How I monthly meal plan.
The biggest piece of the puzzle for me was setting up a frame work and then I have a few secret weapons (listed below - read on). My current framework looks like this:
Monday - International/Ham/Pork
Tuesday - Chicken/Turkey
Wednesday - Pasta
Thursday - Crock Pot/Casserole
Friday - FFY/Out
Saturday - Cooks Choice
Sunday - Mike Grills
To explain a bit further, Monday nights are when we do our versions of German, Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, etc. or a pork based meal if we choose to be more basic. Wednesday nights we sometimes have places to be so I chose pasta since those meals I can usually get on the table in 30 minutes or less. Thursdays are busy days for me so I put my crock pot to work or use a casserole that I've made ahead so I don't have to prep a meal that night. A huge lifesaver! Fridays - FFY is Fend For Yourself where we eat out of the fridge if there are any leftovers (Mike uses leftovers for lunch at work) or, rarely, we will eat out/order in. Sunday, if Mike doesn't grill for whatever reason, I'll use my broiler, grill pan or cast iron for a similar purpose.
Our Little Caesar's has Customer Appreciation Days on random Tuesdays throughout the month and those sometimes trump my meal plan ($3.99 for a large pepperoni pizza and that feeds our family. Can't beat it!).
So once I have my basic framework, I then flip through my favorite cook books and fill in the month. So what are my secret weapons??
Basically I have two secret weapons. The first are freezer meals from Saving Dinner . I do about 30 meals at a time and use them over a two or three month cycle. I use Leanne's Five for the Freezer menus and the Mega Menu Mailer and they have all been pretty tasty. It packs the freezer pretty full and it's wonderful having all the prep done so that I can have a month of meals ready at a moments notice. It's a full day of prepping meals and it pays off in huge dividends on busy nights. All it takes is thawing ahead of time and that is where my meal plan comes in. I post it on the counter so the afternoon before (usually when I'm making lunch) I pull what I need out of the freezer to thaw. When I'm planning out the month, I plug a freezer meal in on the days where it makes the most sense for us. I like freezer meals so much I became an affiliate for Saving Dinner! Check out the link to the left and download a sample menu for free!
The second secret weapon is Rachael Ray, as much as it pains me to say it. I can't/won't watch her on TV but her cookbooks have become some of my most trusted. My favorite is her Express Lane Meals. It's a well balanced meal in one recipe - that's really the best part. The sides are already accounted for in the recipe so there's no tinkering around trying to figure out what else to have with the meat. Don't fall for the 30 minute part - they usually take longer - around 45 minutes. The food has great flavor and the meal is well balanced.
All in all, for me, having the framework like I listed above helped me the most. It also helps that I like to cook and Mike will eat anything I make. I have a few real loser meals once in awhile but that happens and there's always ice cream to fill his empty belly. ;)
So all that being said, here is my meal plan for January. Mike is gone for one week and the kids are helping me make dinner that week and we have visitors for a few days this month so those are factored in to the plan. Also, I am down to only 4 freezer meals left from my big batch in November so I'm due for another round of stashing this month. And a disclaimer: I never make the same meal twice in a month if I can help it and it is common that half the recipes I make in a month are new. Mike requested a lot of family favorites this month to balance all the new meals I like to try and that's reflected in the plan too.
3 - Fruited Pork Chops - Saving Dinner
4 - Steak
5 - Chicken Burritos - Rachael Ray (RR)
6 - Swedish Meatballs - Family Favorite (FF)
7 - Sesame Noodles - RR
8 - Broccolini & Ricotta Pasta - RR
9 - Chicken fingers with honey mustard dipping sauce
10 - Homemade mac n cheese
11 - Homemade pizza
12 - Spaghetti
13 - Pigs in a Blanket
14 - Hamburgers
15 - Homemade noodles
16 - Pork Chops & Applesauce - FF
17 - Buffalo Chicken Wraps - FF
18 - Grill
19 - Curry in a Hurry - RR
20 - Lemon Chicken with Spinach - FF
21 - Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage - RR
22 - Chicken Quiche - FF
23 - Cajun Chili with Scallion Corn Cakes - RR
24 - Brats with Potato Salad and Sauerkraut - FF
25 - Grill
26 - Veggie Lo Mein - RR
27 - Pizza - home made
28 - Carbonara - RR
29 - Sweet & Sour Sausage - FF
30 - Lasagna - FF
31 - Dinner out with Family
Rachael Ray - this month I used Classic Rachael Ray 30 Minute Meals Cookbook
Can you guess which week the kids are helping to cook??