November 24, 2017

Meal Planning – with a twist


once a month cooking

The 5:00 o’clock dinner bell gongs, and the dreaded, “What’s for dinner” question haunts us.

Do the kids really need to eat again? Seriously? Didn’t I just feed them?

When I mention meal planning, most women run for the hills because it is just one more thing to cram on our overextended plates.

We know there’s a benefit in having a plan, but the thought of having to actually sit down and work it through leaves us frazzled and overwhelmed.

Right now, you can google meal planning and choose from 5 million entries to read. The benefits of saving time, saving money and saving your sanity will all be shared.
The professionals will tell you to pull out your calendar, gather the family around and brainstorm favorite meals. They’ll encourage you to fill in the calendar dates with your top choices, create a shopping list and go from there.

Meal planning made easy, right?

That’s in an ideal world.  That’s a world in which I wish I lived – a world in which my best intentions meet reality… on occasion.
My guess is that many of you can relate to my motto;
“Queen of Best Intentions”…maybe tomorrow.

I often hear that this meal planning and preparation is the most difficult aspect of making our home a haven.
Our families need to eat…every day…all the time…and that cooking rut just grows deeper.
So how do we get around this lack of follow through?

Just do it – with small baby steps!

Many of you don’t want another post with five simple steps to follow. You have declared, “Jen, seriously, just tell us what to do, so we can copy you.”

I decided to take a one hour challenge, and see how much I could do to prepare for future meals. I attacked this mission with fervor, and set the timer. How much could I accomplish in such a short time?

In my plan of attack,  I had already de-thawed the meats and started a crock pot full of black beans that morning.

freezer cooking

At the top of the hour, I fired up two of my best friends – my rice cooker and our aging grill. I capitalized on bulk cooking next. Grilling ten pounds of chicken, pork and hamburger meat takes only minutes more than cooking just two pounds, so why not multitask and barbecue them all at once….I did, and that makes all the difference.

cooking on the grill

As my thirteen year old son maneuvered the outside grill (“train them young”, I always encourage), plentiful pounds of ground beef fried on the stove while the rice cooker rattled. I prepared two separate helpings of brown rice and basmati rice.

One hour later, eighteen chicken breasts and pork were seasoned, chopped, sliced, diced and separated into baggies.

cooking in bulk

The rice, beans and (seasoned) hamburger meat were completed and divided into meal making kits for our favorite dishes.

how to cook in bulk

(Since our meal plans tends to minimize meat and stretch vegetarian options, this was a true carnivore’s delight as my family devoured steak straight from the grill. :))

So what does this one hour have to do with meal planning for the Queen of Best Intentions? A lot! Everything that I  put into Ziplock bags now offer a minimum of fifteen possible meal choices that can be cooked up in minutes.

I know you’re thinking…she must be crazy, how is she getting those numbers?

In addition to the freezer items, having an “emergency corner” of foods or “go to” items that are always  on hand allows me to draw from this stockpile, match it with the freezer items and have instant meals ready for any given day. I highly recommend beginning with a small supply and growing it over time.  I stock these items when the grocer has them on sale at a buy one get one free price (or when I have a large couponing week). Doing this  decreases my monthly budget by hundreds of dollars.

Some of my “go to” items that are always in stock:

  1. cans of diced tomatoes
  2. cans of cream of mushroom or chicken soup
  3. flour tortillas
  4. shredded cheese
  5. frozen vegetables
  6. salsa
  7. noodles
  8. spaghetti sauce
  9. sour cream
  10. a few “Pillsbury” type items that I have gotten virtually free – biscuits, pie crusts, pizza dough (homemade or store bought with coupon)

With the above items and the food I just prepared, I can make:

