Monday, August 9, 2010

Putting Together Your Meal Plan

Ready to plan your meals for the week? Grab a pen and paper, and let's get started.

Kitchen Stock Inventory: Freezer

What's lurking in your freezer? Are there items that need to be used? Take a couple of minutes and write down what you have.

How do you get your freezer stocked? Purchasing meat when it's on sale is the way to go! (see related post) This helps keep your cost down and keep variety in your meals. If you don't buy and freeze meat when it's on sale, you're limited to what's on sale each week... or you're forced to pay full price, which is no fun.
Here's my freezer list.
  • Ground lamb, ground beef, and meatballs
  • Italian sausage links
  • Boneless, skinless chicken breast - always kept in stock!
  • Pork Chops (From whole boneless pork loin at $1.99/lb that the grocery store butcher cut into chops for me.)
  • Shrimp (40-count size)
  • Bison burgers
  • Porterhouse steaks
  • Frozen peas and corn... though I'm saving the corn for when I can no longer get it fresh. In fact, I've intentionally bought fresh corn and frozen it for future use. It's far superior to canned corn.
  • Black beans... saving for use in a couple more weeks. I made a big batch on 7/22 and we just had some of the frozen extras two weeks later, on 8/4. I'll wait a bit before serving them again.
  • Shredded chicken... to be used in burritos with the black beans.   

Kitchen Stock Inventory: Refrigerator

Find those items you need to use before they go bad! One of the most-often neglected ways to save money in your kitchen is using what you have. Food thrown out is money thrown out; it's that simple. This week, I need to use these items.
  • Plain yoghurt
  • Heavy cream
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Carrots

Kitchen Stock Inventory: Pantry

Look through your cupboards for those items you may have forgotten were tucked back there. Like I explained above for meat, it's a great idea to purchase items when they're on sale, saving them for future use. But you have to be sure to use them, too! Take a quick look through your cupboards. What's in there that you've been meaning to use but keep forgetting?
In addition to my standard kitchen staples (that do receive regular use), I found these neglected items:
  • Instant brown rice
  • Packaged saffron rice
  • Arborio rice
  • Lasagna noodles... how long have those been hiding back there?
  • Corn muffin mix 
  • Dried apricots 
  • Dried cranberries 
  • Vanilla wafers - these really need to be used, or they'll go stale

    Current Sale Items 

    What's on sale at the grocery store? What produce is in season (thus less expensive)? Take a few minutes and check out the grocery fliers. Most stores have their weekly ads available online. This week, I'll be receiving these items from The Produce Box.
    • Muscadine grapes, 1 quart basket
    • Field tomatoes, qty 3-4
    • 4 ears corn
    • Bell peppers, qty 2-3
    • Red potatoes, 1 quart
    • Pickles - 1 pint spicy, sweet dill pickles

    Your Schedule

    Think about your schedule - which nights do you need the least prep time? Be sure to have an easy meal those nights. Are there nights you might change your plans and not be home for dinner? Plan a meal that you can drop from the menu without consequence, one with ingredients that can be saved for later.
    • Fridays are hard for me: I appreciate especially low-maintenance meals then. 
    • Lunches: I'm home every day for lunch, so meals that produce leftovers are appreciated.
    • Changing plans: We may be away one night this weekend.

    Ready? Let's Get Planning!

    Now that you have your list, let's plan some meals.
    1. Assign a main item to each day. You don't have to center meals around meats; maybe you want to have a stir-fry day, or pasta, beans, or lentils and rice... just go through your list of what's on hand and start assigning ingredients to different days.
    2. Pick a potato/rice/pasta starch side to serve with each meal. Not necessary, just trying to give you a starting place.
    3. Eat your veggies! Pick a vegetable you'd like to have as a side or center the meal around. Keep in mind, you'll want to use the more delicate veggies close to the day you bought them.
    4. Start looking for recipes, drawing from your own knowledge as well as books and websites.
    Another way to get started:
    1. Assign a genre to each day: Mexican, Italian, Mediterranean, Crock-pot meal, Casserole, Easy Meal, Fancy Meal, etc.
    2. Pick a meat or other main item that goes well with that genre.
    3. Eat your veggies! Pick fresh summer veggies that go well with each genre. 
    4. Start looking for recipes, drawing from your own knowledge as well as books and websites.

    Having this much written out in front of you may provoke all the ideas you need. But, if you need some more help, start checking out recipe sites. Search by a main ingredient or a genre if that helps.

    Another idea: I just spent 15 minutes and entered pretty well every ingredient I have into It suggests recipes using what you have on hand, sorted into entrees, sides, and desserts. I'm really, really impressed with this site. You can ask it to center the recipes around a certain ingredient, or choose more than one ingredient to focus on, too.

    Armed with the list of what you'd like to use and/or, you can put together a meal plan pretty quickly.

    Check in Wednesday for this week's menu!

    Please let me know how I can help you. What sort of menu plan would you like help with?

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