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How do you figure out how to meal plan? - Page 7

post #121 of 191
subbing

I am going to do my first big plan tonight. In the past, I have just planned for a few days to maybe a week. My goal is 2 weeks.

It seems to me like the key to varying the meals is writing them all down- family favorites, easy and quick stuff, and I love assigning a theme to each night. I think that once I get started, I will be amazed at how many different things we really do make regularly!

Thank you all for the great tips!
post #122 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by G's mommy View Post
It seems to me like the key to varying the meals is writing them all down- family favorites, easy and quick stuff,
We did that a few months ago and were amazed at how many meals we came up with. I'm still trying to get good at the planning, but when we're stuck for last minute ideas the list is invaluable.
post #123 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by mybabysmama View Post
pizza dough from trader joe's $1.
cheese $3
mushrooms $1
canned artichokes $2
pine nuts, keep in stock $0.50
tomatoes $1
garlic, keep in stock

So that's $8.50 for just a pizza that we eat in one sitting.

My really good mexican bean soup is about $15 a pot. We can get a few meals out of it, but still, that's a lot of money.

Or my enchiladas.

bean burgers $4
cheese $2
tortillas $1
sauce $3.60

That's $10.60 for one meal. (Not including the cost of fresh fruit.)
How many are you cooking for? Just trying to think what the cost per person is. My thought on how to cut down is - make more from scratch. How about getting a recipe for pizza dough, making a bunch in advance, freezing them in single pie servings? Might save some $$. Make your own beans for the enchilada filling, instead of pre-fab black bean burgers. The sauce - try making your own. Test diff recipes. I'm sure you could make something cheaper.

The canned artichokes are just kind of expensive, I think. If you love them, and money isn't that big an issue, keep eating them. If not, think of cheaper toppings.

Not sure what's in the soup, so can't help there...
post #124 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by BusyBeeMom View Post
How many are you cooking for? Just trying to think what the cost per person is. My thought on how to cut down is - make more from scratch. How about getting a recipe for pizza dough, making a bunch in advance, freezing them in single pie servings? Might save some $$. Make your own beans for the enchilada filling, instead of pre-fab black bean burgers. The sauce - try making your own. Test diff recipes. I'm sure you could make something cheaper.

The canned artichokes are just kind of expensive, I think. If you love them, and money isn't that big an issue, keep eating them. If not, think of cheaper toppings.

Not sure what's in the soup, so can't help there...

Thanks for the thoughts. Here's the hard part of making change, not really wanting to make change. I don't think $1 for pizza crust is that much, given the convenience, but the black bean patties do add up. You're right, I should look at recipes for my own filling. The same with the sauce. It's just that they taste so good and are so easy.

So, I'm "yes...butting" you, but that's just because change is hard. I appreciate your ideas and will try to ferment them for success.

By the way, the pizza is for 2 adults and a toddler. I also forgot to include the cost of sauce.
post #125 of 191
bumping
post #126 of 191
oh, can't read the thread right now...

I just wanted to add that I'm a lazy slacker trying to do more meal planning and a few things have helped me not feel too intimidated.... So maybe if they can help me they might help someone else:


First is I sat down and wrote down a list of meals I really LOVE to make and really LOVE to eat-- ones that were fairly easy and not so intimidating to me . I went through some of my cookbooks etc and really made an effort to find some new recipes that seem simple, fast, and good and earmarked about 10 of those to try

So that gave me a list of about 30 recipes that I could feel good about. Some really fast, some fast but require the right ingredients, some for the crock pot, etc.
.
Then I wrote these recipes down on 3X5 cards (either the whole recipe or the recipe name, location (cookbook, page number and ingredient list
So when I shop I can flip through those 3X5's of my favorites and I have the ingredients for the grocery list. I can also rotate them. This is my 'favorites' box-- so I dont' have to 'think', don't have to peer at my dozens of cookbook's that intimidate me, etc.