  1. Chicken stir fry – chicken, frozen veggies, rice
  2. Enchiladas or burritos with rice, beans, taco seasoned beef, cheese, salsa, and sour cream
  3. Simple chicken casserole with diced chicken, cream of mushroom/chx soup, rice, seasoning, and cheese sprinkled on top.
  4. Simple Chicken pot pie with chicken, cream of mush/chx soup, bag of frozen veggies, cheese, and an all purpose seasoning.
  5. Chili – hamburger, beans, water, can of diced tomatoes, seasoning, and water.
  6. Taco salad – romaine lettuce drizzled with either French or ranch dressings, dolloped with black beans, taco flavored hamburger meat, salsa, sour cream, and crushed tortilla chips
  7. Taco dip
  8. Taco pizza
  9. Grilled Chicken salad
  10. Shredded pork with BBQ sauce for a great sandwich
  11. Stuffed biscuits with either salsa or spaghetti sauce, hamburger, and cheese
  12. Spaghetti

Whew, can you believe it, and I was just getting warmed up. Don’t worry if your freezer space is limited. Look at the small amount of freezer space that’s required.

Can you believe all that I got done with one hour and fifteen minutes of intentional time set aside to conquer this meal time mountain?

how to stock your freezer

If I can do this…you can too!

I am passionate about families spending more time connecting at the dinner table, and less time being frazzled with the process.

With simple meal planning, families not only save time, and HUGE amounts of money, but the lost art of shared dinner conversations makes this priceless.

Let’s continue to make our home a haven by taking time this week to move from best intentions to answering the “What’s for dinner question” in our own home.

Are you up for the challenge? Is there anything still standing in your way?

I can’t wait for you to join me as we balance both the beauty and the bedlam of mealtime mountain. Let’s encourage each other along the road of the mundane and find ways to make it marvelous.

Since this post was written, we have eaten 10 meals from this hour of work.

Most of those meals took less than 10 minutes to prepare, with most of that time spent de-thawing since I forgot to take it out the night before. Our Mexican night recipes are up..enjoy meals made easy.

(For those of you who are visual learners, check out my vlog demonstrating more easy meal planning kitchen tips – 4 meals in 4 minutes.)


  1. Thanks for the break down…I need it. I’m working on getting a second fridge/freezer so I can do this.

    My neighbor approached me a few days ago about cooking dinners together. She feeds my family 3 nights a week and I feed them 2 nights a week. They have more adults/kids so it works out pretty even. We’ll see how it goes!?! I haven’t had to cook the last two nights in a row and she just deliverd warm lemon tarts…not too bad. 🙂


  2. thank you for the info. also love the new blog design. and I forgot to thank you last week for the Thomas Coupon! We LOVE YOU!


  3. Great ideas! I always write out a menu 2 weeks at a time. It really helps. Of course, my family is way simple since it’s just me and the hubby.


  4. Mom in High Heels says:

    I think this is brilliant. BUT. There’s always a but, right? I couldn’t do it. I don’t eat meat so it would be a no go for me. I do eat seafood and unfortunately I can’t cook seafood ahead of time. I do make a weekly menu, but man I hate it sometimes. I swear my brain just switches off and I totally forget how to cook. Food? What’s that? Pan? I don’t understand that word. Kitchen? We have one? Where? Gah!


  5. Again, what a great idea! Meal planning is one area that I’m very excited about! Still trying to get a good “grasp” on it. A couple of questions – How often do you pull out a “frozen meal” compared to just cooking? Also, do you have a plan for rotating the frozen food? How long will they last in your freezer? I made a number of meals in the fall and I still have a couple left.


  6. Oh, my gosh, I must be doing something right (for once) because that emergency list looks a lot like mine!!! Could it be that I might sort of know what I’m doing, even if only theoretically?? LOL!

    No kidding… just last night after coming home from a long day and eating Chicken Cacciatore that had been in the crockpot all day, I started thinking about how great it would be to put meat in the crockpot to get it nice and tender for enchiladas, sandwiches, etc. and freeze bags of it. Were you sending me messages through computer osmosis or something? Because I never think ahead that much!!!


  7. Sandy Toes says:

    Wow..great ideas and got me thinking~

    As we enter into the soccer season…I need this!
    sandy toe

    Great new look for your blog~


  8. I read this when you posted it at Kimba’s, and I have been thinking about it since. Since we’re in full swing with baseball, I REALLY need to get going on this.

    I did mix up a lot of cookies over the weekend and froze scoops of the dough of 2 different kinds – does that count?

    Thanks for the inspiration!


