Meal Planning Tips

Have a Few Good Cookbooks

As my mother told me, “When I was starting out with family cooking/meal planning, I had just a few cookbooks:  Mom’s loose-leaf of recipes from my past, the MN Meals cookbook, and BH&G. When I was looking for ideas, I mostly was in MN Meals as it was simple and broad.  Surfing the web to find recipes can be daunting; there are so many. Making sure you have a few good cookbooks gives you a more manageable body of info to peruse.”

I agree, and I tend to rely on my family cookbook (collected recipes we know and love) and two others that cover a lot of ground.

Plan by Time Required

You can keep a cheat sheet of often-used recipes or meals that are listed by how long it takes to prepare them (10 minutes, 30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.). Then when you need a plan for the day and know how much time you have, you’ve already narrowed down your options without having to think through it each time.

Plan in Advance

For pro calendar users, or just those who appreciate charts, an option is to plan meals out a month at a time. You can have a 30-day calendar of meals (1 or 2 or 3 a day) mapped out as a resource. Each month you can reuse the calendar by changing the order of meals.

This allows you to have plenty of options available, know in advance what you are doing, and shop in bulk (if you have the storage space). You will save gas on multiple trips to the grocery store if you have what you need already in the pantry. You still have the flexibility to move things around if you want to or to take advantage of sales or schedule changes.

Keep a Treasure Chest

As you collect tried-and-true recipes, you can collect them on note cards and keep a box in the kitchen. You will know when you pull anything out of the box that it will work.

A variation of this would be to keep meal plans on note cards (recipe included). When you do your meal planning, or before you go to the store, you can pull out what you would like to make and have it ready to go. Once you have made the meal, it goes back in the box until next time.

Know Some Versatile Basics

It is a good idea to include simple recipes in your collection that make filling and tasty meals or that serve as the basis to multiple meals. For instance, a good scratch biscuit can serve for biscuits and gravy or chicken and biscuits.

Many thanks to my mother for serving as a valuable resource for this post! It has been a blessing and privilege to observe her years of experience.

What else have you found helpful in your meal planning efforts? We’d love to see your comments with more tips below. Thank you!

 

A Simple Meal

As promised, I’ve pulled together an explanation of what I would prepare for a meal on a day where I need something super simple but good. It requires a few minutes 2 hours before dinner and 1 hour before dinner, and maybe 10 minutes at dinner to serve, but it works well when I’m around the house (even in-and-out) but busy with other things. I generally keep everything needed on hand except the sweet potatoes.

Entree

This is a family favorite from when I was a teenager and now a favorite in our home. You need chicken or pork chops, oil and seasoned breadcrumbs.

  • Take chicken pieces (boned or boneless) or pork chops, as many as you need and a baking dish as large as you need to fit (or multiple, if that works better).
  • Coat the bottom of the dish with oil — not deep, but covered completely.
  • Lightly sprinkle seasoned breadcrumbs on top of the oil
  • Place meat in pan.
  • Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of meat to coat.
  • Cover with foil.
  • Place in oven at 325 for 1.5-2 hours (depending on how much meat you are baking). When the bread crumbs on the edges of the pan are crispy brown, your meat is done.

Sides

Baked sweet potatoes & steamed vegetables

Coat the sweet potatoes with oil — pour a teaspoon on your hand and rub it in to the potato. Place on a cookie sheet and into the oven 45 minutes to an hour before dinner (longer if your oven is full, less if just 3 potatoes). Serve with butter and brown sugar and/or cinnamon.

Pull a steamer bag of vegetables out of the freezer before dinner and prepare in the microwave according to directions. Season and serve.

Enjoy!

My hope is that you enjoy this as is or adjust as needed to your preferences. Either way, remember to keep your eye on your priorities and take advantage of simple meals when you need to.

Meal Planning

Like grocery shopping, meal planning is constantly with us. Whether you plan as you walk in the kitchen or a month out, it has to be done at some point or the hungry hippos will descend!

As I have worked into my own system for our household, I have pondered again how different situations call for different solutions. I have a large upright freezer in the kitchen that is a wonderful resource. I also have easy access to multiple grocery stores. My sister has a small refrigerator and minuscule freezer. We handle the same task differently, and rightly so.

There are even more ways to tackle meal planning than that. We have a wealth of information easy accessible, sometimes too much. But if you take what time you have to sift through a few concepts, then dig deeper into what fits you, and implement in pieces, you can steadily and confidently work into a system and habits that help you and your family.

  • A few minutes on the internet will yield more family meal plans than you could cook in a lifetime. Some are geared toward budget, some toward health, some just to be easy. You can surf and start gathering a set of recipes that your family enjoys and fit your style. Pick and choose from what is available.
    Once you have a small library that works for you, it can be the backbone of your meal plan. You pick what you will be serving any given week and know what groceries to have on hand.
  • Another popular solution abundant online is freezer and slow-cooker meals, where you go on a large grocery trip, then assemble 20 meals at one time. They go in the freezer ready to pull out and go when needed. This can be a great resource, when you have the time to invest on the front end, and is easy to supplement with last-minute meals when that is called for. You have the flexibility to respond to daily needs.
  • Friends or older women in the church who have been prepping family meals for decades are also a great resource. There is a wealth of real-life experience available to you in conversation for the asking.