Also, if I see a recipe that looks intersting (say on MDC) I can put that recipe on a 3X5 card, stick it in my box and try it at some point. (Or just save things to a try me file on the computer)


2nd thing was that I've writen on a 3X5 a list of food that we eat all the time (and like). Its a pretty small list right now but I've recently add 3-4 new things to it, so I feel like I can look at that and not wonder what to cook or what to put on the grocery list. And when I'm short on time I might end up cookign something like chicken and feta (takes 2 minutes to prepare and sits in the oven for 40 minutes) rather than spaghetti or forzen pizza.
As I go hopefully the list will get longer

I did also manage to just throw all my cut out recipes in a BIG 3 ring binder with cheap plastic top loading sheets. I did NOT organize it at all. Maybe later. I'm sure I will never try even 1/4 of the recipes I cut out, lol, but they have a better chance now.

Maybe that will help someone.

Jessica
post #127 of 191
This is a great thread, so I'm bumping it again.

I just started my millionth foray into meal planning. My biggest challenge is follow through. With pretty much every aspect of my life but right now I'm talking sticking with meal planning in the long term.

I'm trying to make large changes in the way that I live, and I think the challenges and ongoing threads here at MDC will help me along until it becomes habit and just the way I do things.

I went through my pantry today to see what was there and to plan my meals around it. And I am also a courtenay_e convert! What fantastic ideas!
post #128 of 191
I started small.
Identify issues and hurdles for you and your family. For us, it was the lack of planning for meals and a large selection of nearby restaurants.

Basically, I forbade eating out of the house other then two preassigned evenings a month.

I was setting myself up to fail with lofty goals of cooking everything completely from scratch and complicated recipes every night, so I started allowing my 'homecooked' standards to slip a little- we started keeping organic frozen pizza and similar convenience foods around in case baby got sick/was teething/didn't nap/whatever happened and I couldn't manage to swing dinner one night.

I began to borrow and purchase cookbooks with a variety of flavors that contained non-gourmet recipes that fit my family's lifestyle.

I began to plan to cook five unique meals a week, leaving one night for leftovers while I worked out how much food two adults and one baby eat. The seventh night was for more leftovers if I really goofed or the preassigned eating out or we would raid our stash of convenience foods. Invariably, we had days where we ate a late lunch and just snacked or were not feeling well or whatever. Five unique meals a week worked out well.

I set a rotating schedule of meals. In our family, friday is pizza night every week. We vary the toppings and I try new crusts. For a long time, we ate burritos every tuesday as well. that takes the thinking out of meal planning for me.

I meal plan with an eye to our family's calendar. When I have appointments or plans to be out all day, its not going to work out for me to make Super Fancy or time intensive food. Those are the evenings we have leftovers or pasta dishes that I can throw together in under 30 minutes.

I also use our family's calendar to set aside time to prepare our food. As vegetarians eating primarily vegan food on a budget, I used to find myself without my dried beans cooked (takes about a day) or without my homemade bread risen (no knead bread takes 18h give or take), or with a whiny baby who only wanted to be held and a recipe requiring lots of vegetable chopping. I loosely schedule time to do ingredient prep through the week.
post #129 of 191

my way of meal planning

we plan 2 weeks at a time, because that is when DH gets paid, we rarely go to store in between.

We have our favorite main dishes on 3x5 cards, with the ingredients needed on back (not flour, or spices you know if you need the staples) we also have cards for veggies, and starch items for side dishes.

some are very simple like a steam artichoke, some are slightly more complex like speghetti or home made mac and cheese. others are 30 mins, and some crockpot, and some very fancy, boss/ in-laws are coming over meals. I also like to try new recipes at least once a month, if we like it it gets its own card.

each week on payday we choose 10-12 cards, we don't eat at our house on tuesdays, and we allow for other things to come up. we try to choose things that we have or that are on sale. (we also stock up on basic meat when on sale, and buy a lot of meat on reduced/ day old meats)

we pin up a main dish and a side for each day on our cork board.

i tried to have mondays= chicken, tuesdays= mexican, etc etc. it didn't work for our family.

in the summer when we get our farm share we try to incorporate the veggies, so i make a lot of stuff up.

over all we spend between $50-100 on groceries for every 2 weeks, and we buy beans in a can and canned artichokes too. it can be done. we rarely buy convience foods, we make almost all from scratch. i make bread, tortillas (sometimes) and my own pizza dough.