  9. Meal planning is just a winning situation all around…it saves time, money, and pounds! You aren’t scrounging around for 30 minutes wondering what on earth to cook, you don’t stop looking and order pizza, and you eat healthier meals that don’t pack it on the hips! I used to “feed my freezer” but haven’t in a while…I’m coming back to read in more detail your recipes and ideas. I was supposed to be off the computer 7 minutes ago!

    I’m also enjoying your frugal fashion posts! You have just gotten yourself a new reader!


  10. A busy mom just has to do more than one thing at a time!

    Love your baggies 🙂


  11. You inspire me!!! I am going to be “inheriting” a freezer in the next couple of months and I am so looking forward to being able to make some meals and freeze them. By the way, I LOVE the new design!!!


  12. writing4612 says:

    Just wanted to let you know that your bullets are messed up. Great ideas though!


  13. Great tips. I’m easing into this. So far, so good.


  14. stephanie says:

    I really like the new blog design, and, as always, the posts! You inspired me to start an investment/freezer cooking group and we are getting ready to do our third swap of entrees. I agree with you that planning ahead, whether you are part of group or just on your own and spending a bulk of time on food preparation, makes life so much easier in the long run. Plus, my family eats much healthier now as we have eliminated almost all those evenings of “I have no idea what to fix for dinner. Kids, put on your shoes we are heading through Micky D’s drive thru!!”…


  15. Ah-ha! Someone else who uses the word "de-thaw"! My SIL teases me when I say that but it makes sense to me. I think the correct word is "defrost" but whatever. I like your method – I do similar on a smaller scale but I really need to get with it & freeze on a bigger scale. Thanks for the inspriation!


  16. Gina @ Six in the Country says:

    Once upon a time I did this quite often, and I really need to get back into it!


  17. queenbee says:

    WOW!!!!! This is just the post I needed. I have started collecting coupons for stockpiling and with this post I have an idea of exactly what to stock up on. I cant wait for your recepies to follow, I will definately be giving this idea a try.


  18. Hi Jen,

    WOW…if you can do that for your large family…I KNOW I can do it for the 3 of us!!! My goal is to start in baby steps. Step 1 – The next time I buy my family size (cheaper pricing) of ground round (which I usually portion up and freeze), I am going to cook and season it all BEFORE putting it in the freezer bags for quick and easy meals! I’ll let you know when I accomplish step 1!


  19. I do this! At least once a month I buy 6-7lbs of hamburger at Costco and cook it all at once. I actually use my taco seasonings on it… NOT the packet stuff, but cumin, ground chili powder, garlic, fresh onions. I pack it up in sandwich bags, smooshed flat, then put 4-6 of them in a gallon ziploc. I use that for tacos, anything else mexican, pizza, spaghetti, lasagna… for italian dishes, I just add Italian seasoning when putting the dish together and it is good! I never have to dirty a pan to cook my meat for dinner, because that part is done! And I almost always defrost in the microwave as I am assembling other things. I also do loads of homemade spaghetti sauce (meatless) in the crock pot or roaster to freeze. Dinner is just so daily… I love having these shortcuts! Thanks for sharing. Blessings!


  20. Leigh Ann says:

    I was wondering if you could give some rough ratios of meat to rice and beans. Did every bag have rice and beans in it? I so want to try this.


  21. Imperfect says:

    I literally gasped out loud when your blog loaded and I saw the pretty newness. I love it! So exciting. I wish I could have a lovely new layout. Now I have to go back and actually read the post. Happy new design!


  22. Love these ideas! I also do one day of chicken cooking too. Load up my freezer with diced cooked chicken breast and marinated chicken for grilling. I’m going to use your idea for the emergency list too. Thanks!


  23. Serendipit-Us says:

    Jen~ I’m dumbstruck, amazed and impressed with your meal planning agenda. If you can do it, with a family nearly twice as big as mine, I have no excuses! Thank you for the inspiration 🙂



  24. Love this idea, I so need to do this.

    Love your new blog design. Did I send you your featured button? It’s so cute….can’t imagine not wanting it. 🙂


  25. Treasure Hunter says:

    That BBQ pork/chicken will be great on a pizza as well. That’s Brandon’s favorite pizza….toss in some sour cream and yum!


