Saturday, January 30, 2010

Meal planning my style

Lately there has been a lot of focus about getting the most from your dollar and spending wisely. Well I'll admit that I'm not a perfect planner on buying food or coupon shopping or running around town getting the best deal. I am getting better at trying to use what I have.

Couple things to note before I begin. One - I live in the Suburbs, so I don't have a farm or access to go planting areas (much less livestocks etc). I am going to try this summer with some veggies in some beds we built last year. We just bought this house in 2009, and our old house was on the market for a year - so we never tried a veggie garden (plus we had WAY to many rabbits at the old place - good sun though). So I missed some early chances to get some growing of food going. If I have trouble I have some friends I can barter with and I know of many local sources starting up Two - I also am known for bulk food buying, which you will see in a bit. And three - I have gotten better at freezer meals which helps my planning. And four - I'm going to start learning about canning this year (one of my mini goals)!

One thing I have found lately is I need to do a better job at writing down what I want to cook each day. I find that we don't eat out as much when I plan ahead. We also don't eat as many carbs. We don't go out as much (except our planned Fridays and right now Pizza Wed due to a ballet class at 4:30p). I also can limit leftovers better and do more cook for one day and use in another meal the next - ie when I do Chicken. But I can also plan for my husbands lunch if there is not as many leftovers and he doesn't eat the same thing for 3 days. I will note that from most meals I plan on making just from me and husband. Our daughter likes some meals - but we don't stress about her (shortly I will start making her eat with us).

First buying meat. I usually buy our beef at our local butcher. I can get a boneless assortment and 25# of ground beef for about $350. Now this may seem high - but there is only two adults and one small child eating this and I can usually only buy twice a year. I will pick up boneless chicken breast at Sam's or Meijer on sale and I buy pork chops, ham or ground lamb to break up the beef. I also buy some items at My Menu, a small store of prepacked items that are made striaght from the freezer. I am mainly doing this because my daughters school gets money once a month when you buy from there. This helps break up what I can make.

Beside the meat I do freezer meals. When I make a meal like spaghetti, sloppy joe or taco I take 3-4 # of ground beef out of the freezer to brown. After I mix in the sauce/seasonings I separate out the servings into gladware containers. These have been good for stacking in the freezer and hold 2-3 cups per container. I know some use bags and flatten them - but I have a full upright freezer and room to spare. So can usually find many easy meals in the freezer to break up my cooking.

 I also have a recipe for meatloaf that uses 6# of meat and I can make 3-4 loafs out of. And I have a recipe for ham loaf that makes 2-3 loafs (more if I make mini loafs so we have less leftovers.) I also have tried premaking lasagne with the no cook noodle recipe - that works great because it is time consuming to make and easy treat when you can pull it out of the freezer. We use to have in town (before the recession) a couple of meal prep places. I learned some great things there about doing meal planning. So I some times can take a favorite and find a way to make it a freezer meal. Keep in mind - I don't take a weekend to make 30 meals, I find that with some pre planning I can take what I buy and starting building up a set of meals that I can pull from.

On to planning - I make a list of all the meats and meals in the freezer. I need to get a list down of possible meals to pull from - but that will come. Them I sit with a calendar and start putting in meals. Example last Saturday I made Spaghetti - and it was a time that I had to restock my sauce.
 (Note - I only have one big burner so I make my sauce and then have to heat the noodles, so I love having premade sauce that can be heating in the micro). So that day I took 3# of meat our and made 5 contianers of sauce (4 to freeze and 1 to eat). So some time in the next week I know I can have spaghetti again I and I know sauce is ready (so it can be a weekday meal).

 I do keep in mind that if it a recipe that needs time, ie stews and heavy meal prep I keep it to the weekend. If I make chicken breast one night I can plan to make extra and then plan a pasta meal with chicken the same week. Also I keep a number of frozen veggies on hand, but if I plan something like Stirfry I know I need to make a fresh produce shop. As I plan I will make a list of any pantry items I need, so I can save time. I will say when I pla more more - the less we have of hamburger helper!

Back to the list - When I meal plan I also can have things days like steak night - but know one week it is filet and one it strips steak  etc. I also can not feel like we have spaghetti every week - because I can space it better. So right now as I plan I can have a steak (at least 3 meat choices), a chicken night (or lamb, or ham), pizza night (due to activities), a ground beef night, a going out night, a meal prep night (to get ahead on meals) and an easy night (meatlaof, premade meal etc). Right there are 7 days and if I have a list in front of me I can vary the month so I don't feel like mine eating the same things. I also know I can shake things up with a breakfast dinner or something special. If I have recipes in front of me I can try new things - or remember a favorite that I forget about in the rush of things. Example last weekend I also made Ham loaf from leftover Christmas ham and ground pork, last year because we moved at Easter our leftover Christmas ham was used at Easter and I didn't make ham loaf - it sure tasted great!

As you can see from my ramblings you can make things easier with out buying and cooking in one weekend for a whole month. If you can look ahead a little, you can plan a little. I will note again I do only have one child and not a lot of extras yet. I like to think I can keep it easy, but I know life gets in the way. Either way I know what I need out of the freezer tonight for tomorrow and it will mean my day will be a little easier during the witching hours!

Easy Garlic bread - This was how my mom made it - but she used french bread. I hate remembering to buy bread the day I make spaghetti or such.
One Hoagie bread (I buy a six pack from Sam's Club for $3.84 and keep in the freezer.)

Defrost and cut 1" slices diagonally through the bread - leaving a little still attached at the bottom.

Mix 1/4 cup melted butter and some garlic powder (or garlic salt to taste)

brush the slices with butter mixture and any extra brush on the top of the loaf

and wrap in aluminum foil with the top open.
bake 350 degrees for about 15 minutes.
Take out, break apart and enjoy!!

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