This week, as I unconsciously sat at the table planning out our weekly meals, it struck me that somewhere along the way we seem to have fallen into a pretty nice rhythm. Though it feels like just yesterday that I was planted on the couch breastfeeding 6-8 hours a day with a tiny newborn, we’ve actually come a long way since then, and are now operating like a well-oiled machine. At least in the dinner department. So, I thought I’d share what we’ve come up with so maybe it can help somebody else find their groove. Here goes!
At the beginning of the week, usually sometime Monday morning, I’ll sit down at the dining room table with a stack of cookbooks, my planner, this list pad which lives on the side of the fridge, and a small moleskin notebook. I glance at my planner to see what we have going on that week and start to pick meals for each night. I also keep a 3-ring binder full of our family recipes: dishes we really love, favorite baked goods, canning procedures and crowd favorites. Sometimes I’ll flip through it to see what I haven’t made in a while, but usually I just pick things I’ve really been craving, have seen on Pinterest, feature something in season or can be a sort of 2-for-1 with another recipe as far as ingredients go. I’ve found that making 2-3 “new” recipes, or dishes that require a lot of ingredients I wouldn’t normally buy, is about all my weekly food budget can handle, especially towards the end of the month. So aside from a couple new trial dinners each week, I stick to a mental list of things I know I can easily pull together out of the pantry and freezer.
I write down each night’s dinner in my planner, as well as on the list pad so it’s in plain sight on the fridge, and I jot down all the grocery items needed in the notebook. I’ve found that carrying a little notebook with a pen in the store, for whatever reason, means I forget less items. I write out my shopping list in categories, organized by the way my grocery store is set up so I can make a quick, clean sweep through the store and not have to revisit aisles. This became especially important when I had an infant who napped three times a day, and I needed to get in and out of the store pretty quickly. The sections of my particular grocery store are: Produce, Proteins, Grains, Dairy and the center Aisles. I make a separate list just for Costco, though I probably need to organize that one by section too, as I end up doing circles in Costco all too often. A friend mentioned that she writes all her meal plans on the same pad of paper so that she can use all her previous meal plans if she gets stuck. Genius!
Being able to cook from the pantry or freezer is actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it. It really just requires keeping a basic stock of supplies on hand. I thought I’d share the shopping lists I use for Costco and Trader Joe’s and the meals that can easily be made from them. I go to Costco one time per month and Trader Joe’s weekly. I’d really like to be able to shop locally and support one of the smaller, organic grocery stores, but at this point in life my budget doesn’t allow it and TJ’s cost me almost 30% less. To be a “standby” meal in my book, you’ve got to be quick and easy to put together, require few and often flexible ingredients, and everyone needs to like it. Some of our favorite standby meals are:
- Sheet Pan Pizza.
- Pasta with Roasted Veggies.
- Burrito Bowls (Rice, Beans, Veggies, Salsa, Cheese, whatever you want!).
- Risotto (add whatever season veg you want!).
- Chili with TJs Cornbread (I’ll often throw in frozen corn, or butternut squash, whatever I have).
- Sourdough Pancakes (we have these weekly, often in waffle form!).
- Crockpot Curry Chicken with Rice (I use this recipe most often).
- Pasta Salad.
- Catchall Frittata (Eggs, veggies, kale, cheese, sausage scraps, whatever!).
- Greek Chicken Sandwiches or Bowls (TJs Naan is killer in these).
And the items below are things I try to keep stocked up on so I can whip up those “standby” meals.
- Mozzarella Cheese- I keep it in the freezer and just pull out the morning of pizza night.
- Parmesan- also kept in the freezer until ready to use.
- Cheddar Cheese
- Organic Chicken Basil Sausage- three pack of 4 each, awesome for pizza, pasta, etc.
- Uncured Bacon
- Organic Chicken- 3 pack of Breasts and 3 pack of Boneless Thighs+Legs).
- Organic Grass-Fed Ground Beef
- Organic 1% Milk- 3 pack.
- Organic Eggs- 2 dozen.
- Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Organic Maple Syrup
- Organic Coconut Oil
- Organic Salsa- 2 pack.
- Organic Tortilla Chips- 2 bags.
- Organic Whole Grain Sandwich Bread- 2 pack.
- Organic Salted Butter
- Chobani Greek Yogurt Variety Pack
- Organic Short Grain Brown Rice
- Organic Black Beans
- Organic Kidney Beans
- Organic Cane Sugar
- Organic Frozen Corn
- Organic Frozen Peas
- Organic Zucchini
- Organic Red + Green Peppers
- Organic Avocados
- Organic Lemons + Limes
- Organic Whole Wheat Rotini
- Organic Orange Juice
- Organic Bananas
- Just Mangoes
- Banana Chips
- Organic Cucumbers
- Seasonal Veggies (Broccoli, Cauliflower, Squash, Brussels, etc.)
- Seasonal Fruit for eating (Apples, Clementines, etc.)
- Veggies for snacking or salads (Baby Carrots, Cucumber, etc.)
- Assorted Lettuces
- Organic Red + Yellow Onions
- Arborio Rice- for Risotto
- Cornbread Mix
- Coconut Milk
- Garlic Naan
- Peanut Butter
- Multigrain Bagels
Obviously if I keep most of these items on hand, I don’t have to buy them every week. If I use them up in a recipe one week, I simply add them to the list for the next Monday when I head to the store. It’s been a great way to stay stocked without having loads of things to take up cabinet space. We don’t have a proper pantry, so cabinet real estate is a hot commodity.
As far as breakfasts and lunches go, Taylor is usually home at noontime so we often either make a proper meal or eat hot leftovers. I don’t plan these out specifically, unless it’s a special occasion, because this just seems like too much work for me. I kind of like the challenge of opening up the fridge and seeing what we can whip up. I also end up spending too much money each week if I plan separate lunches. I burned out on sandwiches long ago and I hate buying expensive lunchmeat, so it makes the occasional sandwich a bit of a treat. We usually have freezer jam and peanut butter in the fridge for those lunches toward the end of the week when the cabinets are looking a bit bare. Though I do buy cereal occasionally, we usually try to make smoothies, eat a multi-grain bagel or toast, scramble a few eggs and cut up fresh fruit for breakfast. Since I’m at home and we typically have slow mornings, I like to try and make breakfast a bit more substantial.
So, for an average week, like this week for example, here’s what our meal plan looks like:
MONDAY: Pasta with Chicken Sausage, Zucchini, Peas and Parmesan
TUESDAY: Mexican Chopped Salad
WEDNESDAY: Greek Chicken Sandwiches
THURSDAY: Corn Fritters + Salad
FRIDAY: Sheet Pan Pizza with Asparagus + Bacon
SATURDAY: Chili + Cornbread
SUNDAY: Eat Out or Leftovers