Monthly Meal Planning {Part 1}

monthly meal planning

I love almost everything about cooking. I love trying new recipes and making food to nourish my family. I even enjoy meal planning.

I just don’t enjoy meal planning more than once a month. Even worse is the “what do we have for dinner” moments at 4:30 on a Wednesday.

It has been at least four years since I started monthly meal planning. I started back when life was crazy with three kids three and under. Now, life is equally crazy with homework, sports, and other commitments. I just don’t have the time, or patience, to think about dinner more than once a month.

Not only does planning a month at a time save my sanity, it also saves money (more on that later). When I have a plan that takes our schedules into consideration, it’s written down and I have shopped for it either Jeff or I can pull the recipe and get started.

Here’s what I do.

Towards the end of the month I print the next month’s calendar from iCal . This gives me an idea of what our schedule looks like (sports, parties, after school activities) as well as when Jeff is working. I try to keep things really simple on the nights he’s not home to free me up to help with homework and the general school night busy-ness.

Then I grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and sit down with the calendar, my cookbooks, recipes I’ve ripped, printed or PINNED and a pencil and start filling in the squares.

There are a few “guidelines” that help me as I go.

:: Every Friday is pizza night. This is usually homemade but sometimes we switch it up and head down the street to the pizzeria.

:: We love Mexican food so I make it once a week. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, nachos the list goes on and on.

:: I plan for at least two vegetarian or vegan meals a week.

:: On days that Jeff works, I use the crockpot, plan leftovers, have soup and sandwiches or other equally easy meals.

:: I take requests. I ask everyone if they have any ideas of things we should eat. Granted, not everything necessarily makes the cut but it wouldn’t be unusual to find chili dogs on our menu.  Along with that, since Jeff enjoys cooking I ask what he’d like to make.

With all of these in mind, it really goes pretty quickly and I have a plan.  I usually note which cookbook the recipe is in so that Jeff can start cooking if needed.

I also use this time to make note of snacks I’d like to make to have on hand like graham crackers and peanut butter power bars), lunch items for the freezer (a recent fav is Mad Hungry’s savory chicken pocket pies which Jeff likes to take to work and pop in the microwave), special events or other things to consider when in the kitchen or at the store (like the 200 cookies I am baking for the cookie drive).  I jot down when I will likely bake/cook those items on the calendar.

Keep in mind, sometimes a new commitment gets added, we get sick or you know, life happens and we switch days or scrap the plan all together. And that’s ok.  But for the most part we stick with it and I know the answer when someone asks “what’s for dinner.”

More in a few days on my shopping strategy.

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Monthly Meal Planning {Part 1}

monthly meal planning
I love almost everything about cooking. I love trying new recipes and making food to nourish my family. I even enjoy meal planning.
I just don't enjoy meal planning more than once a month. Even worse is the “what do we have for dinner” moments at 4:30 on a Wednesday.
It has been at least four years since I started monthly meal planning. I started back when life was crazy with three kids three and under. Now, life is equally crazy with homework, sports, and other commitments. I just don't have the time, or patience, to think about dinner more than once a month.
Not only does planning a month at a time save my sanity, it also saves money (more on that later). When I have a plan that takes our schedules into consideration, it's written down and I have shopped for it either Jeff or I can pull the recipe and get started.
Here's what I do.
Towards the end of the month I print the next month's calendar from iCal . This gives me an idea of what our schedule looks like (sports, parties, after school activities) as well as when Jeff is working. I try to keep things really simple on the nights he's not home to free me up to help with homework and the general school night busy-ness.
Then I grab a glass of wine or cup of tea and sit down with the calendar, my cookbooks, recipes I've ripped, printed or PINNED and a pencil and start filling in the squares.
There are a few “guidelines” that help me as I go.
:: Every Friday is pizza night. This is usually homemade but sometimes we switch it up and head down the street to the pizzeria.
:: We love Mexican food so I make it once a week. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, nachos the list goes on and on.
:: I plan for at least two vegetarian or vegan meals a week.
:: On days that Jeff works, I use the crockpot, plan leftovers, have soup and sandwiches or other equally easy meals.
:: I take requests. I ask everyone if they have any ideas of things we should eat. Granted, not everything necessarily makes the cut but it wouldn't be unusual to find chili dogs on our menu.  Along with that, since Jeff enjoys cooking I ask what he'd like to make.
With all of these in mind, it really goes pretty quickly and I have a plan.  I usually note which cookbook the recipe is in so that Jeff can start cooking if needed.
I also use this time to make note of snacks I'd like to make to have on hand like graham crackers and peanut butter power bars), lunch items for the freezer (a recent fav is Mad Hungry's savory chicken pocket pies which Jeff likes to take to work and pop in the microwave), special events or other things to consider when in the kitchen or at the store (like the 200 cookies I am baking for the cookie drive).  I jot down when I will likely bake/cook those items on the calendar.
Keep in mind, sometimes a new commitment gets added, we get sick or you know, life happens and we switch days or scrap the plan all together. And that's ok.  But for the most part we stick with it and I know the answer when someone asks "what's for dinner."
More in a few days on my shopping strategy.

