meal planning 101

20 April 2016

this post isn't meant to be helpful (LOLOLOLOL) or, a "look at me go!!" post but just a little, "look how far behind I am and how slow I'm learning! And can you help?" thinking out loud type of thing.

Just so we're clear.

This summer Simon and I will have been married seven years and wow! you'd think I'd have some semblance of meal planning down pat but nope. Nope nope nope. I do totally hide behind the residency excuse because the hospital had a very generous meal stipend and it was TOO EASY to just have him grab something on his way home while the kids and I had sandwiches or (mumbles) cereal .. or something. And it felt like the nights that I did put effort into a meal were the nights that he'd get stuck at work and so ... bad habits were born, cultivated, cared for, and were thriving quite happily until lately.

While it's tempting to go full-on, "prep and freeze all the slow cooker meals so we'll be set for a month!!" mode ... I know I would crash and burn 1/4-way through that prepathon so I'm starting small with one little week at a time. But, one day I really do want to get on Julie's amazing level. One day!!

My objectives are pretty simple: get us all eating more vegetables and getting the kids to be a little tiny bit more open-minded when it comes to food. We only have one super stubborn and picky eater but he's coming around. I think. I hope!

Simon and I loved the way we felt when we did a Whole30 a couple years ago but aren't really interested in doing another one at the moment (and Simon probably isn't interested in doing one ever again) but our meals are on more of a lazy Paleo level. Super lazy and uncommitted Paleo. I'm hoping to get them on a more committed path as time goes on.

I thought I'd done a relatively decent job of snapping pics of some recently enjoyed food but as usual - wrong, Grace. Wrong.

formerly frozen ... soon-to-be-roasted broccoli


Simon came up with some garlic and lime marinades for grilled shrimp -- so good.


a sad side salad (romaine + tomatoes + goat cheese) that everyone eats so it's actually sort of happy


I'm happy eating the same thing for lunch over and over again so this week it's been pesto (from the Costco jar), bell peppers, brocolli, and whatever protein we have leftover which was exactly zero yesterday. I did turkey (as in lunch meat) on top of the same exact concoction today.


Enough of that.

Some things I've found to be super helpful ...

1. these brown rice + quinoa packets - I was so excited when I saw that Costco is now selling these because it makes them a lot more cost effective. I can stretch a pouch by scrambling a few eggs in and adding veggies.

2. have an easy back-up: like breakfast food. It's easy to bake some bacon (I know - blasphemy to some -- so much easier though), scramble some eggs, and throw together a smoothie if I'm in a rut or just didn't get it together that night (once a week at least)

3. doing some kind of prep before naps - chopping veggies, making a fruit salad, throwing the chicken in the Crockpot

4. using Crockpot liners - makes for MUCH easier cleanup and enables my lazy side to live on

5. try, try again - with the kids. Even though Theo says almost everything is, "gross" complete with sound effects and nose scrunch ... he's come around on a few things and I'm going to keep on trying. I leave his plate out until he goes to bed in case he wants to eat more of the gross and sometimes (miraculous trumpets) he DOES.

6. feed the wolves while cooking - I sometimes send the kids outside with string cheese or 1/2 a banana each while I'm making dinner so that they aren't hangry little animals once they get to the table because hunger is the gateway drug that leads directly into meltdowntown around here. Kids and parents included!

And that's that. Nothing groundbreaking and this post is kind of silly and pointless but if you have any favorite meals that your kids love or any meal planning pointers (I know some people love emeals) ... I'm all {hungry} eyes!! Thanks in advance!!

25 comments:

  1. My favorite meal prep tool is the crockpot. 5-10 minutes prep in the morning before your day gets hectic and dinner is ready when you are. I wowed my friends with pulled BBQ beef sandwiches - little did they know that I just threw the brisket in the pot with a whole bottle of BBQ sauce for 8 hours and then spent maybe 5 minutes shredding it/letting it fall apart.

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  2. I love those quinoa + rice packets so much! I've been loving Julie's posts on her meal prep too. I typically do a loose plan for the month so I can get all the meat (and freeze!) in one Costco haul and perishables once a week. Then if I'm not feeling whatever is on the menu I can swap it out for other options on my recipe board. Just having something written down helps me from the nightly what are we going to eat drama!

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  3. http://www.skinnytaste.com/crock-pot-maple-dijon-chicken-drumsticks/
    I double this recipe and it is sooooo good and easy. The kids love it too.

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  4. I stood right in front of those brown rice and quinoa packets at Costco this morning and wondered if they were any good -- kicking myself now for not buying them! Next time.

