web analytics

Meal Prep & Planning 101: How I Meal Prep

Last week I shared my meal planning process with you. This week I want to share how I meal prep. I split my meal prep into two different days. I do all my produce and fruit prep on Friday mornings after I grocery shop on Thursdays. I do everything else that requires cooking on Sunday mornings. I used to do it all on Sunday’s but it’s football season now and I’m going to be parked on my couch watching football at 1pm on Sundays. It’s tradition. 

First, let’s talk about the produce and fruit prep. I try to buy the vegetables and fruit that are in season to keep the costs down and I almost always buy the weekly specials at ALDI. The kids take at least one fruit every day for lunch and they also like to eat them as snacks so I do buy a wide variety of fruits. This past week I bought strawberries, blueberries, pears, clementines, plums, red and green apples, and red grapes. For our dinner prep, I bought brussel sprouts, squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and green beans. 

 

I bought these amazing containers to help extend the freshness of our produce. I got tired of throwing away fruit and vegetables that went bad after a few days because the kids didn’t eat it fast enough. I found some on sale at ALDI for $5.99 and I bought the rest on Amazon. I bought the small size to hold berries, baby carrots, cucumbers, etc. and I bought the large size to hold dinner vegetables and larger quantities of fruits. I can’t believe how much longer our fruits and vegetables last now! Every Friday morning I wash the fruits and vegetables that need washing, slice the ones that need slicing, and put them into containers. I have a drawer dedicated to fruit in my fridge for the stuff that doesn’t need a container such as pears, apples, clementines, plums, peaches, etc. It only takes me half an hour at most. 

On Sunday mornings I get up early to get my weekly prep done. I tend to make similar things every week so it doesn’t take as long now that I have a routine. This week I prepped a large container of spaghetti, a large container of macaroni & cheese with turkey dogs cut up, a large container of white cheddar shells, a large container of Big Mac Sloppy Joe meat, a large container of Italian pasta salad, a large container of tossed salad, 24 mini egg quiche muffins, and 36 Bacon cheeseburger puffs.

Pro Tip: Use one pot to make all the pastas to save on dishes. I make all my pasta dishes back to back with the exception of the spaghetti because it gets made in the Instant Pot. First I boil the noodles for the pasta salad. While the noodles are boiling I cut the vegetables so when the noodles are done I can drain them and pour them immediately into a container where I mix all the other ingredients. I start more water boiling in the same pot for the macaroni and cheese. When the macaroni noodles are done boiling I drain them and pour them into a container where I’ll add the butter, milk, and cheeses to mix so the main pot doesn’t get dirty. Then I can go ahead and start the water boiling for the white cheddar shells and I repeat the same process. After the pasta dishes are done I use the same pot to cook the ground beef. I normally cook 3lbs of ground beef every week. One pound goes into the spaghetti and the other 2 pounds get turned into taco meat or Big Mac Sloppy Joe meat.

The kids eat on the dishes I prep all week long for lunches and for snacks after school or our Find Your Own/Fridge Clean Out dinner nights. I’ve found that this is a really cost effective way to feed my kids. First, having ready made foods they like in the fridge makes them less likely to try and eat the lunch snacks. Second, making everything instead of buying pre-made convenience items is way cheaper. It costs me approximately $4.80 to make a very large container of spaghetti that lasts 4-5 days. And I sneak more vegetables into the spaghetti so it’s healthier than frozen hot pockets and pizza rolls. 

It makes me happy to see my fridge stocked with healthy and easy options for the kids to eat during the week. A little bit of effort on my part has made such a difference in our household. The kids are in much better moods in the early evenings because they can eat a substantial snack when they get home that holds them over until dinner. We typically don’t eat dinner until 6:30-7 so a good snack is vital to the mood stability in my house. Hungry tweens and teens are a bad bad idea.

I don’t place restrictions on the prepped food. If one of my kids is hungry at 9pm then they know it’s perfectly fine for them to come get a bowl of spaghetti or macaroni and cheese. One of mine doesn’t eat breakfast because it hurts her stomach. So she takes an extra snack to school and will eat a large bowl of one of the pasta dishes as soon as she gets home from school. We don’t participate in the clean plate club at our house. I don’t believe anyone should be forced to eat. I require the kids to take at least 2 decent sized bites of whatever vegetable I serve that night but I never force them to clean their plates. Teaching healthy eating habits is important to me because I’ve always had a very complicated relationship with food and I don’t want my kids to follow down that path.

Come back next week to read the first post in my Lunch Prep and Planning series! 



Meal Prep & Planning 101: How I Meal Plan

If you missed the introduction to this series you can catch up HERE. Today I want to give you a glimpse into how I do my meal planning and the tools I use to make it easier. I have a limited amount of time to get everything checked off my to-list each day and I have my meal planning streamlined into a very simple process. 

First, there are 4 iOS apps I use religiously to do my meal planning. I’m not sure of their availability on Android but they have really helped me turn a dreaded task into something I can get done in 20 minutes. 

