11 March 2009

Meal Planning: A Guest Post

A practical post on meal planning from Jen of Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. Jen is an expert meal planner for her family of 7. She blogs about frugal living and the beauty and bedlam that is her life.

The 5:00 o’clock dinner bell gongs, and the dreaded, “what’s for dinner” question haunts us. Do they really need to eat again? Sheesh - didn’t I just feed them?

When I mention meal planning, most women run for the hills because it is just one more thing to cram on our overextended plates. We know there’s a benefit in having a plan, but the thought of having to actually sit down and work it through leaves us frazzled and overwhelmed.

For many of us, this is the most difficult aspect in making your home a “soft place to land.” Our families need to eat…every day…all the time…and that cooking rut grows deeper. So how do we get around this lack of follow through? Just do it – with small baby steps!

I had written another post (in my mind), with some general suggestions for conquering Meal Time Mountain, but after brainstorming with some friends, they finally declared…“Jen, seriously, just tell us what to do, so we can copy you.”

That’s a scary statement, people…but here goes.

I did a one hour challenge to see just how much I could do to prepare for future meals. I attacked this mission with fervor, and planned on conquering it. Here’s what I did:

I had already thawed the meats, and started a crock pot full of black beans that morning. So I fired up my best friends for the evening – my rice cooker and grill.

I grilled ten combined pounds of chicken, pork and hamburger.

While I (technically, my 13 year old son) was grilling, I fried six pounds of hamburger meat, and started my rice cooker and made two separate helpings of brown rice and basmati rice.

One hour later, I had eighteen chicken breasts and pork chopped, sliced and diced.

The rice, beans and seasoned hamburger meat were completed and divided into baggies.

Every thing that I had just put into Ziplock bags now offered a minimum of 15 possible meals choices that I can cook up in minutes. Since I have an “emergency corner” of foods that I am never without, I can draw from this stockpile on any given day. I highly recommend doing this – even if it’s just with a few items.

These are the items that I always stock.
1. cans of diced tomatoes
2. cans of cream of mushroom/chicken soup
3. flour tortillas
4. shredded cheese
5. frozen vegetables
6. salsa
7. noodles
8. spaghetti sauce
9. Sour cream
10. A few Pillsbury-type items: pie crusts, biscuits, pizza crust

With these items and the food I just prepared, I can make:
• Chicken stir fry
• Enchiladas or burritos
• Simple chicken casserole
• Simple Chicken pot pie
• Chili
• Taco salad
• Taco dip
• Taco pizza
• Grilled Chicken salad
• Shredded pork with BBQ sauce
• Stuffed biscuits with salsa or spaghetti sauce, hamburger, and cheese
• Spaghetti

Kimba here: Jen is going to post a more detailed explanation of how she assembles these meals on her blog.

Whew, can you believe it? I was just getting warmed up. I’ll have to finish at my blog. And don’t worry if you don’t have much freezer space…all of that only took up this little bit of room in my freezer.

Look at all I got done with one hour and 15 minutes of intentional time set aside to conquer this mealtime mountain. If I can do this…you can too.

I am passionate about families spending more time connecting at the dinner table and less time being frazzled with the process. With simple meal planning, you not only save time, and HUGE amounts of money, but you enjoy the lost art of shared dinner conversations which makes this priceless.

Let’s continue to make our home a soft place to land by taking time this week to move from best intentions to answering the “what’s for dinner question” in our own home.

From Kimba: If you have meal planning questions for Jen, leave them in the comments section and Jen will be around to dialogue and follow up.

Thank you, Jen! I'm thrilled that you were able to share your meal planning process with all of us. I am so blessed to call you my friend. Be sure to visit Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for follow-up posts on her meal planning process.

Click here to read the previous posts in this series.

33 comments {Click here to leave a comment}:

These Are The Days said...

Love your friends who told you to 'just tell us what you do'...that's exactly what I was thinking! Jen, I'm probably the worst at meal planning and grocery shopping. Thanks so much for the help and the list of things to have on hand. I'm off to the stor (with coupons in hand) first thing tomorrow. I look forward to your follow up post...I do need a little more detail. Love you!!!

Lisa said...

