This Friday night I will be sharing ideas with 600 women on how to save time and money in the kitchen (even if you don’t use coupons). My ideas could take up hours, and yet I will be pretty transparent with the audience in saying that even though these are suggestions, I never implement them all at once, and am continually revamping how I do things in the kitchen.
Sometimes I do the meal planning thing well, but often, oh, so poorly. In my opinion, that is something I can NOT do poorly. It needs to be prioritized over most everything else on the “To do list” because our families need to eat. They need to eat well, and they need to eat often. Imagine their chagrin when I declared, “I just fed you LAST night? You seriously want dinner AGAIN?”
So, I am asking for your help in sharing your #1 best meal planning tip or your biggest struggle in the area.
I really want to speak to the needs of the women in the audience, and I know my Tasty Tuesday readers are a perfect sampling group.
Read the comments for so many great tips!!
One meal planning resource I am excited to share about is Plan to Eat, an amazing online tool with organizational greatness all in one spot, except you do need to turn on the oven and open the fridge. 😉 (You may have seen the sponsor button in my side bar?)
So often around the internet I come across recipes I love, I book mark them, file them haphazardly, and lose them. Well, no longer. Plan to Eat allows you to store your favorite recipes, search and import recipes from around the web, (and not just any kind of search, but you can use keywords such as recipe names, ingredients, cuisines etc, create menu plans and even print grocery lists based on those same recipes.
For those of us who are scared by intricate technology, this plan is easy. I was signed up and creating my menu plan in minutes. My attempt at Balancing Meal time Mountain felt instantly more organized. And for those of you attempting new eating habits with our 30 Days of Healthy Living, you can track calories, nutritional score and even the cost of the recipes to use as a reference when making your meal plan.
Typically, I do not succeed at doing a month long menu, but the Monthly Meal Planner is at the heart of Plan to Eat. Easily drag recipes from your Recipe Book to create your meal plan, and then add additional ingredients, events and notes. You can also change the number of servings, easily view and print recipes and export your meal plan to other calendar programs to sync your meal plan with your schedule.
Would you love to try it? For FREE!
Typically, it’s only $4.95/month, but Plan to Eat knows that once you try it, you’ll never go back. They are sharing one free trial month with all my readers and I encourage you to give it a shot. Let me know if you feel more organized just by looking around the place. 🙂
Then please share your #1 best meal planning tip or your biggest struggle in the area for me to reference on Friday evening.
WE’ve really enjoyed this Chinese Sesame Chicken meal… I”ve tweaked it a bit by adding salt and pepper to the coating and cutting down the vinegar to possibly a tsp or Tbs… my husband didn’t like the vinegar taste, it was too strong for both of us!! But it’s simple once you get used to it. NO oven!! And simple ingredients, minus the sesame seeds which sooo little is used!
Glad you’ve made it your own. That’s what I wanted. And the thing with the measurements, is I just guessed…rice vinegar is a really mild taste, so that could have been the difference too if you used that.
This is my biggest tip. Give each member of your family a piece of paper and a pen and have them write down their favorite meals side dishes included if you want. Go through the list to delete duplicates and you have your master menu.
A master menu of all the things my family likes to eat has really helped during the weeks where I’ve felt uninspired. You can grab your grocery ads and your master menu and have your week planned out in just a few minutes.
What works for me is to plan 5 or 6 days at a time. Things change too much for monthly to work in our house. If I plan further out, I end up frustrated that things aren’t going according to plan.
The biggest help in planning is to look at the calendar to see what activities might affect dinner, either the time I serve it or the time I prepare it, and choose a meal that works with that timing. I have a master list of favorites from the family that I consult and most weeks at least one other family member chooses a meal for me to include. I do some freezer meals and buy meat in bulk so I check the freezer when planning, too.
I will hav to check that website out. I am always looking for w better method of recipe storage. Thanks so much for hosting!
My biggest tip: Make it doable. By this I mean – look at your week, and reasonably estimate the time you’ll have to cook/shop/etc., and then plan around that. If you have extra time one evening, make some items for tomorrow’s dinner then, and save yourself time for the next day. And, to cook and eat well, you’ll want to be able to stay within a budget too, of course – so plan your meals around what’s on sale in the ad. That’s worked for us, made menu planning doable and helped us eat better all around.
