Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Making Weekdays Work- Getting Started (Meal Planning)

I'm so excited to be sharing this series of posts with you! Every day this week I will be posting helpful tips, tricks, and recipes to make weekdays work for you and your family.

In a couple weeks I will be returning to work, saying goodbye to being a stay at home mom, and saying hello to being a working mom. With that transition of starting daycare, adjusting to seeing Landon much less, keeping the household afloat, and starting a new school year, there is still the need to get dinner on the table without compromising the few precious hours I have with Landon! After a long day at work or taking care of kids we all need a way to get dinner on the table without laboring for hours. Turning to take out isn't the answer! Check out my tips and tricks this week in my series "Making Weekdays Work"!

Well, let's get going, shall we?

Where to start? Well- at the beginning! Creating a meal plan and prepping for the week

Stephanie Cooks Steps to Meal Planning (the short version)

1- Evaluate your week and assess how many nights you'll cook/how much time you realistically have to cook.
2- Create a list of meals to make.
3- Create a food shopping list (and buy the ingredients)

Stephanie Cooks Steps to Meal Planning (the long version)

1- When it comes to meal planning I always start by looking at my week and thinking about how my schedule looks. I can't tell you how many times I've planned 5 or 6 dinners only to realize we won't be home more than 2-3 days! This results in wasted produce and spending money we don't need to spend. Also, look at your schedule. For example, Tuesdays I am at work late for meetings. I'm not going to schedule risotto for a Tuesday night, but a crock pot meal would be perfect. Think realistically about how much time (and energy!) you'll have at the end of each day.

2- Once I assess the week's events I make a list of meals I'd like to try. I typically aim for 1-2 meatless meals, 1-2 chicken dishes, and 1 shrimp or beef dish. I do this to try to create some variety in our meals. I also make a point to add Asian or Mexican inspired meals to give us some variety. I search blogs, Pinterest, and my Google Reader for inspiration (check out Meal planning from Elly Says Opa! for some great tips on where to find recipes- my method is very similar to hers). There are many great posts on meal planning out there. One  of my favorites is from Annie: Menu planning tips from Annie's Eats

Some people advocate looking at the store circulars and making your list based on what's on sale. I've tried that method but it doesn't work for me. I am a person who gets strong cravings and tends to act on them. I keep costs down by cooking from scratch and eating meat free meals often- honestly the less processed food you eat the cheaper it is to cook!

3- After I have my list I go through the recipes and jot down what ingredients I need. I then go food shopping (if you REALLY want to save time you can use Peapod or similar grocery delivery services. I utilize this every now and then.)

...After You Shop...

Once I'm done shopping I take a few extra steps that make the week just a wee-bit easier.

1- I look back at my menu and see what produce I'll use for the week. I then assess what can be washed/prepped in advance to make meal prep easier on the weeknights. For example, for fajitas, I'll slice the peppers and onions and place them in a bag. You can get wild and crazy and label the bag "Monday"- the teacher in me REALLY loves labeling things.
2- Making salad always seems like an annoying task to me so I  like to take a bag of romaine lettuce hearts, wash it, dice it up, and throw it in a Ziplock with paper towels so I have lettuce ready for salads for the week.
3- Wash your fruit, cut it, etc. It even helps to pre-portion it in containers so you can just grab containers on the way to work. The more you do now the less you have to do later, and the more you do this the easier it gets.
4- If the thought of doing all this is dreadful, set a timer: You'll spend 20 minutes on Sunday prepping, and try to get as much done as you can. You'll be impressed what you can do in a short amount of time, and these little steps make the week much easier.

Another great idea (that I don't do, but I can see where it's effective) is this method of organizing pantry ingredients by what you'll use each night.

If you take anything from this first post in the series, remember it's essential to create a meal plan. Coming home nightly and going, "Hm... what should I make?" is a waste of time and energy! Even worse is running to the food store daily to buy what you need for dinner. It consumes time and excess money. Plan ahead- it's the most effective step to making weekdays work!

Stay tuned this week for the following posts:

Wednesday- Making Weekdays Work- Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts
Thursday- Making Weekdays Work- Utilize Your Crock Pot
Friday- Making Weekdays Work- Do It Once, Eat It Twice (Freezer Meals)
Saturday- Making Weekdays Work- Lunches


  1. Yay for meal planning! What a great intro post : ) I always do meal planning, but not to the extent that you just outlined. It makes working and cooking so much easier.

  2. Love this! I especially love the set-the-timer idea! I am so doing this when September rolls around:) Thanks

  3. This is a great post! Can you cut up most fruits in advance and put them in tupperware, I wonder if this works with apples etc, or will they go bad. I notice we tend to eat fruit more if it's already cut up for you lol!

  4. Apples will turn brown, but they won't go bad. Melons cut up well, berries obviously are good, but apples/pears will turn brown. Most veggies are good cut ahead though!