you can make homemade pizza cheaply-
make your own dough about .50- prob less than that
use a can of tomato sause .22 add oregano and italian seasoning
cheese is a bit more expensive maybe 1/4 of bag pre shreaded $2
1/2 jar articokes on sale $1

so 3.75 for home made pizza
post #130 of 191
Subbing this thread because I REALLY want to get into meal planning. We have to order many groceries to be sent out to us (no produce, etc., available at our local store), so it'd really help to know a week in advance what we're going to eat so we can order exactly what we need and have it available in time to cook and eat.
post #131 of 191
I find (unfortunately) that I have less take-out and am more efficient if I only plan dinner for a few nights. Plan a week and I've changed my mind by Saturday and order pizza. Am I the only one?
post #132 of 191
I plan two weeks in advance, and shop for groceries every two weeks, except for items that would go bad in that time. I simply plan a number of meals minus any nights I just know we will be going out or need something quick (TJ's prepared meals). I freeze all the meat and pre-marinade whatever I can in the freezer bags (I actually use a foodsaver). Unless I know that we are going to use a whole chicken in the first couple days, then I would leave that in the fridge. I don't stick to a daily plan, but just chose from my list as I go. It works out well, and if I'm not in love with the last meal standing, I can usually figure out something else to make with the ingredients I have around.

Here's an example.

Here's another example.
post #133 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by courtenay_e View Post
Okay, I've said this before, so sorry to the mama's who've heard it all. First, get yourself a couple of really good cookbooks. No, you don't have to learn a new recipe every day, but the ones I'm going to suggest will help you, over time, to take what you learn and apply it to the stuff that you already make so that, just maybe, people won't turn their noses up anymore.

Get yourself a book called "The New Best Recipe" by the editors of Cooks illustrated. Last time I checked, you could get it off of Amazon for $14.95, and it included a free copy of the magazine, too (and the magazine is as awesome as the cook book...). The editors of cooks illustrated take great pains to honestly figure out what makes a recipe great, and then they tell you exactly how they came to that particular recipe and WHY certain things work the way they do...so this is the part you can bring to your other cooking.

They also have a book called "The Quick Recipe" with the same concepts, only the recipes are generally quicker than your average four course meal ( ) to make. It's a good one to try something from once a week.

There are a bunch of others I can recommend, too, if you want, but I'll move on unless you let me know you'd like more of those suggestions.

Then, I get a calendar (I have a great one right on my computer) and look at six weeks.

I assign a TYPE of meal to every day. For us, Mondays are roasts (in the oven, on the grill, or in the crock pot...crock pot roasts are great for work days) with corresponding sides. This one type of meal allows many options...turkey (I buy many on sale at Christmas), chicken (watch the loss leaders for roaster chickens about every six weeks), ham (lots of sales at easter), pork loin (best price I've found is at costco), lamb, you name it! And within those options are many variations...different prep styles, marinades, sides, herbs...all fairly easy!

Tuesdays are soup or stew, salad, and bread...I usually take the remaining roast/bones from the day before to make this soup. If we're already sick of said roast, I'll freeze this soup/stew and pull another "flavor" out of the freezer. I often put the bread in the bread maker and the soup in the crock pot, and this is also a "gonna be gone all day" "quick" meal. There are so many possibilities with soup...noodles, rice, dumplings, stews, cream base, veggie soups, you name it.

Wednesdays are international days. So pasta is a possibility, but only every six weeks! Otherwise, we do thai, chinese, mexican, other italian...we're irish, so good irish meals, french...this allows for some spice and "mixing it up." Within those "nationalities" are so many options that we rarely have the same thing on wednesdays for a minimum of 8-12 weeks, rather than the usual six.

Thursday is breakfast day. Pancakes, waffles, blintzes, crepes, french toast, and within those types lots of variations (we have five variations of pancakes alone). Also, we vary the protein (sausage, ham, eggs (and TYPES of eggs)). We will often have fruit, berries, and orange juice with breakfast night.

Friday is Pizza night. Pizza, believe it or not, has lots of possibilities. Thin crust, thick crust, normal crust, calzone, barbeque, alfredo, all meat, all veggie, a little bit of everything...depending on how much vegetable matter is on the pizza we may or may not include salad that night.

Saturday is leftover night. If there aren't leftovers, we'll have sandwiches (egg salad, tuna salad, grilled cheese, tuna melts, grilled peanut butter, cold cuts if there are some left that need to be eaten) and raw veggies.