  26. Jenny S says:

    This is awesome!! I can’t wait for some of the receipes!! Woohoo!! Also, with triples at HarrisTeeter this weekend I got $85.00 worth of groceries for $30.00!!! I LOVE COUPONING!!!


  27. southern queen bee says:

    Love the new blog,will post your button on my side bar. Let your blog friends know I am giving away a pair of Crocs. I loved the pair I recieved from Blissdom so much I wanted someone to win a pair…Missy


  28. Amanda@Imperfectly Beautiful says:

    Jen, I really really really want to do this. But I am scared. WHY? I have no idea. Thanks for continuing to inspire me. I need all the inspiration I can get!



  29. Loving the new design. Thanks for the motivation. Being intentional about anything whether in parenting, desiring a great marriage or meal planning is always best.


  30. My family has been meal planning for a few years and about a year ago I asked my computer geek husband if he could create a program that would help the process. So he started working on a website called Plan to Eat. Now we use it every week and instead of us having all our recipes all over the place, and having to create our shopping list from scratch every week, now we can just drag our saved recipes to a weekly planner and the website automatically creates the categorized shopping list for us. You can also share your recipes and weekly plans with your friends. He initially just created it for our family, but we thought other people might like it so he spent more time recently making it available online. Check it out and please let us know what you think.


  31. The life of Jayne says:

    So you grilled the chicken and diced it up, and froze it? And it tasted o.k after freezing?? This is a great post!!


  32. Darlene says:

    waaaaaaaaa. didn’t I just cook dinner yesterday??? and I have to do it again tonight???
    this post makes me tired.


  33. This is great information!! Thanks for sharing!


  34. A happy heart at home says:

    Great idea!



  35. Kristen says:

    This is fabulous; absolutely fabulous. I love how you broke everything down and orgaized the process – this would be perfect for preparing my work lunches as well!


  36. Rachel R. says:

    Something else that helps me is to make a list – just a plain old list – of everything that is a “tried and true” dinner for our household. It’s not a menu, because it doesn’t tell me what to cook when, it’s just a list of *everything* I cook. This way, when dinnertime rolls around and my brain decides to shut off, I can skim the list for ideas.

    Or, if I want to make up an actual menu, I can do so very easily by just picking things from the list and plugging them into the calendar.

    It doesn’t take very long to do this, and you only have to do it once. 🙂


  37. What a great idea.


  38. busy mom says:

    HI, I like the way your doing your meals, and it looks like it is a time saver, But I would like a few simple receipes. the only mexican food I do is the going out kind other than one receipe that I got from thrifty mom for burritos. So for me receipes are the only way.


  39. Looove your ideas…thanks sooooo much for sharing them!



  40. Great tips – thanks!


  41. Amrita Raveendran says:

    Hi….I just happened to stumble upon your blog and I kept on reading every post of yours and I must admit ,I love it. The idea that you shared here , I do it too !!!!!! but because I cook almost every day , I freeze a portion of whatever curry or veggies I cook for the day in quartsized ziploc bags.It makes it easy and helps me get a meal ready even if i dont cook on a particular day.Indian cooking is indeed a bit elaborate so i make it a point to freeze a portion of those dishes which takes a lot of cooking time.Thanks for all the wonderful tips n ideas ..


  42. CarrieZ says:

    Just found your blog–great info!

    I stockpile cooked beef and chicken too–it’s a HUGE timesaver! I do have one question, though–how do you cook your chicken? I’ve tried boiling, cooling, and chopping. My husband tried marinading and grilling (but then the marinade really limited what kinds of recipes I could use it for). I’ve tried the crock pot method and it came out dry. Did you put marinade on yours before you grilled it? How long and how hot did you grill it? I assume that it was thawed first.



  43. Buying in bulk has saved our family a bundle. I also learned to freeze food so I can create family-friendly meals in just minutes. I buy bulk bags filled with staples such as beans, flour and corn meal. We moved into a large house and I love having the additional storage space. It was a real challenge in a small cottage, but we managed.


  44. Love the motto! I often say the same thing – “Really? You need to eat again? Didn’t I feed you already?” My son always says, “Mom, don’t you know you’re raising teenagers?” 🙂


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