Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Meal Planning | A (little more than) One Month Review

For the week after we got back from San Francisco and our "mini-moon" in Flagstaff, I was going to the grocery store every day. And honestly, even before the wedding I was going to the grocery store far too frequently, and constantly struggling with "what should we have for dinner tonight?" Going to the grocery store this way had me ending up with extra packages of meat that I would stick in the freezer once they were about to go bad, and I was struggling with the fact that when I made something with a 1-pound package of meat (we tend toward chicken or ground turkey at home, though we do eat red meat when we're out), we had WAY too much leftover.

Then there's the leftover game: who is going to eat them!? Certainly not C, I can tell you that, and I was getting a little bored with it myself.

I decided it was time to start meal planning. Like a real adult and all that. Here's what I did:

  1. Make a list of recipes you already like, plus some that sound like fun. I included things that we liked that were frozen (these meal-in-a-bag dinners are nice and easy - we like the garlic chicken or cheesy ranch chicken) and things that require "actual" cooking. 
  2. Create a separate calendar in your Google Calendar and start adding dinners on each night of the week that you can/want to cook (we usually go out on Fridays and weekends, so I have four meals planned each week). Personally, I also have to include how we're getting our veggies/greens in because I'm the kind of person who will easily eat just cheese and bread all the time (ask anyone who I went to college with and they will confirm this information!). 
  3. Try to coordinate your weeks with the types of meat you need (for us, this means picking two meals with chicken and two with turkey each week, or two meals with no meat). I also tend to put taco and taco-esque meals on Tuesdays because "Taco Tuesday" is fun and cute (give me a theme and I will run with it). 
  4. Only go to the store once a week! 

I'm most certainly a meal planning newbie, but I also documented my thoughts each week to give you some feedback "from the trenches," so to speak: 

Week One (October 19th - 22nd)
This is the "Yummy Chicken" - I would eat this
all the time if someone let me! 
We started in October with four "stand by" meals: 'yummy chicken' with pasta (this is really called chicken lazone - I found this recipe right after we moved into the house and have fallen in ABSOLUTE LOVE with it. I would eat it every week if I didn't think C would get bored with it), enchilada casserole, montreal-seasonsed chicken and bacon-broccoli mac & cheese. All of these recipes are ones I've found since we moved in together, and we'd had them before and loved them.
My rookie mistake this week was cooking ALL the chicken on Monday night when I made the "yummy chicken" and then heating it up again on Wednesday night - my ineptitude with chicken to begin with leads to me usually erring on the side of over cooking, and then cooking it again meant that it was INCREDIBLY dry. Poor C ate most of it, but I felt incredibly guilty. Lesson learned: save the extra meat and cook it the day-of. I did, however, make all the pasta I needed for the "yummy chicken" and bacon-broccoli mac & cheese on Monday night, which was nice. I also found recipes this week for taco seasoning and enchilada sauce that I made ahead of time on Tuesday (I wanted to on Monday buuuuuut that didn't happen the way I intended. It all worked out in the end either way though). 

Week Two (October 26th - 29th)
Chicken tacos (mine with black olives)
This week included some new-to-us recipes plus a few oldies-but-goodies: honey garlic chicken, tacos, chicken piccata and spinach-tomato tortellini with ground turkey. The new recipes (honey garlic chicken and chicken piccata) both ended up being DELICIOUS. The honey garlic chicken recipe instructed me how long to cook the chicken for (it was coated so I'm very glad for this - see previous week's information about my chicken fail) and it came out perfect: tender and moist and just amazing. The sauce in this recipe was also fantastic. Per my lesson-to-myself last week, I set aside the rest of the chicken for Wednesday night, and it also came out yummy-in-our-tummies.

Enchilada Casserole before we served it up.
However, I did have leftovers of this, but I brought it to my coworker who lives by himself. Tacos are a favorite go-to meal, AND something that C will eat leftovers of! I made my own taco seasoning and we bought these taco "boats" which are not as messy as standard taco shells. Spinach-tomato tortellini is a recipe I found when I was trying to make something for my other coworker and his wife who had just had a baby - they are vegetarians and this recipe had no meat. It looked pretty good, so I made it for us too the next week, but included the package of ground turkey that I had on hand. It was very good and is now in the regular rotation.

