How To: Meal Planning

My dear friend from childhood Katy is not only a good runner, but also a phenomenal teacher, mother, wife, and on-top-of-it-resident-chef.  Moreover, she is my 100% inspiration in terms of meal planning and cooking for her family. She is so impressive that I don’t know where to start — on top of being a full time teacher and mother of two she manages to cook 6 nights a week for her family by meal planning and organizing the menus two weeks at a time! As someone who needs guidance and help, I was fortunate to be able to sit down with her and ask a bzillion (sorry there are so many — worth reading through, PROMISE) about how she is able to meal plan.  It saves her time, indecision, and money.

 

Pinterest at its finest !

Pinterest at its finest !

When you sit down to meal plan, how many days do you plan for? One week? Two weeks, etc…Do you do all the grocery shopping in one sweep? What day do you shop?

 

During the school year, I meal plan for two weeks at a time. I try to sneak it in during a 1-hour gymnastics class so I have 60 minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted time. If I have my s*&% together, I either order my groceries to be delivered on Sunday after my long run but before flag football…or if Oregon doesn’t have a home game, I might tackle Costco (and its parking lot) on a Saturday morning, post-workout. If Costco is where I end up, I usually have to do a quick produce run the following weekend…or when time allows. During the summer, no meal planning; we take it day-by-day given how much our schedule changes at the last minute. I’d like to think we are spontaneous. Maybe we are?

 

And but of course, Katy is super pretty.

And but of course, Katy is super pretty. Even when she is pretending to be a T-Rex at Disneyworld.

 

What does each day represent?

Great question!
Monday-Meatless Monday
Tuesday-Taco Tuesday (Mexican)
Wednesday-Crock Pot Heaven
Thursday-Leftovers
Friday-Out or Pizza (c’mon, last day of a FULL week of teaching, soccer, football, gymnastics…)
Saturday-“Soup”er Saturday
Sunday-“Brinner” (because we never have time for a full Sunday brunch)

 

Inspiration and recipes! And a way to organize it all -- oh my!

Inspiration and recipes! And a way to organize it all — oh my!

 

Can you give us three meal examples for each night? (hard I know, but I am cheating and need help myself!)

 

Meatless Monday:
Spaghetti squash with marinara and mozzarella
Veggie chili-stuffed avocados
Veggie lasagna

 

BACHELOR MONDAY:

(Side note: every season when the Bachelor / Bachelorette is on, Katy has the privilege of watching the show with a group of girls. They drink and dish together while watching the Bachelor — how fun is that?? And of course, each Monday has a theme and a set of drinks and desserts to go along with it….)
Sweets & alcohol
Last week: margarita floats & lemon bars
This week, tonight! (finale): champagne & vegan dessert smorgasbord
Premiere of BIP: Twinkie trifle & Coors Light

 

Taco Tuesday:
“Drunk chicken” (chicken braised in beer and salsa) burritos or tacos
Homemade beans and rice bowls
Nacho bar

 

Crockpot Wednesday:
Honey chicken
Barbacoa beef
“Winey chicken” (chicken breast, white wine, cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms)
**Often, I’ll run two Crock Pots: one with a meat, one with a starch (baked potatoes, mashed potatoes, mac & cheese)

 

Thursday/Friday:
Self-explanatory

 

“Soup-er Saturday” (and sandwiches):
Homemade chicken noodle soup (YUMMMM! I use a lot of white wine!) w/ grilled cheese
Taco beef soup w/ quesadillas
Pumpkin chili w/ cornbread
Split pea soup w/ grilled cheese
Lasagna soup w/ cheesy breadsticks
(Can you tell I LOVE soup?)

 

Brinner Sunday:
Pumpkin waffles w/ maple bacon
Cheesy breakfast casserole w/ fruit salad
Grilled breakfast sandwiches w/ fruit salad

 

How do you organize it? Do you write it down on a calendar? (walk me through all the baby steps). Do you plan the entree, the side, the dessert, etc….

 

Honestly, I store the menu on my phone so it’s synced to my iPad, which is what I cook from. I list each day with the main course and sides, and then I make my shopping list directly from that. When I think about what to eat/cook each night, I look at our family activities, what time we need to eat, and how much time I’ll have to prep. Those precious minutes completely determine the menu.