Benvenuti Tour

The first week we were here in Italy was spent house hunting and getting settled. The highlight for me (besides finding a house) was taking part in a welcome tour.  I went solo as someone had to be able to get the kids from school.

Not only was it a great opportunity to get out and see the local area it was also incredibly helpful as our guides pointed out local shopping areas, taught us how to ride the train, and took us to one of the local wineries.  Plus, we enjoyed a fabulous three-course lunch.

Italy

Italian prettiness

Pews in Pordenone

The altar

Waiting for the train

At the winery

A vineyard in Roveredo

Benvenuti Tour

The first week we were here in Italy was spent house hunting and getting settled. The highlight for me (besides finding a house) was taking part in a welcome tour.  I went solo as someone had to be able to get the kids from school.
Not only was it a great opportunity to get out and see the local area it was also incredibly helpful as our guides pointed out local shopping areas, taught us how to ride the train, and took us to one of the local wineries.  Plus, we enjoyed a fabulous three-course lunch.
Italy
Italian prettiness
Pews in Pordenone
The altar
Waiting for the train
At the winery
A vineyard in Roveredo

Thoughts from my Kitchen on Thanksgiving Eve

November 22

In the 12 years Jeff and I have been married, I’ve cooked thanksgiving dinner in 2 states, 2 countries and 1 US Territory. If I’m remembering correctly, I’ve cooked every year except one that we spent with my in-laws. Most of these dinners have been just our family. In the beginning, just the two of us and then as we added babies we added guests (people seem to visit more when there are babies involved). The past three years, we hosted extended family and had around fifteen loved ones at our table. Some years we’ve added friends.

We’re back to the small numbers this year. Just the five of us and that seems to be just as it should be with Jeff having been gone last year.

The thing that has come to mind as I’ve cooked this year (90% done on Wednesday night) is how much I love the traditions of this holiday. Yes, we give thanks. But with each item on the menu I also remember. Our Thanksgiving menu is full of our family traditions. Some are things Jeff or I grew up with and others are things that we’ve added along the way. Yet, I don’t think I’ve significantly modified the menu in 10 years. Really.

Yes, we have turkey. I must admit that it’s not the star of our table. I’m not sure what is but turkey really seems to be more valuable as leftovers (stock, lasagna, sandwiches, enchiladas and more). My heart rejoiced as Boomama confessed to letting go of the turkey when her family realized no one enjoys it. No that is brave honesty on Thanksgiving.

My personal favorite is stuffing. My mom has been making stuffing in the crock-pot for as long as I can remember. This is good for two reasons (ok, three). There is no risk of illness from actually stuffing your turkey and you free up valuable oven space. Plus, it’s delicious. I love knowing that as I chop my onions and celery on Thursday morning that my mom will be doing the same thing later that day just as she has for many years before. I feel connected in those moments even when we are thousands of miles apart.

The potato casserole is also a favorite. We don’t mess around with mashing our taters around her. My aunt made this casserole every single year and I’ve continued to do so. It’s full of cheese and butter and condensed soup and goodness. Truthfully, I think it’s even better the next day for breakfast which is ironic since this same casserole appeared on many brunch buffets when we lived in Texas.

We also serve a fancified green bean casserole that I got from my bosses wife back in 2001ish. It’s basically the classic but with bacon, water chestnuts and slivered almonds. Yes, fancified. Then there’s the green onion biscuits from Bon Appetit circa 2001. Yum! Finally, for the main course, there’s the cranberry sauce.

Y’all. (Yes, I lived in Texas for five years.)

This is my kids’ favorite part. I hardly believe it myself.

Until 2001 (do you see that this was a big year for my Thanksgiving cooking?), I’d always used canned jellied cranberry sauce. I decided to be brave.

I’m thankful. Add this now to your menu for this year. It’s easy and even my Italian plumber was mesmerized (granted he didn’t tasted it but he loved the smell and was curious about the concept.)

We wrap up our meal with pumpkin cheesecake courtesy of my mother in law. I look forward to this dessert all year long. There. Are. no. words.

With all of that food talk said, I end up right where I should be.

Thankful.

For the living history that is my family and all those moments of the past and for that which is to come.

And this year, especially, I am that we are together. Us five.

I’m trying not to forget what it felt like to have Jeff half way around the world a short year ago.  I want to remember that there are still many families experiencing that exact thing.  It’s not easy.