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  5. Something that has made my life easier is going away from all at once freezer meal day. I got burned out quickly on that and also nothing pre-made EVER sounded good.

    Now, once a month I brown a bunch of beef and turkey and freeze it (plain) in serving size ziplocks. I like this because it thaws instantly (almost) and you can season it however you want. (Add to sauce for spaghetti, season for tacos, do a Chinese inspired lettuce wrap etc. It also saves meat because you aren't forced to put an entire pound into a recipe. You can break it in half. I also do the same with chicken breasts and rice. My favorite rice method is baking it in the oven. Pinterest has lots of recipes--but basically it's pour boiling water over it, cover it, and bake for an hour. Then I freeze a cup or two per bag and it's ready all the time.

    I also follow this method with anything that looks like it might be on it's way out. (Green peppers, carrots, celery) and then they're prepped and ready to be tossed into a crock pot or added to a pizza or soup.

    I like that the 'daunting' parts of the meals are already done---but that I'm not stuck with a bunch of meals I might not be in the mood for.

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    1. Brilliant! I keep thinking I should be more of a freezer meals person, but I'm just not. I do, however, pat myself on the back every time I remember I have frozen taco meat.

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    2. I do the same thing. Cook the whole pack of Costco ground beef and/or ground pork. With s+p or plain and I can throw it in anything with no defrosting time at all.

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  6. I can't do the freezer meal thing. I have tried and it never lasts with me. We just keep it at a high level of crazy each and every night I make dinner. So my comment is zero help and more rambling. But, I liked your post :)

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  7. I unfortunately became a single mom right around the time that mine got really active in extracurriculars which had me working full time plus taking side jobs whenever possible while wrangling all the baseball/football/boyscout/ballet/etc. My tried and true menu method was to do as much prep on whatever day I had the most time available. I would chop all my veggies, prepare protein as far as possible (brown ground beef, etc). I could whip up a stir fry, frittata, soup/stew, whatever in between practices and games and meetings and such. I also swear by roasting veggies for kids who are picky. Roasting caramelizes the veg and makes it sweeter. My kids survived my cooking and are all great cooks (and dads) (and veggie eaters) today!

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  8. My go to meal is chicken noodle soup. Chicken from Costco, fresh veggies, and chicken stop. Throw in some noodles and garlic bread on the side!! Quick and easy. If you leave the noodles on the side you can save them from being mushy. Good luck!

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  9. It may be terrible to profess- but freezer meals don't appeal to me, nor does an entire meal in the crockpot sound good. BUT! I do love partial prep: just cooking meat in the crockpot (like shredded chicken- sooooo many meals you can make out of that) or making a double batch of enchilada filling and freezing it so I just have to stuff and bake. One thing I will freeze is spaghetti sauce-- a hearty bolognese sauce is so easy to make and it's nice knowing that I'm a pot of boiling water away from dinner. I also make a huge meal plan (at least a week, sometimes two) and leave it on the fridge. And half and half mix of slightly more effort and dead-easy-ready-in-20-minutes meals. Remembering the easy meals on the meal plan keeps us from going out or eating something unhealthy and uninspired.
    Nothing novel there, but it works for us. :)
    Oh and a super easy, even toddlers eat it meal: roasted veggies (olive oil, s&p) and Chicken, Pesto, and Gnocchi. --> mix diced or shredded rotisserie chicken, pesto, and cooked gnocchi together. Top with cheese. Yum.

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  10. You have great ideas! I have assign a cuisine to each night: Mexican Mondays, Italian Tuesdays, Breakfast/Meatless Wednesdays, comfort foot Thursdays, Grilling Fridays, leftovers and Tradiotinal Sunday dinners with Pinterest boards to match. It really helps with planning.

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  11. I find meals my family likes, write the name down on an index card--on the back write the ingredients on one side, cooking directions on the other--then I have a whole arsenal of cards and every Sunday we pick out 5-7 cards for the week and then I make a grocery list and just make those meals each day. We love homemade pizza (you can use grocery store dough--I've never found it in a commissary though) with salad; chicken breasts with poultry seasoning (that's what McCormick's calls it), 10 minute brown rice cooked in water with a chicken bouillon cube, and some kind of veggie (those bags that you steam in the microwave are quick) with olive oil S&P; rotisserie chickens, pierogies sautéed with peppers, onions, and another veggie plus some leftover chicken. I know these really aren't paleo. 😁

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  12. I read in French Kids Eat Everything that it takes children (or anyone!) about 8 tries before they get used to the taste of something, if they don't like it at first. So, keep trying!!!