I'm taking notes. But I agree with Jessica. I need recipes...and amounts. If left to my own devices it could turn into one hot mess! I'm looking forward to the next post!

Amanda said...

Thank you Jen! That was just what I needed to hear today. I can totally do that! I'm SO BAD about meal planning and it's an area in my life that I have vowed to get better at. This will help so much. THANK YOU!!!

Tanya said...

amazing! i needed this post. i am excited to try this.

Unknown said...

Jen is a genious. I love cooking big batches of food on the weekends for the week. My husband works out of town and when he leaves Monday morning, he leaves with four meals for the week.

Thanks Kimba for highlighting Jen, she is a wonderful person.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the ideas! The list of items to keep on hand was great! I need to do that for sure!

Pretty Organizer said...

Sister... we were raised together. My favorite cookbook? Make a Mix cookbook. I think it's a bajillion years old (don't tell my mother) and has now been reprinted but it's the only way to go with an army to feed!

1 fast tip from 1 crazy mom to another... I crock pot my ground beef now. I buy that gianormous package of ground beef (10 lbs?) and put a layer of it in the crock, sprinkle with dried onion flakes, salt, and pepper, put another layer of meat, repeat. The result is a pre-seasoned loaf of meat you divide and can use in ANY MEAL. I'll often let it cook over-night and portion it out in the morning.

LOVE THE POST JENIMBA! Great Homemaking combo!


Kim said...

I am just lovin these guest posts that people are doing! What a great wealth of information!! I'm going to have to plan my intentional hour of cooking.

southerninspiration said...

Jen, is the house next door to you for sale? I'm just saying that when the five o'clock bedlam hits at my house, I could just come over and beg......nice post, and yes, it is amazing what we can prepare when we are just intentional about it. thanks for sharing....now please untie Kimba so she can share a crafty genius idea with us! :)


Laurel @ Ducks in a Row said...

I've heard that you should cook ahead, but that always seems like such a daunting task. This seems do-able. I can't wait to read more!

Leila said...


Do things while you are doing them! Just do a little more! It works!

Kimba said...

Hi girls! In Jen's original article, she gave a little more detail about assembling the meals once you've done the prep work. We edited it down to make the article a little shorter.

Here's what she said about putting together meals from her freezer combined with her pantry items.

With the pantry items and the food I just prepared, I can make:

•Chicken stir fry – chicken, frozen veggies, rice

•Enchiladas or burritos with rice, beans, taco seasoned beef, cheese, salsa, and sour cream

•Simple chicken casserole with diced chicken, cream of mushroom/chx soup, rice, seasoning, and cheese sprinkled on top.

•Simple Chicken pot pie with chicken, cream of mush/chx soup, bag of frozen veggies, cheese, and an all purpose seasoning…I love Homemade Gourmet.

•Chili – hamburger, beans, water, can of diced tomatoes, seasoning, and water.

•Taco salad - romaine lettuce drizzled with either French or ranch dressings, dolloped with black beans, taco flavored hamburger meat, salsa, sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips

•Taco dip

•Taco pizza

•Grilled Chicken salad

•Shredded pork with BBQ sauce makes a great sandwich

•Stuffed biscuits with either salsa or spaghetti sauce, hamburger, and cheese


The Nester said...

Great job jen! Love the idea of grilling ahead of time. why haven't I thought of that?

Melissa @ The Inspired Room said...

Grilling. I need tips....do you season the meat first with something that works for all your recipe options? Halp. Cooking is not my thing. Love grilling and never thought of doing it in advance! OY! You are brilliant.

Marty@A Stroll Thru Life said...

Great tips and suggestions. I love to have meals ready to go on the spur of the moment. Thanks, Hugs, Marty

Anonymous said...

This post could not have come at a better time. Just last night I started hearing the chime of whats for dinner. We did the "what do you feel like" routine and didnt get any matching results. We ended up at subway and spent a small fortune that I didnt have ..ugh! What was I thinking. Thirty dollars almost for a few footlongs and a pizza. I almost didnt enjoy it{other than the fact of a clean kitchen} Thank you girls for this post. I will have to try it. My wallet needs to try it.. I will be over to see your details Jen!