My personal mode at this point in my life is to stock up on meat (thus the freezer) when it is on sale, buy the produce that is in season and on sale, keep a variety of frozen vegetables on hand for insurance, always have a loaf of bread available (family favorite), and then fill in other menu items as I desire or have available. This ensures I always have meat and vegetables as a base, bread pleases my family, and I still have flexibility to be creative or satisfy a craving around that framework. (Note: I also keep one large lasagna or other casserole in the freezer for emergencies or sick days.)

As I do my daily and weekly planning, I also decide what I will serve for meals — usually 2 or 3 days in advance, subject to change. This means I can pull out any meat needed to thaw first thing in the morning or the night before, because I know what I have planned. I also can pick up a necessary item at the grocery store at my leisure, rather than having to run at the last minute. (Note: Since I prefer planning ahead, I do tend to try to make do with what we have in the pantry, though, even if it means adjusting. It can force creativity sometimes! It also lets me plan for leftovers when I know I will have them, i.e., repurposing mashed potatoes into shepherd’s pie the next day.)

Since my meal planning revolves primarily around meat, it helps to be familiar with a variety of ways to prepare it: roasting, slow-cooking, baking, frying, broiling, simple casseroles, basic toppings and marinades, etc. Having a small arsenal of options allows variety and ease (once you know each method well).

Always stocking ingredients for a couple of “go-to” meals, family favorites that are easy to make, is a good idea. This creates memories (I can tell you mine from growing up because I still make them today!) and can save the day when you realize meal planning didn’t happen, yet it is almost time to eat.

We will dig further into this topic, with a sample menu coming later this week, but for now — Bon Appetit!

 

The Good Part

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

We have a lot on our plates. Each day holds a number of legitimate needs, a good portion of them urgent (to someone, at least). Each morning we have to decide how to fit all our responsibilities into the day’s time and energy. The serving we are called to do can be distracting, as it was for Martha the day Jesus came to her house.

Don’t let distractions pull your focus off the “one thing…needed” — to sit at His feet and hear His Word. Drink deeply from that well (John 3:14-15). Sink your roots deep into Scripture each and every day. If need be, let your desperation drive you there; but go, sit and hear.

Your Grocery List

We all do it. Every week. Or more often. (Twice one day, anyone?) The trip to the grocery store is necessary for someone if the family will be eating meals in the future. If you do not have a personal shopper or an online grocery ordering service in your area, this post is for you.

The first step in organization for grocery shopping is fairly obvious: a list. Any list. You may have a notepad in the kitchen where you jot down staples as they occur to you or you run out. That’s a good start. If you are a smart phone user, you can use an app like GroceryIQ to keep track of what you need beforehand and what you have in the cart while you shop. If you do regular meal planning, a shopping list comes out of that effort as well.

However it looks, knowing what you need before you head to the store helps save time thinking about it in the aisles (or a second trip for forgotten items) and helps limit the impulse shopping.

May I suggest an improvement on the basic list? You can save a significant amount of time by planning out your list and your path each trip to get you in and out of the store efficiently. With an initial investment of time, you can design a list that works for you and your preferred store(s).

  1. Head to the grocery store with a pad and paper (or take photos of the aisles and type it up at home). Note each aisle in the center of the store in order, along with the categories of food in them. Then make a list of the outer walls (i.e., produce, deli, bakery, dairy, frozen) in order with frozen at the farthest end. The goal is to start at one end of the center aisles, finish on one side of the store and then walk the edge all the way to the checkout, with ice cream being picked up at the last possible moment without losing the flow. Note: if freezers are in center aisles, start the list at the other side of the store, then do the outer edge as described after the aisles finish in Frozen Foods.
  2. At home, type up your list. Each aisle would be a separate section. After you list the main categories, add in items that you buy regularly, such as Raisin Bran, cheddar cheese, rice. List them in the section in the order they come in the aisle.
  3. At the end of each section, add at least a couple extra lines to write items in.
  4. Format the list in columns (to be easier to read) and to fit on the front and back of one sheet of paper. Depending on your store and volume, you may be able to fit two lists on one sheet and save paper.
  5. Print and have handy in the kitchen. As you need items, circle them. You can note how many you need in the circle. You can write in special items in the proper section. When you are ready to go to the store, your list is ready and organized to go with you. Print more lists as needed or revise and print when the store remodels.

Grocery List Image

When you are at the store, you can walk through the list, aisle by aisle. Pick items up in order down the row. Don’t leave the aisle without a quick check to make sure you have all you needed. You can skip aisles where you have nothing marked — or walk quickly through to get a few more steps in on the Fitbit. Once the shelf-stable items are in the cart, take your final lap around the edge of the store and head to the registers. Voila!