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  13. My mother would tell me stories of when she was a kid and what her mother made. Every week it was the same thing cause her mother couldn't cook. Even with the 7-day menu year in and year out, my mother still remembers how horrible her meatloaf was.
    However, when we're crunching time/energy/sanity, we go to a weekly or bi-weekly schedule of meals that we know work. This typifies Lent for us, but knowing what we'll be having every week (Meatloaf Mondays! for 6 weeks!) helped reduce my stress.

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    1. Your comment makes me laugh because my mom has said the exact same thing: everyone made the same seven meals every week, and her mom's meatloaf was awful, full of Worcestershire-soaked bread chunks. Back in the day, ethnic cuisine wasn't a thing yet; she still remembers her older sister introducing the family to the exotic dish of lasagna!

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  14. I'm kind of in awe and wonderment here imagining how other people run their kitchens, because it's so different from how I run mine. I make everything we eat-from bread to yoghurt, from scratch. I used to make plans, but more recently, unless I have an idea that I really want to make, I just wing it. Which usually leads to a moment or two of panic per day...but I like life on the wild side, I guess. If I'm really up a creek, I soak some beans the night before. Then I know that whatever I make it's gonna have to be beans. Also, if I have a loaf of bread going (overnight rise sourdough), I build the meal around that. My favorite go-tos are probably cream-of veggie soups. If you have chicken stock in the freezer and a loaf of bread and some lettuce for a salad, you're golden.

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  15. Do the kids like sweet potatoes? I love saute-ing or baking sweet potatoes, peppers, onions (and black beans if you're feeling courageous!) and throwing it into burritos or quesadillas. I trick the kids I nanny for into trying it by telling little white lies ("that orange stuff? it's probably cheese...")

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  16. You are not alone in the nonexistent meal prepping. It took me 4.5 years of marriage to figure out what works for us. Anyways, your ideas are fantastic! I plan one week at a time with a little freezer cooking throw in. Cooking a whole chicken in the crockpot is my favorite thing to do. I use the 100 Days of Real Food recipe. Actually cooking most all of our chicken in the crockpot is my favorite, easiest, method. Boneless skinless chicken breast, covered with your favorite salsa and cooked on high for 4 hours. Best chicken for tacos, on rice with avocados, and so much more. Chicken, sweet potatoes, and green beans in a casserole pan sprinkle spices and butter (or olive oil) cover with foil and bake at 350 for one hour is always a win for my kiddos. Oh and if I freeze any food I have a running list of all the food I have in the freezer so I won't forget. Good luck!

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  17. Crockpot liners are the best thing that has ever happened to my cooking life.

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  18. The hospital meal stipend...best thing that's ever happened to our food budget and simultaneously the worst thing that has ever happened to my cooking! I don't want to even admit to how many times the kids and I have done breakfast for dinner this past year...

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  19. I roast all my frozen veggies from bag to oven no thawing--takes a but longer but I find they taste better and hold together better--but really wanted to say keep fighting the awesome veggie fight!

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  20. So first off you are hysterical and I love you and I think you should write a short mommy book with little stories insights etc. But that is a separate issue for another day. I share a similar time line but only four babes here and it has taken me a long while to figure out the menu planning. I finally got into freezing things and it is really awesome when you come home from a long day at the zoo and you can pull something out of your deep freezer and pop it in the oven for dinner. It feels like the dinner fairy paid you a visit. I would start slow. For instance, if you find yourself making a enchiladas one night, try doubling your recipe and place the second batch in an aluminum tin, cover in foil, pop into a gallon zip lock bag, label and drop in freezer. Then in 2 weeks pull out and pop in oven. Then maybe the next time you will find yourself tripling whatever lasagna or casserole or what have you and popping in it freezer. Pretty soon you will see that the next time you make turkey burgers you will make 4 times the amount, drop the extra patties into a zip lock bag and in your freezer. I really like to get the square aluminum trays they sell at target because they fit perfectly into a zip lock bag and I double bag it keeping them very fresh for as long as a year. Pull one tray if you want to feed just the kiddies and two trays if you want to feed everyone. If you do invest in a deep freezer go a little bigger than what you think you need because once you get the hang of periodically cooking in bulk, you will be addicted. Also, I am in no way shape or form an french kind of a mamma but I did find the book "french kids eat everything" to set a positive nutritional stage in our family dining. Just simple tips like serve the meal in courses, veggies first have really been a life saver for me as this cooking mom life is such a learning curve!

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  21. Emeals. Eeeeeeeemeeeeeaaaallls. Such a lifesaver. Make sure you get the app, it's awesome, better than just using the website.

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