  • Artful Agenda– I use this app for pretty much everything in my life. It’s a digital planner app and my entire life would fall apart without it. I’m not exaggerating. I use the app on my iPhone and I also use the desktop version. It holds my calendar (I have all our calendars synced to it), my weekly menu plan, my to-do lists for the house, family, PTO, and blog, and everything is color coded. I love it. I do pay a $3.99 per month subscription fee but it’s worth so much more than that. I’ll have an in-depth post coming soon about all the amazing features Artful Agenda offers. For the purpose of this post- this is where I do my meal planning. 
  • Flipp– this is the app where I see all the grocery store sales ads in one place. You can set your favorite stores and it will give you the sales ad the day it comes available and for some stores (such as Aldi) it gives you the preview for the next week. This is the only sales app I use and I check it before making my dinner and lunch plans for the week. I build my menu around the meats, vegetables, and fruits that are on sale each week. The app is free. 
  • Shopping List Ease– this is my holy grail of shopping list apps. I have 4 different shopping lists- one for Walmart, ALDI, Costco, and Sam’s Club. Each app lets me save my frequently purchased items from that store along with the price and I can save each item according to aisle or category. It’s so easy to scroll through my saved items each week and choose the items I need to refill. Being able to see my running total at the top lets me adjust my menu as needed to fit into my weekly budget. This app is also free.
  • Recipe Keeper– I keep all of my recipes in this app. I paid a one-time fee of $4.99 for the upgraded unlimited version and it was worth every single penny. I can customize categories and add sub-categories to keep my recipes organized. For example, my main categories include Appetizers, Breakfast, Dessert & Snacks, Main Dish, Side Dish, and Vegetables. Each main category is broken down into sub-categories. For example, the main dish category has 11 sub-categories including Beef, Casserole, Chicken, Fish, Pasta, Pork, Salad, Sauces, Sheet Pan, Soup, and Subs & Sandwiches. This organization is essential to fast and easy meal planning for me. 

Next I want to share the exact steps I take to do my weekly meal planning. I promise it’s very easy and anybody can do it! I do my meal planning and make my grocery lists on Wednesday’s because that’s when the new ad circular’s come out for ALDI. I do the bulk of my shopping at ALDI so I use their sale schedule to plan my week. 

Step One- First thing I do on Wednesday is check the ALDI and Walmart weekly ads. I check to see if any of my weekly staples are on special first and add them to my shopping lists with the sale price.  Next I check to see what fresh meat, vegetables, and fruit are on special for the week and start planning my 4 dinners around the sales. 

Step Two- This is where I actually plan our 4 dinners. On my Artful Agenda app I pull up the weekly meal plan. I know for sure we’re going to do Take ‘n Bake pizzas on Saturday night so I fill it in right away. Next I check our weekly calendar to see which nights are the busiest and make those our 2 leftover/fridge clean out nights. I’m left with 4 nights to plan dinners. If chicken thighs are on sale I know that I will be cooking chicken thighs one night so I use my Recipe Keeper app to look at all of my chicken recipes. Once I’ve chosen the one I want to make I add it to the meal plan. I always add my main meat dish to the meal plan first and then add the sides that complement the main dish the best. This process really only takes me about 5 minutes now that I have the system down. 

Step Three- After my weekly meal plan is set I add all the ingredients I need to buy to my grocery lists. I fill in all the regular staples that I need to refill and I always double check the pantry, fridges, and freezers to be sure I’m not buying stuff we don’t need that week (unless it’s on sale and I’m stocking up). 

Some Notes: 

  • I add new recipes to my app every week. If I find a recipe I want to try I add it immediately so it doesn’t get lost. If we don’t like it then I just delete it or adapt the ingredients to our liking. 
  • I find recipes everywhere- Pinterest, blogs, old cookbooks, Facebook…they’re everywhere!
  • I try to vary the meats I cook so we don’t eat chicken 4 nights a week. I typically do chicken, pork, salmon, and either tilpaia or ground beef.
  • For our side dishes I usually try to do a starch- potatoes in some form, rice, homemade stuffing, pasta, etc. and then a fresh vegetable. 
  • I try to choose recipes that use ingredients I already have on hand. If I’m making a recipe that requires me to buy several ingredients I make sure the other 3 recipes don’t require me to buy anything except the meat. This helps keep the costs down. 
  • I do attempt to make at least 1-2 new recipes per week but I choose recipes that don’t require exotic or unusual ingredients that I won’t use again. 

Next week I’ll be sharing more on how I stock the pantry for our lunch prep! I have over a month’s worth of posts planned solely focused on meal planning and prep and lunch planning and prep! 

 



Meal Planning & Prepping 101

A few months ago I reached the breaking point when it came to the food in our house. I was tired of the same old dinners, tired of the amount of junk my kids were eating, and tired of fighting the picky eater battles. So I started to brainstorm ways to simplify not only what we were eating each week but also how much money I was spending on food. That’s how Meal Prep Monday was born.

I started out doing my meal prep on Sunday’s and that worked great during the summer. But with football season coming up and the kids being back in school and sports, I needed to revamp things a bit. I do shopping on one day during the week, I prep produce and fruits on one day and I still do main meal and lunch prep on Sunday mornings. It’s been a couple of weeks now and it’s working for me. I have a lot of friends in my real life and on social media who have been asking me to share in more detail how I do my prep. They are really the reason the blog has made a comeback! I also plan to share a lot of the new recipes that I’ve been making as well as some more in-depth posts about meal and lunch prepping.

