As promised, my friend Kathleen is dropping in to give her expertise on being a meal planning master! Now...as you take her sound advice, and envision her with a tight bun all married to her spreadsheet, let me give you the visual of how I REALLY know her.
So see - you + I can do this, too!
Take it over, Kathleen -
Before reading this guest post, let me first preface by giving a bit of background, so you don’t think I am a crazy, obsessive compulsive type with way too much time on her hands. Because I know if I were reading this, I would be thinking to myself, great, some random lady is going to get all preachy about her meal planning abilities, while I can barely manage to get dinner on the table a few times a week. Feel better about yourself. I am definitely not super woman, but I think that if you can follow some sort of a plan you are way ahead of the game. So, let’s get some details out of the way:
1) I am a teacher, but my school is over an hour’s drive from my home EACH way. I don’t tell you this to make you feel sorry for me but just to give you an idea of why meals must be quick.
2) I have two small children, ages 3 and 4 months. Two days a week my two children are at two different places for day care, which means two drop-offs in the morning and two pick-ups in the evening. That’s too much to remember (ha- lots of the word to/two/too in that one).
3) I don’t like to eat steak, ham or pork in any way, shape or form so you will not find any meals with said ingredients.
So that being said, let’s dig in (ha- good eating pun). I got really tired of sitting down every weekend and poring over cookbooks, internet searches, and the like in search of meals that would be quick to cook and/or edible, two items high on my priority list when cooking. So I decided I would make a monthly meal matrix, consisting of meals that are quick to get to the table three nights a week, made in the crock pot two nights a week (on my double drop-off days) and a bit more time-consuming meals on the weekend (still not taking hours though by any means). I started by just making a 7x5 square grid on paper, and filling in meals as I went, trying to mix up cuisines and main dishes as best I could so in any given week I was not eating all chicken or all Italian style. My matrix looks like this:
Every Wednesday and Friday meal is a crock pot meal. Saturday and Sundays are meals that require a bit more time to cook.
Most Monday, Tuesday and Thursday meals can be made in 30 minutes or less!
Then the big cooking event took place. I gathered all my ingredients to make as many meals ahead of time as I could. That took a while, but it was well worth it. I cooked and cooked and cooked for a whole weekend. I bagged, froze and labeled. I also pre-organized crock pot meals into freezer bags so they are all ready to go when needed- all I need to do is pop it in the crock and let it cook away! I ended up with nearly thirty nights’ worth of meals.
The other great thing about this is that on any given crock pot night, I end up with two or three meals when all is said and done.
I make the recipes as instructed, which serves more than my husband and I will eat even at our most hungry selves, then I bag and freeze the leftovers to have another night. Dinner- voila!
I have been using these premade meals and monthly menu matrix for the entire month of September and so far, so AWESOME. Meal planning is no longer stressful to me, and I come home many nights to dinner already cooked. It makes my time at home so much more pleasant and I am not rushing around like a crazy trying to get dinner out.
So if you are thinking of trying something like this, I say GO FOR IT. It has definitely been a life saver to me! I hope this helps and encourages you to figure out a system that works best for you and your family-- Good luck and happy planning!
Q+A with Kathleen:
What do you use for freezing?
Regular old Ziploc bags or Rubbermaid type storage containers (not necessarily those brands- just whatever I have)
How long do you allow for thawing?
Depends how on top of things I am… I will sometimes take things out on Sunday night and leave in fridge for the week until I need it. Otherwise, I find to thaw in the microwave works just as well.
What dish is the best once reheated?
Anything without rice. I find that rice gets stiff.
How many freezers are in your house?
One and a half. I have an extra fridge/freezer in the garage, but it only works for about half the year because it stops working when the weather/temp in the garage gets too cold. Otherwise, I just have my main fridge/freezer in the kitchen that I use.
Thanks for having me as a guest blogger. I do declare it has been fun!