Meal Planning Made Simple

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Meal Planning Ideas


Meal Planning Ideas –

So, what does Meal Planning have to do with the Zero to Stockpile challenge? I’m sure some of you are asking that question. And, it’s a good one.

The reason I’m talking about it is because eating out is a huge money waster. Huge. Meal planning was something, over the past year, that I got super lazy about. And, I really wish I hadn’t.

When we broke down our budget for the past year and determined where we went over the most on our budget item, well, eating out was it. Which, for me, is so frustrating because for the last ten years, I’ve been very good about it. I just fell out of sync for some reason and am challenging myself to get back in sync this year.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve set my old plans into place with a couple of new ideas thrown in. So, I thought, let me share them with you in the event that you need to get your meal planning mojo back too. After all, you are going to be saving a lot of money on your groceries, you don’t want to throw it out the window on restaurant food, do ya? Nah, I didn’t think so…

Let’s Start with Basic Set Up

1. Keep Your Favorite 10-20 Recipes

Right now, go take a survey with your family and find, at least, 10 -20 recipes your family loves. Gather the recipes together in one place. Print them from the website you found them from or take a picture of it from a cookbook and print it from your phone.  If it’s a recipe you make up as you go along or one that you know so well you don’t need to follow a recipe, write the name of the meal on an index card with a few notes on it. Just so you can reference.

If you are like me, some of your recipes don’t have names. I have one recipe, which I made the other day, that is sort of like a turkey bolognese. But, I decided to just call it Turkey “Helper” because, although my husband and I had it over zucchini noodles, my son made himself elbows and stirred it into the turkey mix making it look a little like a hamburger helper.

Any who, the point is to find at least 10 – 20 of your family’s favorites and get them all together so you have super easy, super yummy meals you know your family loves, right at your finger tips.

2. Keep a Notebook (or go digital)

Now that you have gathered your family’s favorite meals, you need to find a place to organize them. The key here is that you keep them  all in one location. I’ve had times where I saved them in my notes on my phone, some saved to Evernote, some pinned on Pinterest and some printed and left in a pile with other recipes I wanted to try.

So, get a notebook, if you are like me and like the old school paper way, or set up something digital like Evernote or Notes or whatever way is easy for you to organize your recipes.

3. Fill Your Freezer, Stockpile and Pantry with Your Favorites

Now that you have those recipes gathered, go through them and write down all the ingredients needed to make them. These are going to be your staple items that you need in your pantry, in your freezer or in your fridge.

These items should ALWAYS be on your radar for a great sale and should always be stocked for quick use in your meals.

4. Choose the Number of Days Off You Want

The next step is the fun part. Remember you are not a super hero. You need some time off. So, schedule days where you can go out to eat or get take out. Of course, this needs to be included in your restaurant budget but as long as you have the money for it, set aside a day or two that will be your eat out days.

5. Set Yourself Up with The Proper Kitchen Tools

My husband always tells me, when we are doing a project in the house, that having the right tools makes everything so much easier. Well, the same is true in the kitchen.

Of course, every kitchen needs the basics like vegetable peeler, can opener etc. I’m talking about a few items that can help make meal prep so much easier.

Here are some of my favorite kitchen tools and appliances:

Now Onto Weekly Prep


6. Check Your Schedule for the Week

Before you decide what you are going to cook and when, take a look at your calendar. What is your schedule like for the coming week? If Wednesday is going to be a super busy day, decide, for that day, if you will use that as your take out day, a day you will cook something in the crockpot or maybe it’s a day that you pull something that is already made (see #10) out of the freezer.

It’s important to get a pulse on how your week is lining up so you can plan your meals accordingly.

7. Check Your Freezer, Pantry and Fridge

This may surprise you but you don’t actually have to plan your meals around a recipe. You don’t even need to pick a recipe right away if you don’t want to. You can keep it basic and list things like:

Monday: Chicken & use up sweet potatoes
Tuesday: Tacos
Wednesday: Crockpot meal (use the chicken from the freezer)
Thursday: Pasta

Sometimes I like to make some basics. For instance, on Monday, I would see I have planned “chicken & use up sweet potatoes”. That would prompt me to just make something simple like breaded chicken breast baked in the oven and maybe make some sweet potatoes noodles with a salad or whatever easy vegetable is in the fridge or freezer.

So, in order for you to prepare your menu for the week, take a look through your freezer, your fridge and your pantry to see the things you need or want to use up. Like those sweet potatoes may be starting to sprout and you really need to get them cooked up. Throw that up on your list to be used on one of the days. Doing this, insures you don’t let things go to waste before you use them up.

And, of course, watch what is on sale for the week and incorporate those items into your cooking as well. Or, just buy them and freeze them for future use.

It’s important to know How to Freeze Food Safetly too!

8. Keep a Calendar

Once you decide on what you want to cook for the week, write it down. Keep it on your calendar, on a chalkboard in your kitchen, in your to do book or whatever way that keeps you organized. But write it down for each day of the week.

9. Prep Some Items Ahead

Prepping ahead of time is a huge time saver. You can chop up chicken, peppers, make BBQ sauce, taco seasoning, etc.

There are two ways to look at the prep. I do a combination of both of them.

  1. Prep for the week: Once you have made your calendar and you know what you are having, you can start prepping early in the week. In my house, Sunday is usually a good day for that! So, lets say tacos are on your calendar for Tuesday, on Sunday you can start prepping the taco toppings you’ll be serving and store them in the fridge. You can even cook up the meat so you just need to reheat it on Tuesday. Or lets say your crockpot chicken dish on Wednesday called for sliced peppers and onions. You can prep them on Sunday as well.
  2. Prep as you buy: This is actually my favorite way to prep. When I buy items, I freeze them into smaller packages that would work for a meal for my family. I also like to prepare meats in various forms for different types of recipes. For instance, I recently bought 30 lbs of chicken at a great price. Before I put it in the freezer,  I sliced them all thin and I took about 6 lbs of the chicken and sliced it into cubes. This has already made it super easy for some recipes I made this week. the chopping was already done for me.

10. Double Up

You are already cooking a meal, so why not just double up on the recipe. Some recipes that freeze super well are soups, stews, chilis and casseroles. Meatballs and sauce are a staple in my freezer as well.

I hope these tips will help you step up your meal planning making it super easy and so much less stressful to plan and cook your meals for your family.

Share with us below, your tips for Meal Planning!

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