I always thought about the meals that we were going to eat throughout the week, usually on my way or even at the grocery store, but purposely meal planning--actually going through my recipe box, talking to Jason, writing the meals down and rearranging them on the page, and then checking our pantry and fridge while making a list all before I go to the grocery store--has been a great learning experience. Because I am enjoying this one of my Four Simple Goals before 2014 so much, I thought I would share a few simple lessons that have made meal planning so easy and satisfying for me.
Lesson #1: Make the time and enjoy!
One of my favorite parts of teaching is actually curriculum design and lesson planning, and although I haven't consciously missed that in the almost eight months I have been off, the thrill of writing out a good plan has come back to me while organizing our meals. Like I mentioned above, every Sunday, I make a list of meals that sound good. I ask Jason if there is anything he wants (Chinese food), and then I think about what ingredients will stay fresh and what can be prepped and used for different meals. Finally, I write down the plan, cross things off and move them around and rewrite the plan before adding things to our grocery list. And IT. IS. THRILLING. Really. I love it. The actual planning is fun for me. Then, because I have a plan, the shopping and cooking take so much less energy that the 15 minutes on Sunday make my entire week, every single day, easier. I'm not running to the store or asking Jason to stop on his way home from work to pick something up every other day. I don't spend any time throughout the day wondering about dinner. I just know it's all good to go.
Lesson #2: Have a GO-TO Meal.
My pantry and my fridge are pretty sparse, which is a good thing. We are eating everything we buy and not buying any extra. But I do have at least one GO-TO Meal, a meal with ingredients that aren't perishable that I can put in my plan every week with the idea that if something changes (like my mom or mother-in-law or Maggie shares a meal or we get invited over or out for dinner) nothing will go to waste if I put off making it for a week or two or three. So far, my GO-TO Meal has been shrimp, broccoli, and rice, and even though it has been on the plan every week and is a favorite of ours, it hasn't gotten made. All you need is rice, frozen broccoli, frozen shrimp (I prefer the raw frozen shrimp because when I cook the cooked shrimp it gets too chewy. You could also sub chicken.), and this Campbell's sauce. All the ingredients keep for a while, but when you need it, you can whip it up in about 15 minutes, by throwing the rice in the rice cooker, throwing the frozen broccoli in the microwave, peeling the shrimp, cooking it in a pan, then putting the sauce on top to heat up, and serving the saucy shrimp over the rice and broccoli.
Also, my other (not as fancy or healthy) GO-TO Meal is frozen pizza.
Lesson #3: Cook in bulk.
There are only two adults eating at my house, so cooking in bulk might not seem to make sense, but it has worked out great when combined with meal planning. Last week I planned two meals, one right after the other, that would both use ground beef. Sloppy joes with mac and cheese and green beans on Wednesday and Taco Night on Thursday. I bought a two pound package of lean ground beef and cooked the entire thing on Wednesday. Before I added the sloppy joe sauce, I removed half of the beef and refrigerated it. The next night, all I had to do was put the meat into a pan, add the taco seasoning and some water, and let it simmer while I chopped up some tomatoes and grated some cheese. Taco Night was ready in about ten minutes with the help of bagged tortillas, lettuce, sour cream, and salsa. I have also done something similar with chicken, grilling up a few pounds of chicken one night for BBQ chicken with rice and veggies and using the leftover chicken to make a casserole the next day.
So far, so good!
Also, I have been enjoying this so much that I have even more lessons, so if you are interested, come back tomorrow for part 2.