meal planning

Formula for Planning 6 Meals in 30 Minutes or Less (plus 1 week of recipes)

Ok I need to be honest here...for the first few years of marriage meal planning was a weekly task that really stressed me out. Anybody else out there felt this way? Well I did. I could not decide on what I wanted to cook, or I would plan for 5 or 6 elaborate meals with insanely long ingredient lists...I hardly ever landed at a balance. And talk about busting the budget, yikes, but that is another post for another day. 

Awhile back I worked at a bakery as a head kitchen assistant and during my time there I began to notice something about my boss...she NEVER used recipes. Like ever, and she never had to plan meals. I was so amazed by her ability to throw ingredients together to make something delicious with minimal effort (all while running a successful business and being a mom to 9 year old triplets and a 7 year old, hello super woman), and the longer I worked closely with her the more I learned to be this way in the kitchen. 

Now, I am quite the type A personality, so not meal planning would not work for me like it did for my boss. However, I have taken the principles I learned from working at the bakery and created my own simple meal planning formula that I try to stick to every week. It is broad and really just a road map for me to keep planning simple and stress free. 

Simple Meal Planning Formula! Super handy for making meal planning stress free and QUICK! YES!

MEAL PLANNING RULES OF THUMB 

  • MAKE IT YOUR TIME - Set aside your own uninterrupted time to get this done. I usually make out my weekly meal plan on Sunday afternoons. I will sit at the dining room table with my laptop, meal planning journal, recipe book, and a cup of coffee and go to town.
  • BROWSE RECIPES BEFORE YOU START- I take about 5-10 minutes to look through Pinterest, recipe books, and my own printed recipes before starting to meal plan. I make notes of recipes that interest me as I go. 
  • TAKE INVENTORY - Before I start planning out my meals I do a quick pantry, freezer, and fridge scan to make sure I know what I have to work with. Saves money every time. Check out my previous post on Meal Planning 101 for more tips to make the before, during, and after process less stressful also. 

Now for my super simple formula, I have five categories I try to stick to loosely. These categories help me fly through my planning, and rarely do I spend longer than 30 minutes beginning to end scratching out a meal plan for the whole week. 

Oh Simple Joys - Meal Planning Formula   Makes Meal Planning a breeze. Easy and Fast!! YES!

2 QUICK MEALS

I say that a meal is quick if it takes less than 30 minutes from the time you cut your oven on to the time you are at the table serving your family. OR it is a meal that is frozen ahead of time, or a crock pot meal. So I try to get creative but always plan for two simple, no fuss meals. 

1 NEW OR ETHNIC MEAL

As a self proclaimed foodie I really enjoy trying new dishes. So I limit myself, for my husband's sake (he is not a huge ethnic food fan) and for the sake of our budget to one meal a week. I may try a new ingredient I have never worked with or a new technique with something as basic as chicken. This meal keeps me excited to be in the kitchen every week. 

1 MEAL IN A BOWL

Oh the endless possibilities in this category. Rice bowls are my favorite. I will use barley, quinoa or rice, add in some protein and sauteed veggies and call it a day. Salads are a great option, as is any pasta dish. HELLO CARBS IN A CREAM SAUCE!!! Also during the winter months we have some type of soup almost weekly. 

1 MEAL ON THE GRILL

As Mississippi residents it is never too cold for us to grill outside, but for those of you that may actually have a winter you can grill inside with those nifty little grill pans that can be found anywhere these days. We usually grill out once during the weekend. It feels different than our normal meals during the week so it is an exciting way for us to usher in a relaxing time off from work. 

1 REPURPOSED MEAL

Repurposed meals are my favorite because they push me to get creative. Basically I take any leftovers from the week and make a dish out of it. Sometimes it may be a soup, other times it may be a frittata or quiche, and other it is simply breakfast for dinner night. Creativity is key in this category.

1 DATE NIGHT

Last but not least, my husband and I have an out to eat date night once a week. Because who doesn't love a night off?! 

Oh Simple Joys - Meal Planning Formula   Makes Meal Planning a breeze. Easy and Fast!! YES!

Meal planning can be simple when you follow this easy formula. Think of it as a simple road map to help you detour stress and to save time!! Below I have listed our meal plan for this week (by category) for you all to use as an example. 

Quick Meals -

New / Ethnic Meal - 

Meal in a Bowl - 

  • Chicken Noodle Soup (also a repurposed meal made with broth from bones of the flat roasted chicken, leftover chicken meat, leftover veggies - BIG MONEY SAVER right here!!)

Meal on the Grill - 

Repurposed Meal -

  • Mixed veggie, sweet potato, and kale frittata (not really a recipe on this one, I just follow my gut)

How do you make meal planning less stressful? I would love to hear your tips and tricks! Have questions? Drop me a line!

Meal Planning 101 - How to Plan and Budget (even when that is not your thing)

For the greater part of my life my approach to managing money has been to follow my impulses. Yes I have always been "that girl". I was not raised in a family that used a written budget so I grew up clueless as to how to go about using or creating a budget. I did not write things down, did not plan, and I did not check myself other than looking at my online bank statement from time to time. Then I met my husband...when it comes to managing money Ben and I could not have been more opposite. I was the impulsive free spender, never looking ahead, and he was/is the calculated budgeter that puts thought into every purchase. Opposites attract right?! 

Once we got married and were living on a newlywed income I was in for a rude awakening. I had no clue how to use a budget, and even less of an idea of how to meal plan (or even cook really). But I began researching, trying things I had never tried before, and honestly, between you and I, I FAILED/busted the budget/went over/whatever you want to call it A LOT. So today I am sharing some tips that I have learned from my mistakes and how you can become a planner (even if you are like me and tend to spend impulsively!)


CREATE A BUDGET (and stick with it)


Our family spends about $75-85 a week, and we try to stay within the budget of $300 a month. Some weeks may be $85, while others may be $65. I am sure some of you are thinking this is crazy, we have to be starving ourselves or eating ramen noodles all the time right? Well we aren't, in fact as crazy as it sounds I have never had ramen noodles, though my husband claims they are actually quite tasty. We eat 3 meals a day, and I plan out 5-6 meals a week that I cook at home. We plan for one night out to eat as a date night, and one meal a week with our church family (this is potluck style so what I bring varies from salads to main dishes and desserts). 

How do we do this? Well here are a few things to keep in mind when making your budget...

  • Leftovers are your friend! Save money by eating leftovers for lunch the next day, freeze leftover soups, stews, or chili to have as a quick meal later on. 
  • Don't be brand specific! We shop sales, and are not ashamed of buying the grocery store brand. I have learned that most everything tastes just as good as that "name brand" food item I love. So save a few bucks by being brand neutral. 
  • Do it yourself. Rather than buying spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, stocks, pizza dough...and the list goes on. Try making more pantry staples yourself! 

EVALUATE YOUR STOCK


Before you even sit down to start planning out your meals take 5-10 minutes to browse through your pantry and fridge. Check to see what you have and take note of those things. I almost always have a variety of grains, beans, frozen veggies, and sauces. I write these things down and try to incorporate them in my planning. Also I look to see what items may be expiring soon. If I have milk about to go bad I make up a batch of homemade pudding or yogurt. Eggs? I will usually plan for a breakfast for dinner night or make a veggie frittata. The key to keeping a lower budget is to use what you have and avoid wasting anything! 


CHECK FOR SALES & COUPONS


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Another key part to successfully staying on budget when it comes to meal planning is shopping the sales and buying seasonal ingredients. Grocery stores always have sales, so plan your meals around the sale items rather than creating a menu and making your list fit the menu. Make the sales work for you! 

Also, seasonal ingredients are the fruits and veggies that are growing at any given season. As we go into fall you will begin to notice the prices will drop on things like winter squash, kale, Brussel sprouts, beets, cabbage, and more. Plan meals around these things, you will be saving money and eating what the earth is naturally growing during any time of the year. 


PLAN YOUR MEALS 


Now is the time that I sit down to write out my meals for the week. Like I mentioned earlier I plan to cook 5-6 meals a week. I try to never plan out my meals on the same day I go grocery shopping, it becomes exaughsting and leaves me feeling overwhelmed and frantic. I try to take some time over the weekend to browse for recipes, and get my head together before ever venturing into a store. 

