Wednesday, September 4, 2013

How we avoid eating take out 5+ times a week

Last week I had a lovely email in my inbox from a fellow teacher and new Mommy (Hi Sam!). Her question was simple, with me going back to work how did I plan to make sure a dinner made it to the table that didn't come from a drive thru window. The answer? I meal plan.
She asked me to share how I did it, so here it goes.
First, I started out by making a simple word document that contains all of our 'go to' meals. These are the tried and true recipes that I know my husband will eat. Some of them take way too long for weeknight meals, and that's okay. Its just my list to keep things straight in my head. I put food on there with a list underneath of the things I need to make it. Like this:
Mexican Chicken:
1 lb chicken breast
Taco Seasoning
Minute Rice
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Small Can Corn
Jar Salsa
Literally, its nothing fancy at all. Currently it has about 40 meals on it- with notations when a meal will make a double batch that I can freeze for later or has enough for leftovers. Then I fill the meals in on my Meal Plan Sheet.
Its a simple sheet that I had laminated so I could use a dry erase marker on it each week that hangs on the fridge. Then I pick some meals off of my go to list and at least one new meal to try of Pinterest. This weeks meal plan looks like this-
Sunday- Roasted Chicken
Monday- Burgers and Corn on the Cob
Tuesday- Croc-Pot General Tso's Chicken 
Wednesday- Steak Calzones
Thursday- Chicken Burritos and Rice
Friday- Spaghetti
Saturday- Loaded Baked Potato Casserole
Then I start to make my grocery list. Since every item has either a list or a recipe, I look at what I need vs. what I have and fill my list in from there. I always shop at the same grocery store, so I sort my list by the way the store is laid out.  For my store its fruits and veggies first, then the deli, then meats, then the diary aisle- etc. That way I grab things off of my list as I pass them and I can avoid going back to pick up something I missed. During the school year I also use a local grocery store that has an option to order all of your groceries on line, then pick them up at the curb.  It eliminates forgetting things and impulse purchases, and I don't have to drag the kid out of the car in the cold. It costs $5, but I think it's well worth it.  I always manage to have at least $5 in coupons for products I'm buying, and I avoid picking up things because they "looked good" so in my mind that makes it pay for itself. If you live in the Pittsburgh area check out any of the Market District stores to see if they offer it, I use the one in Robinson.
As I'm meal planning I try to keep a few things in mind. First, is it a meal that is manageable on a weeknight? Second, can I prep anything ahead of time to make it easier? For example Thursdays we have swim lessons at 6- so I'll prep the chicken while I'm making dinner on Wednesday. Ill poach it in chicken broth and shred it while I'm cooking the steak. Then it goes into the fridge and Ill heat it up with some taco seasoning on Thursday while I'm making cilantro lime rice to fill the burritos. I make my croc pot meals on the weekend, and put all of the ingredients into a Ziploc baggie and put it in the fridge or freezer so all I have to do is dump it into the croc pot in the morning.  
 I like eating at home because its cheaper and better for you, but every once in awhile you have a day that makes you say "Im not cooking". So either the hubs will cook dinner or we'll head out for an impromptu family date night. It's okay either way. When that happens we shift around the meals and I just reuse the meal that didn't get made on next weeks meal plan.
So that's how I do it, Sam.  Does anyone else have ideas for easy weeknight meals? Id love to hear them!

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