A few weeks ago I talked about budgeting, this week I wanted to focus on how I actually plan my meals.
Rotation is Not Just for Planets
The only meal that I really plan is supper. I have a rotation in place for breakfast and lunch. Based on what day of the week it is, I know (and the kids know) what is for breakfast that day. Here is our breakfast rotation: Monday and Wednesday, we have eggs and toast. Tuesday and Thursday, we have cereal. Friday is muffins and Saturday is pancakes and sausage. On Sunday, the kids have oatmeal and I have yogurt and a protein bar since I don’t like oatmeal. Having a plan like this in place makes meal planning a breeze! All you have to do is make sure you have your staples on hand for breakfast and you’re good to go.
Lunch is not as planned. I stock up on lunch meat and cheese, microwave mac-and-cheese, some Chef Boyardee meals, tortillas and shredded cheese, frozen tortellini, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, diced tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese for a quick pizza. As you can see, this is when I buy my pre-packaged food. We homeschool so I need lunch to be quick and easy so we can get back to work. From these choices my kids can have a sandwich, peanut butter and jelly, cheese quesadillas, grilled cheese, homemade pizza, pasta with butter and Italian seasonings, macaroni and cheese, or canned pasta. Of course fruit and veggies are always kept around for sides and snacks. Another easy meal to plan, just make sure you’ve got the basics!
Be a Boy Scout
Just like the Boy Scouts are always prepared, to feed your family, you need to be as well. Before I ever put pencil to paper I think about the week. What nights do we have activities? What nights are we going to be pressed for time? Then I make a notation on my page. You should always have a few select recipes for the crockpot or that are quick and easy. Use these recipes for those days. You are more likely to cook on busy days if you don’t have one hour of prepping and cooking staring you in the face when you walk through the door. Check out my Speedy Quick Pinterest board for some of my favorites.
When making my menu for the week, I try to be very conscious of meals that can be used more than once, especially my meat dish. For example, if I make a roast, I plan on making stew or barbecue beef later in the week. I use leftover chicken to make soups or fajitas and leftover pork roast for carnitas. This helps you out with your grocery budget and it helps you with nights when you need quick and easy. A win-win situation!
Sometimes the hardest part of planning a meal is not your main dish, but what to pair with it. There are a few methods that I use to choose side dishes:
- Try to Make a Rainbow. I always tell my kids to make a rainbow on their plate. What I’m encouraging them to do is eat vegetables from all the color groups: greens, whites, yellows, oranges, reds. For them to do this, though, I need to make sure and have a variety offered that my family will eat, so try to hit lots of color groups with your sides.
- Notice what Restaurants Pair Together. Lots of times I get ideas for what would taste well with each other by looking at restaurant menus. If you can’t figure out what to serve with fish, pull up some restaurants online that you love. Most have their menus online so you can easily see what side dishes they put with different main dishes.
- Ask Somebody. There is no harm in asking friends and family what sounds good with roasted pork. You don’t become a good cook by never asking questions or trying something different.
- Trust Your Buds. After you’ve cooked for a while, you begin to understand spices and flavors. You start to just “know” what flavor combinations would work well together. Once you get to this point, choosing side dishes and flavor combinations becomes much easier.
My Meal Plan Process in Pictures
First, I write down the days of the week on a piece of paper.
Next, I circle the days that I need a crockpot or quick and easy meal.
Now, I write down my proteins for each day based upon what is in my freezer. I try to never have any of the same meat back to back. It’s just my personal
food issues uniqueness shining through!
Once I have my proteins down now I try to find a recipe to fit that protein. I use cookbooks, Pinterest, my own personal recipes, etc. I generally stick to tried and true ones and only spring something new on everybody about once a week. Sometimes it’s good enough to become a permanent fixture in my meal planning and sometimes it’s a one hit wonder. I add a recipe name to my protein.
When I know exactly what I’m making, I can add my side dishes.
Notice on Sunday, I wrote rice x2. That is my double duty item. I’m using rice in a dish later in the week so when I make my rice on Sunday, I’m reminding myself to make a double batch. I’ll store half of it in the refrigerator and pull it out later in the week for my other recipe.
Hopefully this explanation helped you understand exactly the process that I go through to plan our meals. The first few times you do this it will take a while. But once you get the hang of it, it goes much faster. I can plan our entire week’s meals in about 10-15 minutes.
Next week, I’ll be showing how to get all of this on the table when you have little people under your feet!
Planning protein and rainbow plates in the tree house,