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.)