Some notes about the way I meal plan and prep:

  • I do my weekly shopping at ALDI and Walmart. I also do a trip to Costco every other week and Sam’s Club once a month. 
  • My grocery budget for ALDI and Walmart is $125-$150 a week. I budget another $200 for Costco and Sam’s Club. My budget covers all food, household, and pet items.
  • We only eat out on special occasions. I cook 4 dinners a week, we have leftovers/Fridge clean out nights twice a week, and we make Take ‘n Bake pizzas every Saturday night. My 3 kids who are still in school take lunches 5 days a week and my oldest takes his lunch to work every day. 
  • I use only fresh vegetables and I try to use mostly fresh meats. The salmon and tilapia are always frozen because that’s what fits in my budget. 
  • I tend to stick to in-season fruits and vegetables because they are cheaper. 
  • I utilize my Crockpot and my Instant Pot for nights when we have extracurriculars or sports so we’re not tempted to eat out. 
  • It typically takes me about 30 minutes to do lunch prep and about 2 hours to do my Sunday meal prep. When I take into account how much time it saves me each weeknight, it’s well worth the time investment. 
  • I purchased fruit and vegetable prep containers that help preserve the food so it lasts all week. I’ll share specifics on them soon. Pro Tip: they’re worth every penny.
  • I plan my dinners on Wednesday’s when the sale circulars come out for ALDI and Walmart. I try to always plan dinners around what meat and vegetables are on sale that week. 
  • I typically don’t buy convenience foods such as hot pockets, pizza rolls, chicken nuggets, or bagel bites. Occasionally I will pick up a pack of frozen cheese pizzas when they go on sale at Costco. 

I’m excited to share more about how I meal plan, meal prep, and lunch prep. I’ll give you a peek into my fridges and my pantry and share info on the apps and products that make it so easy for me to accomplish all of this on a weekly basis. Next week I’ll be sharing the exact method I use to do my weekly meal plans. 

 



Frugal Menu Plan Monday {1.15.18}

IMG_6690

Sunday: Hearty Vegetable Soup ~ $5.62

soup1a

Monday: Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches ~ $2.58

Tuesday: Chicken Parmesan Pasta Bake ~ $5.84

IMG_3902

Wednesday: Scrambled Eggs & Fried Rice ~ $1.89

Thursday: Crockpot Cheesy Chicken & Rice ~ $5.19

CCR2a

Friday: Homemade Pizzas & Side Salad ~ $6.87

Saturday: Sausage McMuffin Casserole ~ $4.62

Weekly Total ~ $32.61

Notes: On nights when I serve something like Grilled Ham and Cheese Sandwiches I do serve a side. This week I’m serving sweet potato fries because I was given several bags by a friend so the cost to me was nothing. 

postsig1a



Frugal Menu Plan Monday {1.8.18}

IMG_6690

I am on a mission this year to cut our grocery and household expenses. The amount of money I spend on both is out of control. I’ve spent a lot of time gathering recipes that my family will eat and adapting them to be budget friendly. Just for reference- I’m feeding 2 adults, 2 teen boys, a teen girl, a 10 year old boy and a 7 year old girl. I like to try to have enough leftovers for my husband to take for lunch the next day also. So I’m trying to get at least 8 servings out of each dinner. And I’m attempting to spend no more than $34 per week on 7 dinners. I cook every night of the week and we do not eat out. That’s one thing that we have cut out for 2018. 

Sunday: Crockpot Chicken Pot Pie Soup ~ $4.89 

CPPS1

Monday: Cajun Chicken Alfredo Pasta ~ $5.55

IMG_9356

Tuesday: Scrambled eggs & fried rice ~ $1.89

Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken & Stuffing ~ $5.38

CCS1a

Thursday ~ Grilled Ham & Cheese Sandwiches ~ $2.58

Friday ~ Homemade Pizzas & Side Salad ~ $6.87

Saturday ~ Biscuits & Sausage Gravy ~ $5.68

Weekly total ~ $32.84

Notes:

I shop once a month at Sam’s Club. I buy 10lb packs of frozen Tyson’s boneless chicken breasts. They are pretty big so most recipes only need 1 or sometimes 2 chicken breasts. I get 9-11 meals out of one bag! I also buy all our household products at Sam’s- laundry detergent, fabric softener, dishwasher pods, paper products, toiletries…I don’t buy snacks there with the exception of Goldfish and fruit snacks. I buy lunch meats, cheeses, and some other things. We typically spend $250-300. 

I do a Walmart grocery pick up once a week. I’ve found that I spend far less money when I don’t set foot in the store. I get milk, eggs, drink enhancer drops, pasta, some canned goods, bread, and ground beef weekly. I try to keep my weekly Walmart to around $30-35. 

I do a weekly trip to ALDI too. I get all produce, fruit, snacks, breakfast foods, pasta sauces and some frozen stuff. I typically spend around $45-50 per week. 

postsig1a