Tuesday, January 20

IRL: Our First Two Weeks of Meal Planning

With budgeting, comes meal planning. The two seem to go hand in hand. I've been trying to jump on the meal planning bandwagon for literally years. I have a multitude of carefully laid out meal plans journaled away and never followed. With our grocery budget limited this month, I decided it was now or never!

The first thing I did was a little research. I read a few meal planning articles and checked out posts on pinterest about freezer meals and what to buy in bulk and what not to. Next, I started a pinterest board "For a Weeknight" to save recipes I thought would be simple and could be made with limited ingredients for regular weeknight dinners. The limited ingredients part was important, I knew I wouldn't be able to purchase a lot of different ingredients or single use ingredients. I wanted to be able to purchase a single block of cheese, for example, and know it would work in all the recipes for the next two weeks. Once I had collected some recipes, I set out choosing like recipes and like ingredients to meal plan for two weeks.

Knowing that we usually eat out once, and have dinner with our respective parents once or twice in that time period, I decided to plan 8 distinct meals, with 2 filler options, and 2 entertaining options.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower from 'Dinner a Love Story'
The general dinner recipes I chose were:
  1. Whole Roasted Cauliflower (with butter chicken sauce) 
  2. Fried Rice
  3. Spaghetti Carbonara
  4. Beef and Brocoli stir fry 
  5. Fresh Lemon and Sage Veggie Pasta (with the leftover broccoli)
  6. Grilled Cheese with Apple Slices
  7. Orange Chicken 
  8. Black Bean Quesadillas
Back up dinners:
  1. Mac and Cheese with hotdogs 
  2. Tortillini Soup (can be made with whatever veggies are in the fridge)  
The first thing I did when we got home with the groceries is split up my raw beef strips for the stir fry into two freezer bag portions. I also added the marinade to the zip locks and froze them like that. They're super easy to pull out and chuck in a frying pan and I have two dinners out of it. All I have to do next time is buy some broccoli.

When we made the Quesadillas (which are delicious BTW) I made four, and froze two so we have a second easy dinner from that.

Now, I'm not sure if you can see what I didn't from looking at that list -- a lot of those meals involve serving over rice. I would say this was the only mistake I made, we got sick of eating rice! Haha. I didn't assign any of these dinners to a specific day, so it was easy to look at my list knowing we had all the ingredients for these meals and just say, what should we make today? That way we were able to spread out our rice dinners over the two weeks and it wasn't so bad. Usually, we don't have rice very often so it might just be acclimatizing to eating more rice then we're used to. 

Once a week on Monday we entertain our friends, it's our weekly board game night and I always plan to feed 6-8 people. I usually choose something I can make in the crockpot, or a one pot meal/casserole. For these two weeks I planned:
  1. Crockpot Cranberry Chicken (over rice)
  2. Crockpot Blackberry BBQ pork 
 We ended up cancelling one of our Monday night dinners, so we didn't end up making Cranberry Chicken. All is well though, as I have the ingredients to make it next time.The Blackberry Pork was delicious and because we ended up with a slightly smaller group then normal I was able to get a few lunches out of the leftovers.

After roasting, I bathed my cauliflower in butter chicken sauce. Healthy right? Some Naan and extra veggies helped make it super filling. 
Speaking of lunches, the other thing I did to prepare for the week was make 8 breakfast sandwiches with egg, spinach and cheese on english muffins. I did the egg in a muffin tin, and assembled the sandwiches before popping them in the freezer. I've tried both microwaving them at work and baking them in the oven on the morning of -- and they're pretty good. I definitely am glad I added the spinach for a little flavor. I prefer something sweeter first thing with my coffee (sweet tooth), so I've mostly eaten these for lunch at work with some veggies or rice cakes. I made a breakfast cake on the weekend that I've been taking for breakfast. Next time I might make some muffins and still do some sandwiches for lunches.

For all of that we spent about $192 on groceries. I purchased all the ingredients for the recipes, plus some freezer meal supplies like bags and tins. I also had to purchase some basics like milk, eggs, flour, and some extras for sides like frozen beans and tortellini. Oddly enough, we had no pasta left in the pantry so that was an added expense, while I usually have pasta on hand.  

I'm hoping we can do it for slightly cheaper these next two weeks, as $400 a month for two people seems high.I think we can probably manage since I still have leftover meals!

And that's it, our first two weeks of meal planning!

Please let me know in the comments if you have any ideas, tips, or strategies for stretching your grocery budget or planning meals! 

This is all both stressful and fun so far, I'm hoping it always remains so. The thrill of a challenge. ;)

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