Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Real Food for Real Families: {Meal planning for real life}

There are a lot of things that I do not do well in the world of homemaking. For instance, I hardly ever clean up after a meal. I just can't seem to find the motivation after I've spent all that time planning, cooking, and forcing all my people to eat! Whew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it! One thing that I do enjoy doing and succeed at most weeks is meal planning and grocery shopping. Several of my friends know this about me and have asked me for advice and practical help. I polled my Faceboook friends, and apparently a TON of women struggle with this chore. So, I'm here to help! This will probably be a work in-progress; something that I change the format of as I see improvements to be made. For now, I will just start with the basics. Here is an old post that I wrote a few years ago with some very general tips on meal planning.

Let's get started...

So many to choose from; so many indecisive people! Here's my best advice: JUST PICK WHAT SOUNDS GOOD TO YOU! OK, OK, I know... "Susie doesn't like beans." "Johnny doesn't like any vegetables!" "My husband hates onions!" It can be impossible to please everyone. All kidding aside, here's what you need to do: get out a notepad and write down everything that you can think of that everyone DOES like. We have an Excel spreadsheet for just about everything in our house, so we created one for our favorite meals. That way when I get the "I don't care" answer, I can open up my spreadsheet on my phone and pick some meals! Easy! If your husband has a desk job, e-mail him and ask him to type up a quick list of his favorite things that you make. He will appreciate that you asked,  that gives him time to think about it instead of putting him on the spot, and hopefully he will answer (in a day or two if he's like Ben- love you, honey! ;) )! You can do the same thing for your kids- when you have a well-received meal, add it to your list. And don't quit trying a certain food because they refused it once. Try it again but maybe in a different way. My kids hate white potatoes alone, but they will eat them in potato soup or sauteed with other veggies! Who knew?!

Pinterest is your friend! (That's a link to all of my boards which are- you guessed it- mostly food!) Did you know there is a button for recipes you have actually made?! You can leave a note for what you like/don't like about it. Keep your pins organized so that it's easy to find a recipe when you need it. My categories seems extensive, but I know where to go when I need something. Do what makes sense to you; it might be different from what works for me. Don't pin recipes from blogs that look like they don't get much traffic.

Here's list of links to some of my favorite food blogs' Pinterest accounts:
Kevin and Amanda
A Healthy Slice of Life
Avery Cooks
Damn Delicious
Peas and Crayons
Two Peas and Their Pod
Gimme Some Oven
Pinch of Yum
The Nourishing Home (Paleo)
The Pioneer Woman (of course!)
The Gracious Pantry

Use your cookbooks! I love my cookbooks! Some of our most favorite meals are the ones that I made during our first year of marriage when I actually had no idea what I was doing-- but I had a Betty Crocker Bridal Edition Cookbook. Ben thought I was a great cook, but I was just blindly following recipes! Make notes in your cookbooks for substitutions or changes that you make. Highlight recipe titles that you actually have made or use sticky notes. This serves as your "favorites list." Again, this just makes it easier when it's time to choose meals for the week (or month or whatever your plan is). Use magazines in the same way. Cut them out and put them in an alphabetical organizer, or search for it on Pinterest. Most all recipes are available online without a subscription these days.

Here's a list of my favorite cookbooks and food magazines for recipes:
Betty Crocker Bridal Edition (This book truly taught me how to cook!)
Secrets of Slow Cooking
Any Rachael Ray (365 is great, and so is her mag.)
America's Test Kitchen is good for more extensive recipes; definitely not for when you are in a hurry.
Kraft Food and Family Magazine (it's not free, but you can search recipes here)
Family Circle
Real Simple
Cook's Country Magazine and Cookbook

Pick Your Meals
You might be wondering now, "How do I choose from all of this?!" Here is my best advice: do what makes sense to you. If you don't have much time, grab your phone and pick four meals from your "tried it" Pinterest list. Have a few minutes? Pull out a few cookbooks and get creative! Look at the week ahead and see what days you will even have time to cook. Wednesdays are the day that I have to make dinner in the afternoon before school pick-up, or we have to eat leftovers or sandwiches. I know that ahead of time, so I plan for it. You have to think ahead. Some poeple like using a "system" like this: Monday- chicken, Tuesday- beef or pork, Wednesday- Crockpot, Thursday- Mexican, Friday- pizza. I don't necessarily assign meals to certain days. Because as we all know, life happens. Sometimes on Monday when I had planned on grilling some chicken, it rains, or Greta is just too fussy for me to chop all of the veggies. And sometimes, whatever I've picked for a day just doesn't sound good, so I flip flop days. You have to be flexible! Whatever you decide, write it down. Use a large legal pad, a planner, your Notes app on your phone- whatever works for you! And keep it- that way when you are in a rut, you can go back a repeat a week. Once you've decided on all your meals, post the menu somewhere visible. I have a chalkboard vinyl menu board on my fridge that works well for me.

You've picked your meals... now what?
What day can you go shopping? Monday is the day that works best for me.
Make your shopping list:
Start out with writing down the categories, e.g.,

  • bakery/breads
  • canned/ jars: (sauces, salsas, soups, broths )
  • dry goods: (pasta, rice, dried beans)
  • baking: flour, sugar, etc.
  • produce
  • meat
  • frozen
  • dairy
Go through each recipe and write down the items you need in the respective categories. (You should already have a good pantry stocked with basics such as salt and pepper, cooking oil of choice, dried spices and herbs, butter, baking needs, etc.) Keep a magnetic notepad on your refrigerator so that you can write things down as soon as you run out or see that it's low. Now go to the store, or order your items online (this is my favorite way to shop). I can walk you through the online ordering process.

Now you're home with all these delicious fresh foods. Here's where the rubber really meets the road. Are you ready and willing to carve out the time to actually follow through and cook this stuff?! I hope so! What better way is there to show your family that you love and care for them than to put thought and time into preparing them homemade meals? My kids have a terrible way of showing their appreciation. Most of the time the feedback that I get is complaining. But I know that in the long run, they will be healthier and will hopefully have a more varied palette as young adults.

Some other tips...
Prep- this is something that my life isn't condusive to. The best "prep" that I can do is some washing/chopping the day of a meal maybe during afternoon naptime. But for some people, prepping is an option, and a great one! If you can take a Sunday evening to wash/peel/chop for your entire week and maybe even pre-cook/shred meats and make sauces--- you rock! I'm sure that would make dinner time much less stressful.

Don't be afraid to eat leftovers. If a recipe says that it serves 6-8, I know that I will probably have enough leftover for our quick night (Wednesdays) or for a couple of lunches. If you see that a recipe is big- take advantage of it. Crockpot recipes are notoriously huge; eat half, then freeze half. 

On the flip side, many recipes are easily doubled. Double all your ingredients in your shopping list for the recipe you choose, cook one all the way through for that dinner, and prep the other all the way up to before cooking and freeze it. (I can write some posts on this later.)

Hopefully, some of this info has been helpful and encouraging to your weary-cooking heart! I will try my best to post a full meal plan (usually 4-5 meals per week) with a full grocery list to help you out. Please ask questions any time. Happy planning!


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