Sunday, May 1, 2016

Meal Planning 101

Years ago, when Brian and I were both working, it was always hard to make time for cooking dinner. Whole Foods' ready made meals became a regular staple in our lives.

After Graham was born, I got a little better about preparing meals each night, but once I was pregnant with the twins and suffering from morning sickness, cooking was quickly put on the back burner and not the one on our stove. The one that required Brian to stop on his way home from work to pick up food. 

Fast forward to our life with three littles, and having a meal ready to go on the table each night has become one of my main priorities. If Wynn and Harris eat much after 6:00pm, the world falls apart around here and even more importantly, it allows Brian to come straight home from the office and that extra hand 10 minutes earlier is often times exactly what we need to keep things glued together at home. 

As we close in on a year of consecutive meals each week, I'm offering up all my tips in hopes of making someone's life easier. 

It can be daunting looking forward on the week and filling a blank slate with meals. So here's a peak into my thought process as I put it all together. 

First, I keep in mind, it's only 4 dinners. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. The weekends are spent going out to eat or picking up take out. Occasionally we get really lucky with a home cooked meal from our true Master chef in the house, Brian. 

Every night needs to include a protein and these are the main options we explore: 
  • Chicken
  • Beef 
  • Pork 
  • Ground Turkey
  • Fish/Shrimp (usually on Mondays because it's fresh from the grocery store)
One night is always a pasta, so that leaves us with three other nights and those dishes are usually: 
  • Tacos (hard or soft shells)
  • Casseroles
  • Pizza (usually made with Graham when Brian is out of town)
  • Stir Fry
  • Soup (wintertime)
  • Salad
  • Crockpot
  • Meat with a starch and a veggie
I also keep in mind that come Thursday, I'm usually less in the mood to cook so I like to leave the meal with the least preparation towards the end of the week.

If we seem to keep eating the same combination of foods, I'll put the meat I'm wanting to prepare into Pinterest or Google and try to find something new to make. Sometimes I will stumble upon a food blog full of great new recipes.

The babies eat earlier than the rest of us, and I usually don't feed them what we are having because I get our dinner ready while they are eating in their high chairs. (Stay Tuned for tomorrow's Twinspiration Tuesday to check out the main items on their menu every week).

Here's a sample of our meals for this week (click below for recipes):

Monday: Shrimp Linguine

Tuesday:  Hard Shell Tacos** with Rice and Black Refried Beans

Wednesday: Ritz Cracker Crusted Pork Chops with Brussel Sprouts and Pilsbury Crescent Rolls

Thursday: Pesto and Meatball sandwiches** with Salad (from a bag with Olive Garden Dressing, Parmesan Cheese, and croutons)

**A Couple Side Notes: 

For the TACOS: I would NEVER spend 45 minutes preparing a meal during the week. I either prepare the Taco Seasoning in this recipe before hand and keep it in a container in the freezer so it's ready when I need it OR pick up a Taco Seasoning packet at the grocery store. For sides, I use the Goya black refried beans in a can and a boxed rice (we like the Tony Chachere's Creole Rice)

**For the PESTO AND MEATBALL SANDWICHES: I buy an already prepared Pesto (Buitoni brand). Pesto is easy to make, but it does require the food processor, and I'm all about minimizing how much I have to clean. Also, I make meatballs close to once a week, so while there are a ton of ingredients to include, I can pretty much do this one with my eyes closed. 

I try to find recipes with ingredients that we always have on hand in our house. Some basics that I like to have around are:
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • soy sauce
  • bread crumbs
  • chicken broth
  • pasta
  • Pilsbury croissant rolls ;) 
  • As I'm writing this, I realized the list could go on and on...eggs, butter, parmesan cheese, dijon mustard, rotel, etc. 
And just like that, our grocery list is created and our menu is complete. 

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