Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Organized Nest: Meal Planning 101

When I started this blog, I didn't really plan on it being so recipe heavy. Who knew I cook so much! My goal was really to make it more "domesticity unleashed" than silly, easy recipes. So I'm going to switch gears for just a minute to start another aspect of the blog: An Organized Nest. There are so many little tiny ways I try to employ to keep this nest ticking along like a well oiled machine. I am an over the top planner and an over the top cleaner. These two things have been known to actually keep me from enjoying my little nest. I find myself having to streamline and throttle that madness back just to have time to hang out with the family and do other things I enjoy (I'm still really behind on getting to a lot of the things that I enjoy!).

So here's one way, I spend just a little time planning and thinking to save me tons of time (and money!) in the long run. The Meal Plan. My heart rejoices a little bit every time I spend a minute on The Meal Plan. Let's discuss:

First of all, find the "list system" that works best for you. That could be a notepad on the fridge, a clipboard hanging in the kitchen, or an online gadget (my only fear is when if the internet goes down, I'm out of luck...not cool.). I use iGoogle. If you have any kind of Google account, just sign up for iGoogle and get the My Listy gadget. I. Love. My Listy. I have about 5 of them. I have a real problem with lists. Here are the advantages of the iGoogle system though:

The My Listy lets me have 5 and 6 tabs within one list. Mine are "Target", "Trader Joe's", "Grocery", "Meal 1", Meal 2", and "Meal 3". The Meal 1-3 tabs each contain a full week's worth of meals, listed Sunday through Saturday. Then I just rotate. I spend a few minutes looking over and tweaking the current week's plan, and then I check the next two weeks to add in any new meal ideas I might get. This way, at a glance, I know exactly how much food I need to buy at the store. No more, no less.

Secondly, let's think of the day of the week you have the time and energy to cook a "big" meal. Everyone's schedules are so wonky these days that it will be different for each family. Let's just pretend it's on Sunday. So on your list for Week 1, you're biggest meal should be scheduled for that day. It is kind of like your anchor meal for the week. Prepare a large cut of meat like a whole chicken, a pork loin, or a flat iron steak (or just grab a rotisserie chicken). Those kinds of meats tend to be very hands off, yet take a long-ish time to cook, giving you time to leisure prepare some delicious sides. If you're going to have a rice based side, then make extra rice to add into chicken divan, greek chicken soup, etc. If you're making mashed potatoes, make extra to use in your "pork pie". See how this works for me? It cuts down on work and incorporates the same ingredients into other meals that same week. Doesn't that just make your heart happy and relaxed?!

Here are two other things that help the meal plan along:

1. Buying meat when it's on sale. Here's my most recent thrilling adventure in meal planning: I recently found an incredible price on a 4 pound pork loin. I had no idea what to do with it, so I just froze it. Soon, Tracy called me raving about a brine recipe she found. I decided to try it on the pork and let it slow cook on the grill. I also decided to have a "small gathering" to help us eat it up. That was a huge slab of meat! So from that $10 pork loin, I fed 7 adults and 3 children one Saturday evening. A few evening later, I sliced what was left and made incredible Cuban sandwiches for 5 adults and 2 children. AND the great news is that I have frozen enough slices that I can have another Cuban sandwich night. All with a $10 giant hunk of pork. Hoodeehoo!

2. Cooking freezable things in bulk. This goes along with the buying meat on sale thing, for sure. If you find ground beef on sale, buy all of it!! Then you can double or triple a batch of spaghetti sauce to freeze in individual bags. Do the same with chili. When you have 4 dinners worth of spaghetti sauce in the freezer, it's like shopping in your own home! I can just keep adding that to the meal plan every other week or every other 2 weeks. Homey loves spaghetti, so I personally don't mind having it several times in a month. Especially if all I have to do it thaw, reheat, and cook noodles. EASY!

So let's look at a sample meal plan:

Sunday-- Whole chicken (beer butt chicken on the grill or rotisserie from the store) with salad and mashed potatoes
Monday-- Tacos (use up part of the salad ingredients as taco toppings)
Tuesday--Chicken Divan (using leftover chicken)
Wednesday--Pork Pie (use the leftover mashed potatoes)
Thursday--Nacho night! (leftover taco meat over chips with cheese, tomato, green onion, sour cream)
Friday--homemade pizza night (use up all your leftovers...tomato and arugula from salads with leftover pieces of rotisserie chicken would be delicious!)
Saturday--Give yourself a break and either go out or get take out (I usually add this to at least one of my 3 meal plans)

So let's look at what you've had to buy (taking into consideration that a lot of ingredients from those meals are staples and you'll just have most of them on hand):

Ground beef in bulk or on sale: Use a pound for tacos, a half a pound for pork pie, and maybe even a little bit for your pizza night. I love cheeseburger pizza! If you've bought 5 pounds on sale, then you can easily knock out 2 meatloaves to throw in the freezer also. Or cook a giant batch of spaghetti sauce! I get really excited about stuff like this!!

A bag of frozen broccoli

Whole chicken (buy those birds when they're on sale and throw it in the freezer)...You'll get at least 2 and a half meals out of it. Since you can get a whole chicken to stretch that far, then what's the harm of buying a $6 rotisserie to give yourself a break from cooking one night.

Pie crust (if you are talented and can make one, I know you have the ingredients on hand, so it's virtually free. I'm not talented, I keep them in my freezer).

A pound of sausage (or ground pork if you can follow the original recipe, which I could not!)

Tortilla chips

Pizza dough ($.70 at Trader Joe's)

Lettuce, tomato, and various other salad toppings

The meals on this plan either have a veggie included in the main meal or are complemented by a green salad. Plus from the chicken divan you have half a bag of frozen broccoli to use next week in your meal plan. Let's do one more:

Sunday: flat iron steak with risotto and asparagus
Monday: spaghetti (because you made it in bulk and had it in the freezer!)
Tuesday: kielbasa with broccoli and macaroni and cheese (Who doesn't eat left over mac and cheese for lunch??)
Wednesday: steak sandwiches with potato wedges and corn (using thin sliced flat iron steak, potatoes you bought last week, and corn from risotto)
Thursday: grilled chicken (make extra to use in other recipes) with a veggie pasta salad (add in left over asparagus or salad ingredients)
Friday: Meatloaf with baked potatoes and veggie
Saturday: Spinach and bacon quiche (to use up the rest of your spinach. Or heck, throw in some leftover grilled chicken, too. Delicious.)

So you have had to buy:
A flat iron or skirt steak (when you find it on sale, of course)
Extra cheese for the macaroni
Hoagie rolls
Chicken breasts

Um, that's, like, it. It just takes a few minutes a day to keep adding on, soon you'll have three weeks of meals kickin' on your iGoogle. The other wonderful thing about iGoogle is that if you are at your work computer and think of something you need on your grocery list or a meal to add to the plan, you can just type it in while you're thinking of it. Then the next time you review your Listy at home it's all updated and smiling back at you.

Just lovely! And a step towards being effortlessly domestic like me! (HA!)

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