This post is sponsored by Plan to Eat.
As each Meal Planning Monday approaches, my goal is for the menus to incorporate more than just what’s for dinner. I want them to be helpful, something you look forward to reading because they’re an insight into how another real-food kitchen operates on a daily basis and filled with awesome tips and recipes your family looks forward to eating.
Each week I aim to add just one more thing to each menu, since coming up with 42 meals (3 per day x 7 days x 2 weeks) overnight can be rather tricky. The one more thing mantra may take me a bit longer to master, but at least I’ll have it down pat when I do!
The goal for this week was to add breakfasts. It’s a monumental week in the Crumbs house – we soaked our first grain! I wanted this to be a monumental week in your house too and get us all on the board the soaking grains train… but I also wanted to come up with a back-up plan in case your family wasn’t as gung-ho as me on this ride.
And unfortunately that back-up plan took WAY more time to create than I thought it would, so I took a different route.
I added dessert to the menu.
Certainly not a huge step, but we’re not trying to make big steps anyway, right? We’re aiming for baby-sized strides, and I figure that adding dessert still qualified as “one more thing.” So I met my dessert goal early. One less thing to do later!
Meal Planning Problem #2: Coordinating Healthy Meals with Sales
Oh how I WISH I could drum up some delicious meals, browse the circulars and magically have every ingredient I need be on sale at rock bottom prices.
That would make meal planning WAY easier, don’t you think?
But alas, I live in a world that doesn’t revolve around me.
The menus below were based primarily on the circulars that were delivered to my mailbox last Tuesday. In theory, I could shop today for the next two weeks and know that everything needed for the next 14 dinners was the fridge and it was bought at the best price I could find. I wouldn’t have to wait to see what the stores were advertising next week and fear that prices would double on a necessary ingredient or two.
Before trying to coordinate your meals with what’s on sale, we must re-visit the basics of meal planning and inventory what we already have in our pantry. Did you know Plan to Eat can help you with this? When creating your shopping list, check the “add to pantry” box and remove it from the “buy” list. Then when you meal plan let Plan to Eat create meals based on your pantry.
Once you know what you can make with what you have, then you can browse the circulars for a big picture of what’s available.
Looking at my local stores, very few vegetables are priced at the goal of $1/lb. In fact, potatoes are the only vegetable in this price range. On the other hand, I did find several fruits priced reasonably:
oranges for 99¢/lb
limes and lemons for 5/$1
papaya for 79¢/lb
avocados for $1.25 each
cucumbers and bell peppers for 69¢ each
When you struggle to find affordable produce, you have a few options:
1. Buy Frozen
There’s always the option of buying frozen vegetables. They go on sale often for $1 per pound and we almost always have a bag or two of frozen vegetables in the freezer for occasions when I’m not able to stop at the store for fresh produce, or when we’re feeling the need to eat green but nothing but potatoes are on sale. Fresh is best, but some vegetables are better than none. Don’t discount this idea entirely, especially when your options are limited.
2. Buy Canned
We keep canned goods for the same reason as frozen. We adore sweet summer corn, but the season ends when school starts and we like corn year round. We put it in soups, in tacos, in bakes, eat it plain… Like a bag or two of frozen, we almost always have a few cans of corn and green beans in the pantry. These are often found for 50-75¢ per can and are an inexpensive way to tie the family over until better fresh produce is available. Be sure to drain and rinse the vegetables before cooking to get rid of some of the excess preserving salt.
3. Rely on Inexpensive “Staple” Vegetables
Are there vegetables that flourish near you, allowing you to pick them up at a great price often? Organic celery and organic carrots are the same price for us year-round at Costco. Because of this (and the fact that we like to eat both), we ALWAYS have these in the house. When the pantry is bare and potatoes won’t cut it, we turn to these two staple vegetables. Gingered, lemony, honey or steamed carrots are ready within a few minutes. Shred carrots and toss with raisins and diced celery for a cold salad. Slice up both carrots and celery and dip in homemade dressing. There’s a myriad of ways to serve these, including plain, and with carrots costing us less than 50¢/lb, they’re super cheap.
4. Eat What IS Affordable
When the freezer and pantry are bare and your staple vegetables cost as much as meat, simply eat what IS affordable. If that means your meals have more fruit than vegetables, so what? Every piece of fruit has something different to offer – consider this an opportunity to try fruit you ordinarily wouldn’t! Take the papaya for example. It’s not a common fruit in my house, but certainly worth trying for its affordable price. We ended up trying persimmon for this exact reason and loved it! Seeing the citrus fruits together with avocado makes me think of tacos with various fruit salsas. Peppers and cucumbers make me think Greek. Lemons are cheap – make lemonade!
