Monday, February 25, 2013

Meal planning 101 and Emeals

 Is it just me or are there some days/weeks you sit down to meal plan for your family and you just go blank? Do you feel stuck in a rut at times? Do you not meal plan at all because it's too time consuming? I have felt all these ways at different times. The thing is I find that the more prepared I am, the less I spend, the healthier my family eats, and the less frazzled I get. I'm going to share with you all how I meal plan. I'm also going to show you how I use Emeals as a supplement to that.
You may want to read this post about processing groceries/freezing/planning also.

Here are things I do that help me with planning. This may not help you or apply to you-

  1. What do you like?- Sit down with a paper and pencil and write down every meal you can think of that your family will eat. Main dishes and side dishes. Just write it all down, go through a recipe box, Pinterest, whatever. Just keep in mind that you want your menu should be composed of mostly tried and true recipes, this is supposed to make your life easier. If you're trying out a new recipe every night with no idea if it will taste good, that's not simplifying your life at all. I went through this blog because I have tried/made everything on here.
  2. Use a blank calender online for monthly planing. Weekly- I just use a piece of paper. I use this calender because I can edit and everything right on there.
  3. Themes- Consider "themes" to help filling out your calendar easily. (Crock pot, fish, meatless, Mexican, Thai, leftovers, breakfast for dinner, try a new recipe, salad etc) You can assign each a day of the week a theme. You don't HAVE to follow your themes every meal, but it will help you fill out the calendar. 
  4. Check your calendar/schedule- Do you/your kids have practice or lessons on Mondays? Plan for that. I have Bible Study on Wednesdays so I plan for leftovers or a crock pot meal on those days. I like to try new recipes and such, so I plan a new recipe a week.
  5.  Family favorites- Remember that if there's a meal your family LOVES it's OK to put it on the calendar more than once. On those days, you can even make double the food and freeze the rest for later on in the month, always think ahead and prepare when you can.
  6. Plan smart- Plan for leftovers to go into another meal. Especially if you don't like leftovers. Plan to make them into something new. Need roasted chicken? Roast extra, or better yet use a whole chicken. Use the bones for stock/soup later on in the week. You can use the meat for chicken salad, on top of salads, in soups for leftovers. Browning hamburger? Brown extra for spaghetti, taco soup, burritos, etc for another night. Making Meatloaf? Make extra mixture, and shape them into meatballs, cook and freeze these for another night OR for easy lunch packing. The easiest lunches to pack are leftover protein on top of salad greens.
  7. Sides- Keep sides fairly simple, especially on days where meals take more preparation. (One pot/dish meals are nice also!)
  8. When planning sides or dishes with lots of fresh vegetables. Plan those closest to your shopping day. My shopping day is usually Tuesday. So Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday's those are the best days to plan for a dish that uses up veggies and fruits that aren't as hardy as say cabbage and apples.
  9.  Breakfasts- I only plan for Saturdays. The rest of the week I have a list of breakfast foods available listed at the top of the calendar. Everyone can grab what they want or I'll throw steel cut oats in the rice cooker the night before.  (Eggs, bagel/toast, Sunbutter, cheese, cereal, oatmeal, fruit, smoothies, etc.)
  10. Lunches- I stay home with Pixie, so we usually have leftovers. But for lunch packing I plan for leftovers from the night before, or I'll do a standard fill in like boiled eggs, deli meats, frozen items I've made ahead of time like chicken drumsticks etc, then I just add vegges and/or fruit. Let's face it, I don't do cute lunches, BUT I do pack lunches that my kids will eat. So my calendar will look like this at times  Monday night - roasted chicken, Tuesday lunch- chicken Caesar salad, Tuesday night- Crock pot soup, Wednesday lunch- soup.
  11. Snacks- Along with the list of breakfast foods at the top of the calender, I have a list of snacks. The girls can grab portable items they need for school. Smoothies and what not are things I make when we're home. I keep frozen bananas, fruits, and even cubes of coconut milk, and pureed pumpkin in the freezer for them Smoothies. I also buy organic spinach, if it's going bad I throw it in the blender with some water, pour it into an ice cube tray. Done. Spinach cubes ready for smoothies. ( Some snack items- Smoothies, Nori, fruit, nuts, cheese, crackers, popcorn, deli meat, veggies, boiled eggs, etc)
  12. Same ol' Same ol'- KEEP your menus. You can rotate them, or use the same menu the next month- changing out a few new meals you want to try, or adding in special occasion meals.
Once your calendar is filled out-
  1. I don't always make the meals I plan. Some nights things are crazy, someone is sick, or we're not that hungry. Those nights we have something simple like scrambled eggs and sliced tomatoes. I just circle or highlight that item, because chances are I've already purchased the groceries for that item. That way I can make that meal another night before that food goes bad.
  2. If you shop every week, every other week, or even monthly just make sure you go through your pantry and freezer. Always try to use what you have on hand first.
  3. Shop with a list and a plan. Especially if you have a budget you want to stick to. Set aside a "stock up" budget. Buy only what's on your list.
  4. Keep a grocery list accessible so that once something runs out you can put it right on the list.
  5. Lists, lists, lists- Okay, I'm a bit... OCD. So I usually have a list/spreadsheet on my freezer and of pantry staples. Consider it, it may help you. 

Now, what about when you just don't know WHAT to plan? If you just need that boost to start planning, if you need or would like  it done for you, or if you're changing your eating habits/lifestyle, but you're stuck eating the same foods because you're new to this.That's where Emeals comes in, I just signed up and the first two weeks of meals popped up for download, instantly. Recipes, instructions, main dishes, and side dishes. That sounds like the a typical meal planning site right? Well the cool thing about Emeals is that it's simple.
Pick your plan- you can choose size of your family, your eating style (there's Paleo, low carb, organic, classic meals, simple gourmet, gluten free, vegetarian, and more!), you can even add which grocery stores you shop at. So many options, that you can change later on. I chose Paleo, not because we eat Paleo, but because I want to limit grains, soy,  sugar, and processed foods for us. You can go back and change your plan also.
After you pick your plan, every week you'll get a menu with recipes delivered to your email. If you plan every two weeks or every month, this is still doable, you just have to shift meals over.
There is an option to add snacks, and packed lunches. You can add breakfast also.
Once you get your meal plan you'll receive a detailed grocery list organized by section coordinated with weekly sales at your local grocery stores. WHAT the what?
The cool thing is you can use all of these recipes, or just some of them and then substitute some family favorites to round out your menus. Use Emeals to make your life easier, don't let it stress you out and make you feel like you have to use their whole plan for the week and nothing else. But the recipes are easy, and they don't have hard to find ingredients.
Here is a sample of a weeks menu with the Paleo plan selected
Basic Chicken Alfredo with Roasted Spaghetti Squash
Slow Cooker Balsamic Roast Beef with Kale Salad
Herbed Salmon Burgers with Broccoli Slaw
Marinate Ahead Greek Chicken and Roasted Tomatoes
Spicy Tilapia with Cherry Pecan Compote
Cabbage Rolls with Coconut Apple Salad
Lemony Caper Crab Cakes with Smashed Parsnips

I love that there are notes to marinate ahead of time- what a time saver. Also built in slow cooker meal for bible study days! How awesome is that!?
My only thing is I noticed there was butter in a recipe, you can omit that/use coconut oil etc.

With each weeks plan comes a detailed grocery list, with pantry staples that you may have on hand in a separate box.

More Emeal posts on Give Peas A Chance

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