 

Example

Example of menus on Katy’s phone

 

Where do you get inspiration for the meals?

 

My children and our desire to eat as healthy as possible within our time constraints. Plus, they LOVE the themes! I think it’s the consistency with some variety within that which they crave. They are pretty adventurous eaters but I definitely know what flavors they like. Plus, I like to buy produce that is in season. Meaning, we don’t eat a ton of berries in the winter but come summer…WATCH OUT! Berry-palooza! I also like to have a little fun when I meal-plan:)

 

Can't you tell that these kids are creative, well fed, healthy, happy kids?

Can’t you tell that these kids are creative, well fed, healthy, happy kids? Also, true Duck fans, of course.

 

What websites / cookbooks do you like to use?

 

My favorite cooking blogs are:
SkinnyTaste
Budget Savvy Diva
Gimme Some Oven
Spend with Pennies
Six Sisters Stuff
Damn Delicious
Iowa Girls Eats

 

How often do you stray from the plan? Do you follow it or does it happen less frequently than you imagine?

 

During the school year, we pretty much stick to the plan. Wasted food KILLS me. So, if something comes up, and we miss a meal, I try to sneak it back in as soon as possible. If there are not too many perishables in the recipe, I’ll save the main ingredients for later and take the perishables with me to school for lunch (which makes for some pretty interesting lunches). To be honest, we rarely stray. The summer is a whole different story. We fly by the seats of our pants then…because we can.

 

Big duck fans, the family  (or at least Katy and her husband) goes to every single home game! And still can meal plan. Jealous, right? I sure am!

Big duck fans, the family (or at least Katy and her husband) goes to every single home game! And still can meal plan. Jealous, right? I sure am!

 

How has meal planning changed your family / life?

 

Meal planning has made my life as mom, wife, teacher, daughter, friend, etc SOOO much simpler because we completely avoid the “What’s for dinner?” conversations. It has also saved a ton of money because we rarely waste food, and we can repurpose items from earlier in the week as leftovers or as “modified improvements.” One hour of my time spent meal-planning every two weeks has saved us numerous moments of indecision, poor food choices, and thousands of dollars.

 

Snacks prepared for a Bachelor viewing with friends. For "fantasy suite night" so made breakfast themed items (love her enthusiasm with themes!)

Snacks prepared for a Bachelor viewing with friends. For “fantasy suite night” so made breakfast themed items (love her enthusiasm with themes!)

 

Anything else that you think would be helpful for people interested in making the jump to being more organized with meals?

 

Start with planning one week, and see if you can re-use something you cooked Monday on Thursday. For example, say you make a killer double batch of vegetarian lentil soup. Could you cook up some ground italian sausage, add that to the leftovers along with some diced kale, mix up a quick salad, and call it good? Also, have fun. Cooking and eating is a chance to be adventurous and explore new options so involve your family in the process. Ask them what they want (and don’t want). You might be surprised with the information they share. We have cooked up some pretty interesting combinations that were actually awesome…think grilled peanut butter and bacon sandwiches. Shockingly DELICIOUS! (That was thanks to my son.)

 

"O" we wish we could be as organized, original, o-mazing as you, Katy! Thank you SO much! xoxo

“O” we wish we could be as organized, original, o-mazing as you, Katy! Thank you SO much! xoxo

 

Thanks so much, Katy! You are my meal planning guru — and I hope to carry out some kind of meal planning strategy and theme to my life in NYC in the Fall! Watch out for multiple texts per week (and do you mind sending me your weekly menu plans?). Anyone else meal plan to this extraordinary manner?

Anika Yael Natori, aka, The Josie Girl

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6 Comments

  1. Impressive! I really need to start getting organized bc I ask the what should we have for dinner question much too often. I think I’ll start by setting themes for each day!

  2. I am taking some of these ideas for sure.. the baked avocados look delicious.

  3. What a good system you have going on 🙂 I have an unofficial schedule each week: Sun- Pasta Sunday always, Mon-Try something new I typically find on a blog or Pinterest from the weekend or leftovers (meatball sandwiches). Tues- TACO Tuesday (as well), Wed- Either Porkchops/Chicken Cutlets/Talapia, Thurs-Tuna/Egg salad or Jambalaya usually, Fri-Diner 🙂 Saturday, Grill (if we don’t have dinner plans!)

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