Sunday we often go to either my in-laws or one of my parents' houses for dinner, just because we like to spend time with family. We usually bring a dish to pass. If by some chance we're home that night, its a vegetarian meal night.

So, in planning, I do all the mondays first. I make a rule that I am not allowed any repeats in that six week block of Mondays. Then the Tuesdays, and so on and so on.

So, these are meals I KNOW how to make, even if they're not something I've made in a while. Often I WILL try one new recipe a week, on a night I know my husband will be there to help out, to hopefully add to the repretoire. Because they're stuff I know how to make, I dont always have to think about serving sizes, 'cause I know how much of it we eat. However, the rule is that leftover night in our house is most often sandwich night...we are pinching pennies, so if there are leftovers, dh often brings them to lunch, and if there is STILL some leftover, the kids and/or I will have them for lunch as well. We really try to keep waste down to a minimum.

EVERYTHING I make is from scratch, whole foods based, and just about everything I make I can make double of and freeze for a crazy day, and often do. DH occaisionally travels, so knowing when he'll be gone, I'll make sure I have a meal frozen for just about every day he's out of town...and all I have to do is reheat it. This means that we can be out and about (keeping busy keeps the kids from missing daddy QUITE so much), and still have a low cost, yet quick, meal on the table at dinner time!

Eight month old twins aren't going to eat that much for dinner. Even if they are eating table food, remember that the rule is to give them as much as the size of their fist, as that is the size of their tummy. And that is the total quantity! So a half dollar sized piece of meat, a table spoon of veggies, a table spoon of starch...

Hope some of that helps. If you really need good recipes, ask friends and family members for their best and favorite dinner recipes. Give them a try, one a week. Get THE NEW BEST RECIPE, give some of the roast and other dinner recipes a try. There's a great crock pot book called something like"Not youre mother's crock pot recipe book" that has really REALLY yummy not boiled recipes in it. Think of it as a challenge...try to mix it up and save money while you're at it.

Plan on an hour or so for planning when you start...I've got it down to about 45 min. now, sometimes a half hour.

It just plain makes life easier, especially with kids and a husband who is at work all day!

wow you make meal planning so easy! these are all great tips. come to think of it, i think my mom planned her meals almost the same way you did. i know this is a couple years later and all, but do you still stick to the same meal planning routine?
post #134 of 191
I would like to know that too Courtney. Do you still use the same system? If not how have you changed it up? I need to be inspired again. I had to dig a little for this thread, loved it then, and need it more than ever now.
post #135 of 191
I've been using the same system for about a year, and it works really well for us. Every week (or slightly longer, but not shorter), I list seven meals to eat in the coming week. I make sure they'll use up any ingredients we have lingering from the week before and anything we got from the CSA, and I plan all the meals to be pretty different. There are a few things I make a lot, like pizza, and I usually pick a couple new things to try from cookbooks or websites.

On the other side of the paper, I write the ingredients I need to buy for those meals, along with any staples we need for the week, and take that to the grocery store.

With the exception of things that spoil more quickly, I pick meals from the list based on what suits my mood, until all seven meals are gone. Lunches are always leftovers, and sometimes a meal lasts longer than that, so the week's meals will go a little longer.
post #136 of 191
I'm bumping this up!!! I need to do some major planning, and every time I do I just don't end up sticking with it. Even when I've shopped according to my plan.

I have a baby due in 3 weeks, and only want to do one major grocery shopping before she is here next paycheck (a week from now, ugh). I need to have a good plan in place for before & after her birth. Included is going to be things that freeze well!

So just bumping to keep up the inspiration and information near the top!
post #137 of 191
I meal plan by just keeping track of what we've eaten, when. I have my "calendar" in Open Office Spreadsheet file called "Menu" (creative, I know ). I have my meals color coded by type (chicken, turkey, seafood, beef, venison, pork, lamb, vegetarian, eggs, pizza), and in a list with every week starting with monday (I've never gotten re-used to the star-the-calendar-with-sunday thing since I came back from Spain over 2 years ago... ). I just list the 'main course', and color code that way too. So if, for instance, we have kung pao chicken with broccoli & brown rice, I just list the kung pao chicken, because that was our 'main' course.

