Meal Planning and You

plated meal with vegetablesMeal planning made easy

I’m going to tell you about our families’ weekly meal plan, to make it easy for you to create your own. Our plan is not designed for weight loss, or for the treatment of disease, it’s a plan that works for us. We created this plan to help get ourselves off of the hamster wheel of “What do we make for dinner?” To automate a daily task and while leave room for creativity, save time and make shopping more efficient.

What do you need? If you copy what we do, you’ll want a good crock pot, a pan with metal grate or cooking cooling rack, a good frying pan(we love our cast iron pans), and freezer bags. Likely you’ll need more kitchen equipment, but unless this is your first time cooking at home, you’ll likely have most of the equipment.

Now you need to think for a moment, grab a notepad and jot down the 3-6 meals you always cook. The old standbys, the comfort items, and the ones you buy for every week even if you don’t have plans to make it. In our house those meals are: easy stir fry, tacos, rice beans and sausage, roasted chicken breasts, and crock pot pork roast.hand writing in journal

Next I want you to look at your weekly schedule, what are your busy days? Which days are you likely to get take-out food or delivery? Our two difficult days are Mondays and Tuesdays, we find in those evening when we get home we don’t want to cook and even the process of thinking about what to cook takes entirely too long.

Now to combine this information. Which of your regular meals cook quick with minimal prep? Crock pot meals are also low prep and tend to be ready and waiting for you when you walk in the door.

Here is our plan (consider it a sample) as you’ll need to make your own. You can use our example list to frame out your own family schedule and needs.

Monday: Rice, beans, and sausage. Minimal prep, and cooks quick.
Move a frozen crock pot meal from freezer to fridge.

Tuesday: Crock Pot Meal. In the morning, pour now thawed freezer meal into crock pot, set to hot/warm (your crockpot settings may vary), maybe add some fresh garlic or additional veggies. Done. At dinner time, possibly steam up some veggies, or serve with leftover rice. Depending on meal.
Move chicken if frozen from freezer to fridge to thaw. If already thawed consider marinating.

Wednesday: Cook the chicken meal, maybe steam some veggies, or perhaps cook it all up as a stir fry.
Move the ground beef from freezer to fridge.burrito

Thursday: Tacos!! Which in our house means spiced pan cooked ground beef served with taco fixings or just over salad. Always a favorite with our kids, most likely due to the lack of forks.

Friday: Leftovers. Everyone gets something different to use up all the leftovers in the fridge. We also evaluate what we have left and consider creating casseroles to freeze for later use.

Saturday and Sunday: Unplanned. This is when we roast whole chickens, grill steak and prepare the more time consuming meals.

Now for the hidden prep, let’s face it, many published meal plans, including ours, assume a level of prep has already happened, it just didn’t have to happen in the evening.

Meat Prep: We look for sales on cuts and types of meats that we like; and we buy more than we need for the night or the week. Then we package them up in freezer bags, with a complimenting marinade and freeze. If you don’t want to try to create your own marinade, there are plenty of products on the market that you can purchase. Due to food sensitives we look to avoid marinades that include high fructose corn syrup, yeast extract, dairy, and gluten. Our current “go to” choices are Kraft Italian Dressing, and Market Baskets organic Italian dressing. If you are trying for a low salt diet, be careful with buying pre-made marinades, check the sodium content.

Sausage: On Sunday we cook up a whole tray of sausage links in the oven on a grate with a cookie sheet. Often cookie sheets are sold with a cooling rack as a combination package. Our simple recipe is lay sausage links on grate on sheet, puncture the sausage with several small holes each so the fat can escape, and cook at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until they are done. Once cooked and slightly cooled they go into a bag in the fridge to be cut up or re-heated as needed for recipes throughout the week. As we eat lunch at home, these are easy to put into a lunch. This also means sausage for Monday’s meal is already cooked and most of the work is done.

There you have it, our family meal plan. If you’re looking to simplify your dinner habits, it’s a great basic frame work to get started. Of course your personal taste preferences can alter the plan as needed and desired. But once you get started, you’ll save a lot of time and effort that’s for sure.

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