Secrets of Successful Meal Planners

meal-planning
Does this look like your weekly meal plans? Do you start the week off with good intentions and then have a hard time following through? For me, I can spend hours on Pinterest drooling over new recipes, but there is only so many new recipes I have the energy to make each week. Life happens, you get busy and 5:00 rolls around and you find yourself staring into the refrigerator wondering what to cook because the kids are just too hungry to wait for Mommy to make Beef Bourguignon (and let’s face it, you don’t really want to either). Chances are much greater that you will either give in and feed your family that frozen pizza or go out for burgers.

Here are a few simple tricks that I’ve found help me simplify the meal planning process and keep me from reaching for the phone to call for pizza.

Themes
Taco Tuesday has become kind of a cliche, but there is something to be said for having some sort of framework. You can do this multiple ways. You can designate a type of regional cuisine for each night (Mexican on Monday, Italian on Tuesday, Chinese on Thursday, American on Wednesday and Friday, etc).

Another way to do it is to designate a different category of food for each day: soup, pasta, salad, sandwich, casserole, etc.

Finally, you can create a meal plan around your protein. Each day could use a different protein (don’t forget about meatless protein options like tofu, beans, nuts, etc.).

No matter which theme you choose, you will have a framework to guide you, yet you have enough flexibility to be creative and enjoy variety.

Work with What You Have
My husband has learned over the years that the appropriate response to my question, “What should we have for dinner this week?” is “What needs to be used up?”

Every summer the kids and I take a trip to Idaho to spend a week with my family. My husband usually has to stay home and work. Before I leave I make sure that my hubby has home cooked meals in the freezer and fresh produce to accompany them. When I came back from my first trip to Idaho I was dismayed to find that some of the produce had gone bad. I quickly realized that my better half and I had a different outlook on how to choose what food we eat. I came from a family where wasting food was nigh unto sin. I took for granted the philosophy that you eat what will spoil fastest, first. My husband just ate whatever sounded good to him at the time. Over time he has learned to be more conscientious about what food needs to be eaten up.

So when I plan meals I think about what produce is in my refrigerator and base meals off of that. For example, if I have bell peppers, zucchini, carrots, and celery in my refrigerator I will make something with the zucchini first, followed by the peppers, and then the carrots and celery because the root vegetables will stay fresh longer.

Designate a Day (or Two) for Meal Planning
Some people prefer to plan the whole week out, but I prefer to plan half a week at a time. On Sunday I plan for Monday through Wednesday. On Wednesday I plan the rest of the week. This allows me to take advantage of the produce sales on double ad day at Sprouts before planning the rest of the week. It doesn’t really matter which day you choose as long as you are consistent.

Plan Your Menu at the Same Time You Make Your Grocery List
Because I plan our menu based on the grocery sales for the week, on Wednesday mornings I look at the new ads and write down the sale items I want to purchase. Then I look at what is in my refrigerator and note what needs to be used up. With all of that information, I pair ingredients in my head and come up with our menu. After I have decided what meals to make I update my shopping list with any ingredients that I lack to complete a recipe. It may sound like a complicated process, but in actuality, it only takes a few minutes. I post our menu on the side of the refrigerator as a reminder.

Are you up for a challenge? Try planning your menu this week using the tips above. Let me know what was successful and what might have been challenging.

 

How to Freeze Meat

Let’s face it, freezer space is prime real estate. If you are severely limited on freezer space I recommend giving priority to freezing meat. Buying a little extra meat when it is on sale and freezing it will help you save a lot of money on your grocery bills.

If you are like me, you often forget to take the meat out of the freezer the night before. If you freeze meat in its original packaging, the meat freezes in one big chunk, and it takes much longer to defrost. Then you have to spend time trimming and cutting the meat.

I’ve learned that if I do a little prep work before I freeze meat I save myself a lot of time when I am ready to use the meat later. Not to mention I also reduce the risk that my meat will become freezer burnt.

For steak, I either wrap each steak individually in plastic wrap, wax paper, or butcher paper, and then place it in a gallon size freezer bag, or I slice the meat (like for fajitas and stir fry) and freeze the meat slices in a quart size freezer bag.Freeze Meat

When slicing meat, always slice against the grain. This makes it more tender.

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Trim any connective tissue and fat.

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Freeze in portions. For my family of five, I freeze between 1 and 1 1/2 pound portions of beef. Don’t forget to label with content and date!

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Before closing the bag, be sure to squeeze as much air our of it as possible. Air is the enemy!!! If you don’t have much air in the bag, your meat will stay fresh in the freezer for 3-4 months (and sometimes longer).

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EXTRA Time saving tip: If you have a favorite marinade, mix it up and pour it over your meat before freezing. All that extra time bathing in marinade will make your meat super flavorful. Just be cautious with overly acidic marinades as it could turn your meat into mush.

