Extended Planning

A while back, I wrote about meal planning. I’ve had a couple of people ask me to provide a little more information and help formulate some more ideas. Actually, since I wrote, I have changed a few things, so I’m glad you asked. 

The biggest change is that Baby Gray is eating solid foods now. So, in essence, if I plan really well, I can not only save myself time when feeding Mr. Gray and myself, but also Baby Gray. My intentions are to plan all of his meals (I only do dinner for the two of us–it’s the only common meal we eat on a regular basis). I know this sounds like I’ve fallen off the spontaneous wagon all together, but that’s not it. I try to provide Baby Gray with fresh food, rather than frozen, when I can. If I plan, I can feed him the vegetables we’re eating, instead of heating up a previously frozen portion. Don’t let me fool you; I haven’t started this yet, which means there is a chance I won’t. Ideally, I feel like this would work best for all of us (and my grocery budget).

My other change is that I have added Sunday back into our meal plan. We used to have Heart Group on Sunday evening, so I didn’t plan for Sunday; we would just sort of wing it. Now that we’re home consistently, I have added it to my plan. The tricky part here is that I am planning an entire week away when I plan for Sunday (we usually decide on our menu Sunday afternoon). 

Enough of all the jibber jabber. Oh, except for one more little aside: I don’t buy beef at the grocery store. Pops and Nonna process a calf a couple of times a year (maybe less); that’s where we get our beef. This means a few things for us: usually, our packaged ground meat is more than a pound and steak is readily available. 

Really, enough of the fluff! 
Mostly, meal planning is thinking of what you use in common in several dishes. Usually, we pick a no-compromise meal (one we really want to eat that week) and then build from it. For instance, if Mr. Gray wants enchilada casserole, I’ll start with those ingredients and work my way out to other recipes. Most of the time, there is no reason for me to bake an entire 9×13 inch casserole dish of anything, enchilada casserole or otherwise. We don’t eat that much–even if you include left overs. So, I will brown the entire package of ground meat but I won’t season it as I cook. I can then split the ground meat into two meals: enchilada casserole and spaghetti, hamburgers (obviously I wouldn’t brown the meat for this), quiche, tacos, taco soup, etc. Or, I could make the full enchilada casserole recipe, split the casserole into two smaller baking dishes and freeze one, which would defeat the purpose of the whole preceding paragraph.  
I also try to build from my produce when I can. Our HEB does not always have the freshest produce, but I have a little guy on the side of the road I like to buy from. Usually he has more in a bundle than I can use for one recipe. I try to make a couple of sides that work certain veggies into them. I also buy frozen vegetables to use as sides; they are quick and easy, plus, everything I’ve read lately supports using frozen when you’re “fresh” might not be picked as recently as would be ideal. We might have roasted vegetables one night, squash casserole the next, and sauteed squash the final night. With Baby Gray in the equation, I can always puree or chop and freeze anything I don’t use for us. 

Items that are non-perishable or have a really long shelf life don’t need to be stretched throughout the week; no one wants to eat the same food all week long! Spice it up a little! When ordering your meals, you’ll need to think about the shelf life of the ingredients (read: my no-compromise meal is not always first).

Here’s another sample of a meal plan I might use. Remember, my week ends on Sunday because I shop on Monday. I build in a day for left overs if I think we will have them (it’s usually not Thursday simply because I’m leery of eating food from Monday the following Sunday). There is nothing worse than cooking a bunch of food and throwing it away.

Monday: steak, broccoli, baked potato 
  • We’ll thaw a package with at least three steaks. We can grill one ribeye for both of us; Mr. Gray will cube the rest for Wednesday’s no compromise meal. Broccoli and potatoes will need to be on my grocery list. Baby Gray can eat broccoli and baked potato with us.
Tuesday: Heart Group
  • We usually pick something up on our way to or from Heart Group. I pack Baby Gray a to-go meal, which is usually a finger food or two, two veggies (pre-packaged or frozen), and a fruit.
Wednesday: beef tips, brown rice, squash 
  • This is my no-compromise meal. Rice is a staple I keep in my pantry (this means two things: first, it gets replaced when I run out, which is not true with most things in my kitchen; second, I do not need to buy it when I plan for it). Meat is thawed and cubed from Monday. Squash (fresh or frozen depending on availability) will need to be bought. Baby Gray can eat rice and squash with us.
Thursday: left overs
  • I might make some more broccoli or squash to go with our meat or twice bake a potato, but, basically, I use this night to make sure we’re eating what we have, rather than making something else to add to a growing pile of left overs in the fridge. If there were no left overs when I built a left over day in, I would make spaghetti or something that I had all the ingredients for at the time (pasta, diced tomatoes, and meat are all staple items for us; I can pull together spaghetti–or something like it–on a whim). Baby Gray can eat any variety of the veggies, grains, or starches we have left over.
Friday: out
Saturday: out
Sunday: quiche 
  • I make quiche (Mr. Gray loves it!) with eggs, crescent rolls (biscuits), some type of meat (usually pan sausage), grated cheese (any kind I have on hand), and various vegetables as I have them. This is a great clean-out-your-pantry recipe (read: perfect for Sunday before I shop when I’m piecing things together). I’ll pull out certain ingredients for Baby Gray as I cook and fill in with applesauce, cheese, etc. as I need to. 
I am pretty Type-A, but I honestly never thought I would be planning our daily meals like this. Really, though, now that I do, I can’t imagine not. It saves me time and money at the grocery store, and it takes the hem-hawwing out of each evening–more time with my family and more money in my pocket!

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