Week Three (November 2nd - 5th)
Welcome to November! My big plan this week was to start off with a crockpot meal that involved some prep on Sunday. However, a little too much fun on Halloween meant that I was not interested in doing that prep (plus I struggled with the fact that the cashew chicken instructions were for it to cook for 3 hours, when I'm at work for 9 hours a day) on Sunday. So I swapped meals around for this week (the joys of an internet-based, drag-and-drop calendar!) and we started with taco pasta. I didn't follow the recipe I had in mind exactly, and it was more like "cheeseburger pasta with taco seasoning," but it was tasty. I hadn't realized it was that much different from a cheeseburger pasta meal I use to make for the kids I nannied, so I didn't quite have the right sauce ingredients on hand and didn't plan correctly for my grocery trip. Tuesday was a quick and easy frozen meal, after which I actually took the time to prep the crockpot meal. I made the sauce and did the "pre-cooking" of the chicken, and put it all in the crockpot on Wednesday morning. Overall the recipe was tasty, however, I did end up having to make another two batches of the sauce in order to actually cover the chicken in the crockpot. I doubt I'll make this again only because of the fact that there is more prep work involved for something that is supposed to be in a crockpot. On Thursday, dinner was "Hamburger Soup" which was pretty tasty but even trying to make a smaller batch left me with a bunch to freeze.

Week Four (November 9th - 12th)
"Pollack Dinner"
This week was an attempt to use up some excess things in our fridge/do as little grocery buying as possible: "pollack dinner" (kielbasa and pierogies), breakfast for dinner, pasta & sauce, and soup & salad. I was also babysitting one night, so that had to have a very easy dinner. The only thing I had to go to the store for were the soup we had on Thursday night, and I went the night-of on my way home from work. All-in-all this was a nice easy week of dinners and I think I'll come back to this set up if we ever have some really busy week days.

Week Five (November 16th - 19th) 
I realized as we approached this week how repetitive the meals were (both chicken nachos and chicken tacos) - whoops! Again I quickly dragged-and-dropped a meal from next week and moved the honey garlic chicken that we enjoyed so much from week two and put the tacos down to next week. So our meals ended up being: one-pan ranch chicken/green beans/potatoes, chicken nachos, DIY pizza and honey garlic chicken. Of course, when I got home Monday night and C wasn't back yet, I thought I had a bunch of time and decided to switch the nachos and one-pan oven meal around. Then as I was getting it ready, C walked in and we had to wait another hour for dinner. On Tuesday, thinking he was not far behind me, I cooked the chicken for our nachos and was completely done with it and turned it off for a while before he got home. If I hadn't switched them around in the first place that would have made more sense, but, you live and you learn. I bought a pre-made pizza crust a few weeks ago that I don't want to waste, so I made sure to get that in the menu sometime this month. We also got a pizza stone as a wedding gift and it was a good time to break that in ;) The pizza was pretty tasty and I think we'll do this on a regular basis. Then when it came time for honey garlic chicken..well...I backed out and we had soup and salad for dinner instead.

Week Six (November 23rd - 26th)
Thanksgiving fell on this week, so that definitely helped alleviate one meal planning day of the week. We also had "Friendsgiving" to say "thank you" to our new AZ friends on Sunday night which added a planning night. It ended up being a total "throw it all out the window" week in the end. Sunday was great at the time, but Monday was frantic and crazy because we stayed up too late on Sunday - we ended up eating frozen pizza bread for dinner. Tuesday night my mom arrived to help us get ready for Thanksgiving so we ended up getting wings on the way home instead of making anything. Wednesday my mom made a crockpot White Chicken Chili that I had made over the weekend for our "Friendsgiving" night (we had 5 overnight guests at our house for Thanksgiving). Then it was Thursday and time for ALL. THE. FOOD. All in all, not the best week for meal planning.

Week Seven (November 30th - December 3rd)
After the holidays I was ready and raring to get back to planning out our meals. I had Soup and Salad, Bacon & Broccoli Mac & Cheese, Yummy Chicken and Ranch Chicken + Potatoes on the menu. All were repeats from the last six weeks, and we stuck to it pretty well with the exception of Thursday night. We were getting ready to go out of town for the weekend on Friday, and I just didn't have it in me to cook that night, so C had a pizza bread and I had a Hot Pocket. BUT! There were no leftovers in my fridge rotting over the weekend thanks to this switcharoo.

In Conclusion, I'm going to try to keep meal planning if only to save me grocery trips. Once I have our 4 meals for the week planned, it's easy enough to switch them around within the same week if something makes more sense one day than another. I'm hoping to expand our horizons with some more new meals in 2016 too.


Check out my "Tried & True" recipes on Pinterest: