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Meal Planning

I have used various meal plans throughout the years.  One thing remains: I work so much better with a plan.  It is a necessity at least during the school year.  During this time, since we are eating 3 meals a day at home, I often plan lunches too.  I used to plan breakfasts too, but now that the kids are getting older, they can pretty much make their own.  And breakfast is always simple: cereal, yogurt, fruit, toast, etc.

Basically, what I do is this:  I have a master list of meals that I like to make or that the family likes to eat!  I also have a folder of recipes that I tear out from magazines, etc.  I refer to the list or the folder when I need some inspiration.  When I plan my meals, I usually plan 1-2 weeks at a time.  I can not begin to tell you how much easier it is when I have the meals planned out.  It’s a no brainer!

My master list includes:
*basic chicken recipes that we like: parmesan, grilled, francais, etc
*pasta: various sauces, baked ziti, ravioli, stuffed shells, homemade mac and cheese, etc.  *Mexican: enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, tacos, etc.  
*Soups: potato, minestrone, pasta y fagioli, chilis, etc.  
*Crockpot meals
*Others ideas: quiche, breakfast for dinner nights, casseroles, etc.

When I am ready to plan, I look at our calendar first and see what activities we have each day.  On busy nights, I plan something easier or leftovers.  On days where we have more time, I plan a more complicated meal.

We don’t eat red meat, so our choices are more limited in meals.  But in general we have a Mexican night, pasta on Sunday and maybe one other during the week, 1-2 days of chicken, sometimes paninnis or sandwich  night, in the winter we have lots of vegetable chili and soups.  Summer we have many more salads.

Plan according to what is available.  If you get in a rut, pull out the recipes.  Always have things on hand for when the plan goes awry.  Pasta is our go-to meal when things get out of whack.  I always have it on hand, everyone likes it, and I can mix it with veggies, chicken or even chick peas for protein.  And it takes hardly anytime or effort to boil water!

Here is an example from my calendar during the school year:
Monday: Veggie enchiladas, rice, beans
Tuesday: pierogis, applesauce, salad
Wednesday: Chicken with sauteed mushrooms and onions, broccoli, rice
Thursday: Homemade Mac and cheese, peas, salad
Friday: Homemade Pizza (usually every Friday)
Saturday: no meal (family party to go to)
Sunday: Spaghetti with pesto, bread, tomato salad
The keys to the meal planning are:
~ Using what you have already in your home and then grocery shopping according to the meal plan.  
~Take the meal plan with you to the store so you can get all the ingredients you need for 1-2 weeks.  
~Flexibiltiy.  If the week has unexpected circumstances then it is ok to get off track.  It doesn’t mean to give up on the plan.  Just move forward with it the next day.
~Make extra when you have the time and freeze it.  This comes in handy when you are stuck on a busy day.

Whatever your meal plan, remember…it is more important to have that family time around the table than a fancy meal.  When you have time, make the more complicated recipes…they will be appreciated more too.  Take the pressure off during busy times, and make more simpler meals.  Enjoy!

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