Change your perspective – instead of feeling bound to what’s on sale, use the advertising to your advantage. Stretch your meal planning imagination and expand your taste buds. You never know what you’ll discover!
Last week’s meal planning problem was addressing how to afford meat. I took that into consideration for this menu as well. For a family of four, one whole chicken and one pound of steak (your choice of cut) will cover the next two weeks worth of meals. If you’ve committed to organic chicken like us, this means you’ll only spend about $10 each week on meat. Certainly affordable in my book!
How to Read the Bi-Weekly Meal Plans
- This plan is based on the average family of four. Change portion recommendations as necessary.
- Read the entire meal plan before jumping in. Adjustments may have to be made based on your own schedule and preferences.
- Meals are in bold. When our plan may conflict with your plan, alternative ideas are provided in brackets.
- Preparation tips are in italics below the meal.
- Pay attention to Money Savers and Time Savers. These will help you greatly in this plan and in your kitchen overall.
Weekly Dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Money Saver: Buy one whole chicken and butcher it yourself. Make batch of homemade chicken stock with the bones and pick chicken off the bones when it’s done. Reserve chicken for next week.
- Money Saver: Buy organic milk and 1 cup of Greek yogurt. Make homemade yogurt.
- Chop and cook bacon for Thursday’s dinner. Reserve bacon grease for future.
- Preheat the oven and start the dinner rolls first. This allows the dough to rise while the rest of dinner is cooking. When dinner is done, bake rolls.
- Bake three large potatoes whole for Thursday while dinner is cooking
- Time Saver: Can be made day before and refrigerated
- Freezer Option: Prepare a second batch of chicken and freeze uncooked in a freezer/oven safe dish.
- Freezer Option: Make a double batch of rolls and freeze for later.
- Money Saver: Substitute maple syrup for molasses if you don’t have it in the pantry.
- Money Saver: Choose 4-5 fruits that are $1/lb and mix with fresh orange juice. Be creative!
- Time Saver: Everything can be made ahead of time. Reheat onions/peppers, corn and tortillas prior to serving.
- Time Saver: Make a double batch of flour tortillas and use in place of bread for lunches.
(W) Coconut Rice Bowls w/Leftovers from Taco Night
(T) Baked Potato Soup (half batch)
- Instead of four cups of whole milk, mash one baked potato from Monday and add 1 ½ cups of homemade chicken broth from Sunday and 1 ½ cups whole milk
(F) Pizza Night [or replace with your own fun family tradition]
- Marinate steak for Saturday in Greek dressing
- Use slightly less than ½ bunch of fresh basil, plus all stems, in the pizza sauce. Roll up the remaining basil leaves and place in an ice cube tray, filling the tray with water. Freeze and reserve for soup next week.
- Use homemade yogurt for tzatziki sauce
- Reserve ¼ cup to marinate Monday’s chicken
- Time Saver: Make a double batch of pitas and use in place of bread for lunches.
Weekly Dessert: Apple or Pear Slab Pie
- Marinate chicken in reserved tzatziki sauce
(M) Grilled Chicken Breasts, Roasted Potatoes, Honey Glazed Carrots, Jalapeño Focaccia
- Save half of one 8×8 pan of focaccia for Thursday, the other whole 8×8 pan for Saturday
(T) Chicken Spinach/Kale Pasta Toss (use chicken picked from homemade chicken broth)
- Use reserved bacon grease to cook spinach/kale and tomatoes
(W) Clean Out the Fridge Night
- Use ½ pan reserved focaccia from Monday
- Thaw frozen leftover basil in water; drain before adding to soup. Use homemade chicken stock from last Sunday.
(F) Pizza Night [or replace with your own fun family tradition]
(S) Grilled Paninis with Leftover Soup
- Use full pan reserved focaccia from Monday. Cut the pan into fourths and slice each fourth horizontally to make four sandwiches
- Use any vegetables leftover from the week in these sandwiches. The melted cheese will act as “glue” to hold them together.
This menu contains plenty of opportunities to cook once and eat twice. There’s also lots of overlapping in the ingredients from all the meals. Don’t take my word for it though – set up your menu in Plan to Eat and watch the program create your shopping list for you. Not only will you be absolutely amazed at how easy meal planning (and shopping) becomes, but you’ll see first-hand how little time you’ll have to spend shopping all the isles at the store!
The giveaway for two (2) one-year memberships to Plan to Eat ends this Thursday. Be sure to sign up for your risk free 30 day trial and enter the giveaway before it’s too late. Plan to Eat is also offering 30% off their subscription using the code NoCrumbWasted through March 31 in case you don’t win. But entering is free, so why not give it a try and make meal planning easier?
What tips do you have on coordinating your healthy meals with sales?
This post is shared at OrgJunkie.
Disclaimer: Plan to Eat sponsored this post.