For chicken or pork, the process is the same. Trim the meat of fat or connective tissue. Cut in strips or chunks and freeze in plastic storage bags. If you want to freeze whole chicken breasts or pork chops wrap each individually in plastic wrap or wax paper and freeze in a large freezer bag.

Chia Banana Bread (Dairy Free)

Chia Banan Bread blog 2The other morning I found a recipe for Chia Banana Pancakes. They looked promising, and I had several ripe bananas just waiting to be turned into something scrumptious. I gave the recipe a whirl, but it was a disaster! The pancakes burned on the bottom before the top set enough to flip. I only made 4 little black pancakes before giving up. I knew my kids weren’t going to eat them. It was definitely a Pinterest fail. I didn’t want to waste the batter, so I added some whole wheat flour and a little sugar, baked it, and VOILA-banana bread! It turned out amazing. The chia seeds give the bread a pleasant crunch, much like poppyseeds, but with all of the amazing benefits of Chia. The best part about it, it is totally dairy free and made with only 6 ingredients.

I like to spread peanut butter on mine but regular butter is delicious too. There is very little added sugar, and the bread is loaded with fiber and protein. It is the first banana bread that has kept me full from breakfast until lunch. Enjoy!

Ingredients

2 large really ripe bananas

4 large eggs

3 TBSP chia seeds

2 cups whole wheat flour

1/4 cup brown sugar or honey

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mash bananas until they are completely liquefied. Add eggs and mix until smooth. I used a hand blender for this, and it worked great, but if you don’t have one, you can do it by hand. Add the chia seeds, whole wheat flour, brown sugar or honey, and baking powder. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated. Pour batter into an 8×4 bread pan that has been oiled. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool, (if you can wait that long) cut into slices and serve with butter, honey, or peanut butter.

 

A Sneak Peek Inside My Pantry

I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. Was it truly life-changing? Sure. It helped me be okay with letting some things go and motivated me to simplify even more than I already had. I consider myself to be a pretty organized person to begin with, but there is always room for improvement! One afternoon I tackled the pantry. I didn’t take any Before pictures, but here is the After.

Pantry

Because I have a very busy 2 year old who can climb, I had to put the snacks in a basket on the top shelf. Cereal, protein powder, dried fruit, and staples like bread crumbs are on the next shelf down. On the next shelf I keep oils and grains. A few years ago I found the glass canisters at a yard sale for $1 each! They are normally $7 or $8. I keep things like rice, oats, popcorn, and nuts in these air tight jars. On the bottom shelf I keep paper goods and kids’ dishes in the plastic storage totes so my littles can get themselves a drink or help set the table. On the very bottom I keep whole wheat and bread flour in the 5 gallon buckets. To the right are my appliances: bread machine, food processor, Crock Pot, rice cooker, griddle, George Foreman grill, Food Saver, and some odd shaped bakeware. Before I had my cookbooks on a bookshelf in my bedroom upstairs. Not very convenient, but I didn’t have room in the kitchen…until now!

I feel so happy every time I open my pantry doors and see such an organized space. By having ingredients easily visible and accessible, I am less likely to “lose” items in my pantry, and I can see at a glance what needs to be used up before it goes stale.

What are the biggest challenges you face with organization in your kitchen?

 

Favorite Grocery Apps

Here is a list of my favorite grocery apps that help me save time and money.

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  1. IbottaThis app is awesome! To date I have earned over $63 in rebates! You unlock rebates on various items, shop, and earn cash back on your purchases by either submitting a receipt or linking your loyalty card account. They have hundreds of rebates each week, and when I couple sales with the rebates I know I am getting a great deal. When you join in June you get an extra $10! Go here to signup.
  2. FlippI just recently discovered this app. It allows you to view weekly circulars and plan your shopping trip. It also matches up coupons with sales (although that feature is not all inclusive). You can print coupons from the app on your computer.
  3. King Soopers-This is my favorite grocery store app. You can save digital coupons to your loyalty card. There is a great mix of Kroger coupons and manufacturer coupons. Plus, King Soopers offers “Best Customer Bonus” coupons that are personalized for you and the items you buy most often. And the icing on the cake is the Free Friday Download. Every Friday you can download a coupon for something free. This week it was a can of Aquafina Sparkling water.

 

There are several other grocery apps out there, but these are my top 3!

Weekly Meal Ideas, June 16-22, 2016

Breakfast

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Waffles with fresh fruit and yogurt

Raspberry Smoothie Bowl

Peach German Pancakes with Bacon

Creamy Quinoa with Peaches and Berries

Lunch

Cauliflower Pizza Bites

BLTs

Dinner

Peach and Pork Kabobs with a Teriyaki Glaze

Chile Lime Steak Salad

Fettuccine with Guiltless Alfredo Sauce with steamed broccoli and grilled chicken

Ribs with cornbread, Trader Joe’s Baked Beans

Burgers with 40-minute buns

Snacks

Ants on a log

Snacking tomatoes

Strawberry Muffins

Fresh Fruit