I'm always trying to learn more about these topics!

list mama said...

I once read that on average, meal preparers have an arsenal of about 21 meals that they rotate and rely on most. So the trick is to figure out what your 21 Meals are and refer to those. Then there is no more guessing and racking your brain. You can use my 21 Meals Planner if you would like. Here is the link: http://www.listplanit.com/downloads/20081227_44/download

Hope you like it!


Jenny said...

Thanks for this post. I am a meal planner, but this post inspired me to clean out my pantry and freezer and plan meals to use up what I already have. I had forgotten what I had lurking in the back of the freezer. :)

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

I was happy you linked to Simplemom's two week meal rotation, I hadn't read that post. Made me feel better because we use the rotation system too. I felt a little guilty about it because I thought I was depriving my family because I don't like to cook fancy new stuff all the time!

I keep meal options really REALLY simple. I rarely even have to think about meals any more. We always have the basic stuff on hand for a mexican meal (black beans, cheese, tortillas), a pasta meal, a beans and rice or casserole type meal, and a basic chicken or burger meal. Now and then we throw in a pizza from a take and bake place or we make our own, and we also try to have some salmon once in awhile because it is good for us. We always have lettuce for salad and various fruit and vegetables. If the urge to get creative strikes, I can add in something fancy. The urge doesn't strike me very often, but it is fun sometimes to surprise everyone with something new!

Happy day,

Kendra said...

I'm a big crockpot fan! The nights I have something in the crockpot, are always the smoothest.

But we have done something unique that has worked well for our family. We do a dinner swap with 3 other families each week. There are a couple of different ways to work this, but what it boils down to is that we just plan one main meal for the week, but get enough for four families. The other meals are provided by the other families. If you shop smart, this can save money, too, since you can often buy things in bulk, or plan that meal around what is on sale. It helps me since I just don't have the energy to cook a real meal each night.