I shared my GF Blueberry Sunflower Cake and an article I hope you enjoy! This is a good linky tool!
Keep it simple when you first start out menu planning. Then as you get use to it add new recipes so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
During the school year, our week is pretty consistent. I know that every Monday night we have scouts, every Wed. we have youth group and awanas, Tues. afternoons my older kids have Drama, etc. So I have a few nights that I don’t have to “plan” because I already kind of know what we’ll eat. Monday nights is some kind of pasta, Wed. is usually bean burritios since just a couple of us eat at home, Friday night is always pizza night. Tuesday has always been a crockpot meal because of Drama. So that just leaves Thursday and the weekend.
What I have realized about my family is that they prefer simple, consistent, large quantity meals over new recipes and fancier meals that leave mama overwhelmed and incapable of getting anything on the table. So I guess that could be another tip, ask your family for about 14 meals that they really like and just rotate through them every couple of weeks. This won’t work in some families and you don’t have to do this all the time, but if your feeling overwhelmed it might be nice to know you don’t have to think about what to cook for a couple of months.
I always keep a pantry stocked with all the main ingredients that we use in our cooking…that way at a moment’s notice I can make any meal on our rotation. If it’s a night we don’t end up with much time…no worries. I have quick meals that can be made from scratch.
Keeping a stocked pantry has been much more valuable than “menu” planning has ever been. Of course I keep a list of meals we eat, but then we can pick and choose as needed depending on time and what we’re in the mood for.
I shared my “carmelized onion and cheese omelette” this week. Thanks for hosting!!
Thanks, Jen, for sharing the deal with us! I’ve been thinking a lot about couponing and meal planning over the weekend, and with the way the economy is headed this week, I’m thinking about it even more. For us, we spent a big chunk one month to stock up on some essentials for our pantry, and slowly add to it/replace items with each grocery run. I think that helps.
I will most definitely be checking out the Plan to Eat site. Meal planning is a huge weakness for me, but something I NEED to really tackle. Thank you so much for sharing and for hosting.
My biggest tip is for during sports seasons when so many of my nights are spent on some field somewhere. I purchased a 9X13 portable casserole carrier. Those nights we’re sitting through someone’s practice or game or recital practice, I plan for a one dish meal. I pack up paper plates, utensils, cups, and a plastic pitcher of lemonade. The casserole goes straight from the oven to the portable tote, and out the door we go. Some suggestions for dinner include chicken pot pie, shepard’s pie, beef/bean burritoes, or veggie lasagna.
I plan my menu each week, making notes when my husband might be working late or we have activities going on. I fill in meals based on what we have on hand, in the garden, what is on sale that week at the store and how much time I have to make dinner. In the fall and winter, I have a master list of our favorite dishes that are also easy to prepare. I don’t generally need that list in the summer, because our meals are usually easier to plan. I grill a main entree like chicken or burgers and our sides are from the garden or our CSA.
I struggle too at times. I usually make my plan Monday mornings and there are many times I just wish someone will do it for me. I’ll have to look into this Plan to Eat, it sounds interesting.
Thanks for the link-up.
My tips are to limit yourself to one or two brand new recipes a week. You will drive yourself nuts trying to re-invent the wheel every day.
Also, I try to work in a leftover night or some night where the meal can be adjusted to use up any produce or meat that is on its last legs. It can be a pasta salad, regular salad, soup, casserole or make breakfast for dinner and throw everything in an omelette. I have even done make your own mini pizzas where everyone chooses from the meats and veggies leftover. Most of those things can take a variety of odds and ends and still hang together. Menu planning doesn’t help save money if you end up throwing out produce because it doesn’t fit your plan.
My biggest tip is to pick recipes you know and love if you are going to make a bulk batch of something. You might see a recipe/idea floating around every blog and there might be rave reviews, but if it doesn’t sound good to you right now….it’s probably not going to sound good when it comes time to eat it! So you’ll end up finding excuses to eat something else over and over again and putting it off. There is definitely room for trying new recipes with meal planning but be realistic with yourself! Give up on perfect and just be happy with progress when it comes to meal planning!
Plan to Eat sounds like a great idea; love that it stores your recipes from “all over the Web.” I’ve got a few bookmarked here and there, and it would be great to have them all in one place. One of my favorite quick and frugal meals is Yankee Noodles; it’s all made in one skillet, it’s made with hamburger and things you probably have in your pantry already, and you don’t even have to pre-cook the noodles!
I plan a week at a time. First thing I do is write Monday – Sunday and then write down what events are happening in the evening. This tells me if I need a quick meal or can do something more time consuming and/or labor intensive.
I have a master list of our family’s favorites and all the ingredients needed. I keep this list in my household binder. I use this list to choose what meals I want. I also get the kids involved – asking them what they want. I write down which meal to make on which day.
Then I write down all the ingredients I need for each meal, cross off what I already have, and add in the other things like coffee, tea, bread, etc. I compile what I need into my final shopping list.
I did a little bit this summer, and want to do more once school starts, of doing more prep work in advance. Cooking went so much smoother when I didn’t have to spend 30 minutes chopping veggies.
For years I had chronic migraines lasting days at a time, and didn’t know if I’d be able to cook dinner on any given day. When the kids were still too small to cook, (and huz worked evenings so he couldn’t help) I kept a list on the fridge reminding me what I could fix really fast. It said, “hot dogs, tuna sandwiches, hamburgers, canned chili, dirty rice, tacos”. When you hurt really bad you can’t always think of the obvious. Since we are gluten free, ordering take-out was not an option we could use, and commercially made gluten free foods were too expensive. I tried hard to keep frozen, precooked ground beef available for emergencies as well as homecooked, frozen rice. I kept frozen things flat in Ziplock bags so they would thaw very quickly.
Migraines are no longer a big problem, but I still get quite busy and find that frozen rice, cooked frozen meatballs and small meatloves, frozen hamburger crumbles, and frozen soups really save the day.
Jen, you asked for our opinions on what’s hardest about meal planning. Mine is change – I plan to have nachos on Monday, pasta Tuesday, leftovers Wednesday, etc. The nachos aren’t yummy to my 6-year-old…so…um…well…let’s give him some chicken nuggets from the freezer. Then the 9-year-old wants those too, and doesn’t eat the nachos. Who’s going to eat these nachos? Do I keep the queso cheese or toss it? 🙁 Tuesday, my Mom comes over right after we get home from work and says, “Do you want to go out for dinner tonight?” Well, it wasn’t on the plan, and it’s not really in the budget…oh, she’s buying? Okay, I guess we can; DH gets home from work in a little while, I’ll feed the kids a snack – well they can’t have the pasta I was going to make for dinner, they’ll be too full…maybe the leftover nachos? No, they still don’t like them.
🙂 This is what I hate! But, one thing I have found that I like is having a list of our 25-30 favorite meals (meatballs & ?, skillet dinner, crock pot chicken). This way, I can take a look at the list and the flyers from Sunday’s shopper, and maybe put together a few ideas (which, knowing the above, I’ll only fix 2-3 of instead of all 6).
Thanks for a great blog – I love your tips, especially about feeding big boys (since both of mine will hopefully survive to teenage). 🙂 Have a great day!
I know I have to meal plan for the week and base my menu around the meats that are on sale that week at the grocery store. My problem is I have all the ingredients, but then the day gets away from me and I’m standing in the middle of my kitchen at 5:30, turning circles, feeling stressed, and just want to order pizza for the 3rd time in 4 days!!!
So, I’m recognizing that meal planning for me is not just about the searching for the recipes, planning around the grocery ad, shopping for the ingredients but is also about how I am going to prioritize my day. Taking care of my family’s nutritional needs SHOULD be my first priority EVERY day, but instead becomes an afterthought….
Next Tuesday starts a new school year and I am going to attempt to re-train myself to do the above!
The most helpful menu planning idea I learned from my SIL – assign each day an entree ingredient. Then you can base the recipe on what you have or what the market specials are that week. Since our weekly evening schedules change several times a year, I may swap the days around as necessary. Example…
Sunday – Fish
Monday – Chicken
Tuesday – Pasta
Wednesday – Leftovers
Thursday – Fish
Friday – Pizza
Saturday – Leftovers, Rice and Beans, Grill meat
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