Happy Thanksgiving! Embrace every moment.

Thoughts from my Kitchen on Thanksgiving Eve

November 22

In the 12 years Jeff and I have been married, I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner in 2 states, 2 countries and 1 US Territory.

If I'm remembering correctly, I've cooked every year except the one that we spent with my in-laws (and my mom, Fred and siblings).

Most of these dinners have been just our family. In the beginning, just the two of us and then as we added babies we added guests (people seem to visit more when there are babies involved). The past three years, we have hosted extended family and had around fifteen loved ones at our table. Some years we've added friends.

We're back to the small numbers this year. Just the five of us and that seems to be just as it should be with Jeff having been gone last year.

The thing that has come to mind as I've cooked this year (90% done on Wednesday night) is how much I love the traditions of this holiday.

Yes, we give thanks.

But with each item on the menu I also remember. Our Thanksgiving menu is full of our family traditions.

Some are things Jeff or I grew up with and others are things that we've added along the way. Yet, I don't think I've significantly modified the menu in 10 years.

Really.

Yes, we have turkey. Though, I must admit that it's not the star of our table. I'm not sure what is but turkey really seems to be more valuable as leftovers (stock, lasagna, sandwiches, enchiladas and more). My heart rejoiced as Boomama confessed to letting go of the turkey when her family realized no one enjoys it. Now that is brave honesty on Thanksgiving.

My personal favorite is stuffing. My mom has been making stuffing in the crock-pot for as long as I can remember. This is good for two reasons (ok, three). There is no risk of illness from actually stuffing your turkey and you free up valuable oven space. Plus, it's delicious. I love knowing that as I chop my onions and celery on Thursday morning that my mom will be doing the same thing later that day just as she has for many years before. I feel connected in those moments even when we are thousands of miles apart.

The potato casserole is also a favorite. We don't mess around with mashing our taters around here. My aunt made this casserole every single year and I've continued to do so. It's full of cheese and butter and condensed soup and goodness. Truthfully, I think it's even better the next day for breakfast which is ironic since this same casserole appeared on many brunch buffets when we lived in Texas.

We also serve a fancified green bean casserole that I got from my bosses wife back in 2001ish. It's basically the classic but with bacon, water chestnuts and slivered almonds. Yes, fancified.

Then there's the green onion biscuits from Bon Appetit circa 2001. Yum!

Finally, for the main course, there's the cranberry sauce. Y'all. (Yes, I lived in Texas for five years.) This is my kids' favorite part. I hardly believe it myself. Until 2001 (do you see that this was a big year for my Thanksgiving cooking?), I'd always used canned jellied cranberry sauce.

I decided to be brave.

I'm thankful.

Add this now to your menu for this year. It's easy and even my Italian plumber was mesmerized (granted he didn't tasted it but he loved the smell and was curious about the concept.)

We wrap up our meal with pumpkin cheesecake courtesy of my mother-in-law. I look forward to this dessert all year long. There. Are. no. words.

With all of that food talk said, I end up right where I should be.

Thankful.

For the living history that is my family and all those moments of the past and for that which is to come. And this year, especially, I am that we are together.

Us five.

I'm trying not to forget what it felt like to have Jeff half way around the world a short year ago.  I want to remember that there are still many families experiencing that exact thing.  It's not easy.

Happy Thanksgiving! Embrace every moment.

Habit

One of my favorite places to visit in the blog world is Habit. It is full of both visual and written inspiration in a very simple format. Typically, there are several invited guests who post daily for a month. For November, however, everyone can play (at Flickr with a few posting to the blog each day) and these past few days I’ve joined in.

Since I’m so behind in everything else I thought I’d share my images from the week.

November 13
Sunday Morning

Baking birthday cupcakes for school and chugging emergen-c, this mama can’t get sick. I have an 8th birthday to celebrate tomorrow.

November 14
November 14

Some people seem to think we’re on a four-year Italian vacation. We’re living life. That means a boy (and his siblings) can get sick on his birthday. Still, thankful.

November 16
November 16

We’re such a great team. He’s really stepped up these past few days. Love.

November 17
November 17

I slept in. After a week (or more) in a funk, I no longer feel funky. In fact, I feel excited about the season ahead.

November 18
November 18

We had two great conferences with the kids’ teachers. Despite the craziness of the past months, they are excelling.

November 19
November 19

After having the kids home sick all week and him working this weekend spending Monday home alone is sounding mighty good.

I did discover a benefit of being behind with picture posting/sharing.  I found a family picture from our Disneyland trip that no one has seen.  Guess what’s on our Christmas card this year!  Yes, after two years of opting out, we’re back in.

Happy weekending, all.