My rule of thumb is that I plan for meals that have leftovers we can eat them the next day for lunches, I try to have one meatless meal, and one "leftovers" dinner per week.

I use a variety of resources for my meal inspiration every week. Below are some of my most used food blogs, and then of course I have an arsenal of recipes that I rotate through regularly. (side note, if you do not have a binder of recipes you LOVE I would highly recommend creating one. Pinterest is great but I love my recipe binder that is full of tested and hubby approved recipes)


NEVER SHOP UNPREPARED


After all the planning you have put into your meals you do not want to get to the grocery store and find yourself unprepared. You will be able to unravel all the planning in just a few minutes (or at least that is how I am).

I always have my list written out (I use my lovely Seasonal Meal Planning Journal from my friend Natasha Red) and I always have a pen and calculator ready to go. 

I make sure that I am not hungry before I walk into the store (this is the meal planner's mortal sin! eat before you go!!) and I plan to go at a time that is not overcrowded with people (usually early in the morning or late at night). 

I only buy the items on my list, and I try very hard to calculate everything I place in my buggy as I go so that I am not shocked by my total at checkout. (which even now still manages to happen to me from time to time). 


REMEMBER THIS IS A GUIDELINE, NOT A LAW


Meal planning and budgeting require lots of time and energy. Some weeks I slip up and am not able to prepare the way I usually do...those weeks are usually the times that I bust the budget. AND THAT IS OKAY! Life is short, and I am all too quick to beat myself up over spending $10 more than I meant to. Budgeting is a guideline to make your life less stressful and more free...but do not let it become something that causes you stress and becomes a shackle rather than a freedom! 

Busting the budget is not worth your tears!! (this is coming from the queen of crying over groceries) 


OUR MEAL PLAN THIS WEEK


I plan my meals around 7 day periods so this week the first of the month happens on a Thursday so this is day one of this 7 day plan. 

Do you meal plan? What tips do you have for making the process easier? 

Meal Inspiration - What We Are Eating

Lately I have been so inspired by seasonal eating. For whatever reason it makes me feel in touch with the Lord's creation, and it is a healthy and cost efficient way to feed my family and friends. I have done some research and made a list of great summer food items that I want to include in my cooking as much as possible and I want to share that with you in hopes of inspiring you to do the same!

I don't know about you, but I love seeing other people's menus, meal plans, and grocery lists! They provide such kitchen inspiration for me, and often help me plan my own weekly menu! So I have decided to share some of our meals from this week with you all in hopes of inspiring you to cook seasonally and with ease. 

We usually plan to cook 5 meals a week, and I make large enough portions that we can eat leftovers for lunch the next day. We always plan for one date night out to eat and each Sunday our church shares a meal together, so 5 seasonal meals is simple, and relatively easy to fit into our little grocery budget! This week I focused on quick and easy recipes that I know well, and that are not loaded in creamy sauces or filled with carbs! So this week we have lots of veggies and lots of protein! 

photo credit // half baked harvest

photo credit // half baked harvest

Basil Chicken Curry with Coconut Ginger-Lime Rice and fresh Naan ( I used fresh peaches instead of the mango this recipe calls for, and added freshly grated garlic to the naan, oh and I used sweet curry powder instead of spicy!) 

Sweet Potato, Bell Pepper, and Sausage Hash

Bacon, Sausage, Spinach, and Veggie Frittata + Fruit (similar to my recipe with some variation here)

Bang Bang Chicken Kabobs with Corn and Zucchini

And for those who may be interested here is my list of seasonal summer foods I will be using all the time in the months ahead...

  • Watermelon
  • Strawberries, Blueberries, Blackberries, Raspberries
  • Cherries
  • Plums
  • Apricots
  • Peaches
  • Figs
  • Mint, Basil, Cilantro, and Parsley (on everything)
  • Corn
  • Tomatoes
  • Spinach
  • Zucchini / Summer Squash
  • Eggplant
  • Green Beans
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Leeks

YAY for seasonal eating! I hope this list inspires you to cook seasonally and enjoy what the earth has to offer this summer! Happy cooking! :)