Monday, November 11, 2013

Simplifying Supper: Meal Planning

Hi everyone!  I am back with another post in my mini-series about meal planning.  Previously, I shared with you all about how I set up my recipe Bible binder.  Today, I am going to tell you about how I plan our weekly menu.

I think it is obvious that planning your meals in advance saves you time and money.  But, most importantly, it saves you stress!  Creating a menu for each week means you know what you are cooking each night and therefore can prep your foods in advance, on your own schedule.  For me, this is the single most important reason that I meal plan.

Meal planning became a hundred times easier for me once I put together my recipe binder.  Instead of having to thumb through dozens of cookbooks and recipe blogs, I now only need to look in one spot to find all my favorite recipes.

I start my meal planning by looking at our schedule for the week and figuring out how many meals I need to shop for.  My husband and I have a standing at-home date night every Friday where we order take-out, so I never plan for Friday nights.  Additionally, there are often one or two other nights a week where one of us is gone, which usually means the kids get something easy (homemade mac and cheese, breakfast for dinner, frozen chicken nuggets) and whichever parent is at home fends for him/herself.

After I have counted up the number of meals I need to prepare for, I head to my recipe binder.  To assure we have a good variety, I pick recipes from each of my main dish options (vegetarian, seafood, poultry, meat, pork, soup) and then choose accompanying side dishes.

As I choose each recipe, I remove that page from the binder.   If I select a recipe that has an ingredient that I don't usually keep on-hand, I try to find another recipe that uses that same ingredient to help keep my grocery bill down and to prevent us from wasting unused food.

Once I have all my recipes collected for the week, I make my grocery list.  I, personally, like to type out my list on the computer using an Excel spreadsheet that I can sort by department or store to make my shopping easier.   (I am sure there are lots of great apps for creating a grocery list, but the Excel spreadsheet works for me, so I'm going with it).

I keep a list of all the "basic" items we need each week (milk, fruit, cheese, bread, eggs, etc.) saved on my grocery list so that I don't have to type them out time after time.  Once my list is completed and sorted, I print it out and head to the store(s).  I usually hit up Trader Joes, Costco and one grocery store each week.  I could easily buy everything just at the regular grocery, but TJ's and QFC (local grocery) are located next door to each other so it is a one-stop shop for me.  And my hubby is kind-of obsessed with Costco, so he is happy to go there anytime, any day.

I recently created a meal planning station within my pantry which has made creating my weekly menus even easier.

I picked up a weekly calendar and a clear wall pocket, both from the Martha Stewart line at Staples, and used the self-adhesive backing to stick them inside my pantry cupboard.

 I use the calendar to write down our menu for the week.

The wall pocket got a fancy label using some scrapbook paper and a bookplate; I store the recipes for the week in the pocket and then pull them out when it is time to make dinner.  (On an unrelated note, who wants to give me a Staples shopping spree? I could easily purchase everything in the Martha collection!)

Be on the lookout for my next post where I will share about how I prep food in advance to save on weeknight stress!  And now, for today's recipe...

Black Bean Burgers
Source unknown
Makes 2 large burgers

We love these burgers.  It is one of those recipes for which I usually have everything I need in my pantry so it often doesn't even require a trip to the grocery store.  As a side dish, I have lately been obsessed with these sweet potato fries.  So. darn. good.  

1 (15 oz.) can black beans
1/3 cup chopped red onion
¼ cup dry bread crumbs (in the baking aisle)
2 TBS chunky salsa
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. Tabasco

Suggested Fixin’s:
Pita Bread
Jarred Roasted Red Peppers
Sliced red onion, grilled
Mixed Greens
Provolone Cheese

1.      Drain black beans in a colander, rinse with water and pat dry. 
2.      Mash black beans in mixing bowl using potato masher (or back of a fork).  Mix in remaining ingredients.  Mold into two patties.  
3.      Cook patties in frying pan or grill pan on the stove (about 4-5 minutes each side, until brown). 
4.      We serve them up lots of different ways.  I like mine served in pita bread, with grilled red onions, roasted red peppers, hummus (this is really good with the burgers), avocado, mixed greens and a good cheese (I like provolone). 

To make ahead, complete steps 1-2, cover with saran wrap and store in refrigerator (up to overnight).  Can also be frozen by wrapping uncooked patties tightly in saran wrap and placed in freezer; thaw before cooking.