When my husband and I first got married I started to menu plan for the first time. Taking the fifteen minutes that it requires to plan for the week is well worth it for the sanity it provides in nightly meals as well as helping us cutback on our grocery budget.
Pictured above is my newest menu planning schedule. Apparently when it is not January it is hard to find weekly notepads. After I ran out of my previous notepad and couldn't find a replacement I picked up this reusable weekly calendar from Staple's (part of the Martha Stewart Avery line).
Monday is my usual shopping day so I plan sometime on the weekend or Monday morning for the week ahead. I first try to make meals out of the food we already have. Once I start creating other meal ideas I plan other meals around the new items I will be buying. This does not always allow for a ton of variety but it helps in keeping the cost of groceries down and is the best way to eat up our food before it goes bad.
When I want to try new recipes I usually go through stages of trying new things. One week I will make almost all new recipes because I am in the cooking mood and then take a break the following week. By establishing enough dinner staples, when I do not have enough time to menu plan or I know I will be having a busy week, going with my go to recipes makes life a lot easier.
Here is an idea of some of my favorite reliable recipes that usually can be made within 30 minutes minus any specific prep like pizza dough rising (fyi--we each a lot of chicken!). Highlighted links will take you to the recipes (you can also check out my entire recipe index):
-Pizza: turkey pepperoni or chicken with veggies
-Pasta: chicken, broccoli/peas/spinach, pesto/garlic
-Stir Fry: chicken, rice/spaghetti noodles, veggies
-Spaghetti: chicken/ground turkey, sauce, veggies
-Tacos: chicken/ground turkey/breaded fish (we are not super fishy people)
-Nachos: chicken/ground turkey/beans, veggies
-Enchiladas: chicken/ground turkey
-Chili: chicken/ground turkey, veggies, beans, corn bread
We also always have the following on hand for days that do not get planned to make some kind of combination of my go to recipes:
-Rice (I usually make a bunch in the rice cooker and then separate it out into containers and freeze)
-Cheese (shred and freeze)
And for when we are in a pinch for time or I want to have a few frozen items on hand for when there is not time to cook, I really like:
-Newman's Own frozen pizzas
-Trader Joe's orange chicken
-Uncle Ben's rice
-Annie's organic mac and cheese
-Trader Joe's boxed soups (love the creamy corn and red pepper soup)
-Trader Joe's breaded chicken--great for easy chicken parmesan (I will have two pieces at just about 220 calories for a late afternoon snack when I am having a rough day. It tastes like comfort food without all the guilt.)
While I am at it, when there really isn't time to cook, I somewhat feel guilt free eating out at the following places:
-Subway: turkey sandwich
-Chipotle: half of a burrito bowl
-Wendy's: apple pecan chicken salad
-Taco Bell: fresco menu
I also really love these cookbooks and they have helped me become more confident in my cooking:
-America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
-Deceptively Delicious and Double Delicious
Every family is different so finding what works best for your schedule, the types of food your family enjoys, and your grocery budget, menu planning can be easy with a little planning ahead. It is not always on the top of my list of things to do on the weekend but it sure makes the rest of my week a whole lot easier.
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