Dinner Plans?

So, I mentioned that have started planning our meals.  I had some people ask some questions.  Even though I feel like the blind leading the blind, I thought I would share some of what I have learned so far.  This is pretty long,  fair warning.

Disclaimer: I am not a meal planning expert and I have a lot to learn.  

When I first started doing this in October, I made a few mistakes and consequently, learned a lot.  The first week was a mess.  Here is where I have gone wrong and what it has taught me. 

Your agenda for the next week.
I did not consider our schedules at all.  I just dove right in and planned our menu for all 7 days of the week.  There were nights my husband would be working and days that we would be visiting family instead of being at home.  Here I was with  a ton of groceries and we were going to only be eating at home 4 days.  I had to do some rearranging and some veggies ended up going bad.  Arrghh I hate wasting food (and money).

Make it flexible.
When I realized that my plan needed adjusting in a major way, I had to find flexible areas in the menu. Meals from the pantry, freezer or with ingredients that have a long shelf life were my saving grace.  I could move them to the next week with no problem.  Now when I plan our menu I make sure there are flex meals that can be pushed to the next week.

Check your fridge. (and Clean it)
Imagine my surprise when I came home form the grocery the first time.   There was no room in our fridge! Why?  Well, I already had groceries in the fridge from the week before.  None of which I looked at when planning my menu.  I even bought things I already had... there was a bell pepper behind the milk, getting wrinkly.  Now I clean my fridge, then plan the menu using what we have on hand first.   Bonus, when you get home with those bags of groceries it is a cinch to mut them away in a clean fridge.

Make complicated dishes on the weekend
Or when you have a helping hand.  Picture it: a kitchen covered with chopped this and that, 3 pans going on the stove, a hot oven, a cook and a baby monster.  A monster who has a hard time entertaining herself at 6 o'clock.  It is a combination for burned food and a headache.  Now I save complicated or labor intensive for when Michael is home or my parents are visiting to help.  

Use your freezer
I use my freezer like another pantry.  I make double batches of freezer friendly foods and put 1/2 of it away for later.  Time intensive dishes are my favorite to put in the freezer.  Make it once and eat it twice.  Lasagna, sauces,  taco meat, pizza dough, cooked rice are all great.  When I buy meat it is often in bigger packages than we would use for one meal.  I break it apart into meal size portions and freeze.  I also put marinade and seasoning in the freezer bag so that all I have to do is move out the fridge to thaw.  Once it is thawed it is already seasoned to cook.  

Keep lists
I started a list of foods we like.  Divided the list into main dishes, veggies, and starches.  Then I  went through the list and marked the ones that could be frozen.  I also keep a list on the computer of what is in our freezer.  We have a small freezer and it is packed pretty full.  The last thing I want to do is dig in there all the time looking to see what we have.  Something hard and frozen always ends up flying out and taking out a few toes.

Plan for the unplanned
The baby is sick, your out all day on errands,  a family member is in the hospital...  Anyway, you get home and it is dinnertime (or long past it).  What to do?  Put one or two pantry/freezer meals on the menu.  Something really quick and easy.   I make sure to schedule them for the end of the week. That way if a bad day happens I can move that easy meal up and not worry about it.  Just because I plan on stir fry on Wednesday, it could become grilled cheese and soup in a pinch.

New recipes
I usually only try one new recipe a week.  New recipes take longer to make because I am having to read instructions. They sometimes mean using ingredient that I don't normally use, so that means a bigger shopping list and grocery bill.  If a new recipe becomes a keeper - it goes on our keeper list.

I also was asked for some recipes.  Here are some links to recipes I have posted before.
(FF = freezer friendly)

I just tried PW's Thai Honey Peanut Chicken and these Lettuce Wraps. They are both yummy! Bonus: the meat portions of both of these are great for the freezer.  Just thaw and add rice or a head of lettuce.  Dinner done!

My weekly menu can be found here or at the top of my blog under "make plans."  If I am using a recipe I will try to link to it.  I have noted if I have found it good for doubling and freezing.

and here is a promise to post more - if you like this.


Charlotte | Life's a Charm! said...

these are great tips. i did menu planning before but these days, we get free food from the cafeteria of the school where hubby works. so i only cook on his day off.

on my menu planning days, i almost did all these tips but not consciously. i also made sure that if the recipe has ingredients that doesn't last long, i cook that first. saves that ingredients from discoloring or spoiling before i could cook it. ingredients like fresh mushroom, etc.

Erin said...

I'm all for meal planning, it's really the only way we can get organized enough to cook! Thanks for the tips - they are great ones.

Anonymous said...

Just getting into freezer cooking and meal planning. Super Excited for it!

The Mrs. said...

I'm new to meal planning so this is SUPER helpful. My first week was last week, and I did ok... I found that I was doing a lot of similar dishes (trying to use leftovers to make new dishes) so next week my goal is variety. I'll be using the freezer more instead of trying to use my leftovers up. Thanks for the tips!

Meredith said...

I think being flexible is KEY to meal planning. For example, if my planned meal for the day is spaghetti with ground beef, but we both feel like burritos, and we already have all the ingredients, I try to roll with it (especially if I'm using a canned sauce, because that will keep practically forever).

from mel said...

WOW! Thanks for this! What a help. You've inspired me.
And totally reminded me to clean my fridge and freezer.