Saturday, January 17, 2015

Part 2 of 4: Meal Planning

Last week, we learned about budgeting.  I cannot stress enough the importance of finding an app or program that works for you and your family.  If you are a pen and paper kind of gal/guy, then go that route.  Do not become overwhelmed or overcome by "the right way to do things".  I always tell my students that I can help get them organized, but if it only makes sense to me, they won't stay organized.  Do it your way!

Part 2's blog post in this series is on meal planning.  This part stresses me out the least of all 4 of these.  For me, it is fun finding new recipes and getting ideas.  Here's my process:

1.  Print off blank calendar - Blank Calendar Template
       (actually, print of 2-3 calendars so you can plan ahead)
2.  Write days of the month in (make note of holidays, days gone, etc)

This is just a sample of my December calendar.  And don't be afraid to cross off and rearrange when necessary.

3.  Do Inventory - look through your fridge, pantry, cabinets for things that you already have and plan 2-3 meals for the first week of the month.  I love to do this b/c inevitably I will not be able to go grocery shopping when I had planned so I need to have a meal I can just throw together.  One thing I come back to time and time again is either a chicken fajita mix over spinach or quinoa or making taco salads.  At our house, we always have peppers, chicken, ground beef and spinach.  ALWAYS.  So these are often my "go-to's."  Right now, think of what you always have on hand.  Can you make a meal out of it?  Can you substitute an ingredient if you can't make it to the store?  

4.  Schedule - figure out what days are busy days each week for your family and schedule those "leftovers night".  I plan 2-3 days of leftovers per week. Nathan has late rehearsal every Wednesday and I often sing those days as well.  So I know I won't be making meals most Wednesdays.  

5.  Plan - Aim to make 2-3 family staples (see #3) each week and 2-3 new(er) recipes.  At most, you are making 6 meals a week and at least, 4.  I usually hover around 4-5.  When I pick newer recipes here is my criteria:  
a. Short ingredient list
b. No more than 3 new ingredients (so I don't have a random spice leftover for years)
c. Good flavors
I will usually try to find a new recipe that involves what we always have on hand like ground beef, sweet potatoes, peppers, or spinach.

My favorite cookbooks
6.  Look for new recipes - this is the fun part!  I peruse Pinterest, Taste of Home, my Paleo cookbooks, and recently, Instagram for my new recipes.  And most of them do not disappoint.  Again, I don't pick random stuff that is supposed to be good for me.  I go for flavors and ingredients we love, but using them in a whole new way.   

7.  Fill in your calendar!

I feel I have mastered this process so now, it takes about 30 minutes each Sunday.  And it's always fun when those "newer" recipes become our family staples.  Don't be afraid to try new things in new ways!  We've been experimenting with a variety of spices and love what we've found!  They last forever and can really add to a dish.  Coriander and Turmeric are our favs! 

***One note to tie in budgeting.  I am very mindful that if we want tuna steaks and they are pricey, I will plan the rest of that week around cheaper meals like chicken and sweet potato fries.  It's all about balance.  

Next week, we will tackle grocery shopping!

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