Jen - Balancing Beauty and Bedlam said...

hi ladies - As far as the grilling, I didn't take the time to marinate the meat - which would have made it perfect, but I did sprinkle various seasonings and included that on the label when I baggied them up. For instance - garlic basil, taco, garlic lemon etc. It just took me a few seconds to rub them all on....yum.

And why, oh why, did I have to follow Kimba's amazing pink ponk wreath. Meal planning feels like work after that, but come on....let's make it a game. See how much you can do. :)

A. M. Newsom said...

Meal Planning is definitely a MOUNTAIN to climb - and most of us have to take that hike everyday! I was excited to see that this post was about cooking AHEAD to make meal time easier. Whether you stay at home or not, having the majority of your meal ALREADY cooked is such a time saver. Thanks Jen for making this mom's life a little less crazy around that 5 o'clock hour!

Anonymous said...

That makes me want to come to your place for dinner. Very intentional and delicious plan - thanks.

Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality said...

Great tips, Jen & Kimba! I don't have a huge family to cook for, so don't do a lot of pre-cooking, but I can see how this would save time for you with your kids. If I had that many to feed every day, I'd definitely come up with the short-cuts too. You're good!

Meredith said...

Jen is so right--meal prep is the *hardest* part of making a soft place to land.

I do a haphazard version of this method, but never as intentional as this, or by challenging myself to see how much I can get done in an hour.

Great inspiration!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful idea!

I thought I was doing good by precooking meat for the next meal while making dinner for the night. I am already in the kitchen. I am already standing over the stove or cutting veggies on the cutting board. I can watch 2 on a stove almost as easy as just one and it makes my next night so much easier.

That's an even better way to be prepared for days, instead of one day ahead. Thanks for sharing!


jennykate77 said...

WOW...I'm so inspired! It really didn't seem too hard at all. Great tips!

Thanks so much for taking the time to share!

Misti of Studio M Designs said...

I have always said this is something I needed to do, now seeing exactly how makes me want to get my grilling groove on! I love to grill because it's easy cleanup and I am the ultimate rice maker, thanks to my grandmother (oh and the fact that we grew up eating rice for dinner every night). I grew up with a family of 7, including 4 big brothers that could put away some food, my mother needed these tips!

Sara F. said...

This is perfect timing with a busy summer of ball games coming up! Thanks for the great tips!

Amber Filkins said...

Great ideas Jen! Thanks for sharing. I cook from scratch every day, but it would be nice to have some prep work done for the days when I'm short on time.

Now if only I could come up with a solution for my skinny freezer to store all the prepped stuff!!

jeanne @ Inspiring Ideas said...

Wonderful tips! We do a mini-version of this: Sunday afternoon my husband usually grills steak or salmon for dinner that day. He also throws on a large package of chicken breasts, which we pop in the fridge for about 3-4 of the following weeknight dinners (which I do). Our meals options are similar: burritos, quesadillas, pasta, red leaf/spinach salad with sliced chicken on top, fajitas or if I'm really pressed for time one of those boxed Thai noodle meals. Our staples are similar as well, so "just add veggies" and away you go!

Ann said...

I could use this post... looks so yummy and a bit easy too...Thanks a lot.

Jess @ Just a Blink said...

Thanks for the pep-talk! I believe "we" can do it too!

I love freezer cooking!!!!!

Ruthanne said...

I'm a day late on commenting! :(

This post makes me wish we had a gas grill - hubby only uses charcoal and for the life of me, I can't learn his system of how to intricately stack each individual coal!!

Southern Charm said...

I love it!!! I hate meal planning every week as my family is never satisfied and I hate cooking even more. Why have I never thought of preparing it in advance for thsoe days when I just need a night off? Great ideas! I am going to do it.

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

Sorry I'm a little late getting to this post, but just wanted to say I think Jen is brilliant! I'm trying to come up with better meal planning routines and this was a big help. Recently I've started using Monday mornings to prepare 3 casseroles for the week that I stack in the fridge, then I have at least 3 nights taken care of. I thought that was good, but Jen had enough for 15 meals whipped up in an hour! Wow. Thanks for the inspiration! :-)

Unknown said...

You are so impressive!! What a great idea. Not sure if I could handle all of that, but I certainly could do more ahead and want to have more "emergency" meals on hand.

Thanks for the fabulous info!