I hope all that made sense... Its really pretty easy, and its super great to be able to see, at a glance, when the last time we had chicken or fish or whatever. My goal for the past 3 or 4 months has been to cook at least 2, and preferably 3-4 vegetarian meals a week... and so far, I've succeded. I don't, at this point at least, plan lunches... mostly because its usually just me, and I'm happy with just a nice salad an pb sandwhich at least 2-4x a week, and leftovers or mac & cheese or frozen pizza or soup the rest. I keep thinking it'd be interesting to see what I actually eat for lunch... but I havent' gotten motivated to do so just yet.
post #138 of 191
I'm not sure if this was already covered, but I need to go to bed and can't read all the post
How do you plan meals so you don't have tons of leftovers of the things you bought (not even the meal you just made)? I feel like I buy AAAAALLLLLL this stuff to make ONE FREAKING MEAL, and it costs so much money, and then whatever isn't used in that one meal either spoils or gets pushed to the back of the cupboard. I know about having staples, but it's only me and dh who aren't on the boob right now, so nothing ever seems to get used up when it comes to vegetables, canned things, etc.
post #139 of 191
Well, if I make beans (usually pinto or black, as those are my/our favs), I usually do so at the beginng of the week (sun/mon), and then we eat them various ways all week long. So, for example, I'm making green chili & pinto beans tommorrow, monday we'll have enchiladas (rest of the chili), tuesday we'll have Chilliquillas (more of the beans), and whatevers left of the beans, I'll eat for lunch with rice & salsa & onions & cheese

As for veggies, I buy what we eat - peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots & celery are our "staple" veggies. Onions/potatoes/yams last for plenty long for us to go through the bag, and I cook with peppers constantly - but then again, we like spicy food, so... I love broccoli - in stir fry's, raw, steamed, on salads, etc. Ditto for carrots - celery just lasts plenty long in the fridge for us to go through it in various ways.

I think the most important part when it comes to veggies/fruit is just figureing out WHAT your family eats. Whether thats onions or broccoli or salad or peppers or carrots or whatever... and buying that. Sure theres a ton of other stuff at the store, but I HATE wasting food, so unless I have a recipe and I KNOW what I'm going to do with it, I don't generally buy cabbage or bok choi or what have you.

As for canned stuff... I just don't buy very much of it. Mostly the only stuff we buy/eat out of a can is tomatoes (which I usually use all of, and if theres extra left over, I just make into salsa) & coconut millk, so I'm not much help here.. .though once again, I'd just sit down and figure out what exactly it is that your using it in, and then find something else to use hte left over for in the next couple days. Other stuff (pasta, rice, dry beans, spices, etc), I don't worry about - they all goes into mason jars untill the next time I need them
post #140 of 191
Quote:
Originally Posted by RaeAnne View Post
I'm not sure if this was already covered, but I need to go to bed and can't read all the post
How do you plan meals so you don't have tons of leftovers of the things you bought (not even the meal you just made)? I feel like I buy AAAAALLLLLL this stuff to make ONE FREAKING MEAL, and it costs so much money, and then whatever isn't used in that one meal either spoils or gets pushed to the back of the cupboard. I know about having staples, but it's only me and dh who aren't on the boob right now, so nothing ever seems to get used up when it comes to vegetables, canned things, etc.
Maybe you can plan two recipes in one week that use similar items?

Example: I buy a bunch of green onions. I use several stalks to top an enchilda casserole dish I make. I use the remaining stalks a couple nights later in a black bean sweet potato salsa mixture that goes with fish. (The refried beans I use for the enchiladas are also used for bean & cheese quesadillas for lunch on a nearby day.)

Another: Grape tomatoes: a dozen go into the black bean mixture mentioned above. Another 2 dozen are used in a couscous dish with zuchini and yellow squash (makes a lot and the leftovers are tasty). The remainder can be used in salads and snacks.

Another: Kale. I have two main kale recipes: a quiche and a soup in the crock pot. I wash/prep all the kale at once and make both meals within a couple days. We eat the quiche and freeze the soup.

Another thought is to double the recipe to use up the ingredients? Is the dish freezable?

hth-
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