Since January, we've chucked all our processed foods (goodbye, delicious Bisquick...) and started cooking from scratch. In the beginning, it was like a test of strength and endurance. No more canned soups or broths, no more canned vegetables (though we do still use tomato sauce and paste), no more packaged spice mixes. But as I've grown accustomed to the change, it's become 100% easier (I don't even notice it anymore) and it's been meal planning that made it that way.
I Heart Meal Planning.
I never, ever thought I'd be one of those weird people who was so anal they planned things like meals in advance. Then I found out that I'm not an organized person... And if I'm not an organized person (i.e. one of those weird people), we won't eat good food, we'll just eat the mustard chicken-on-a-stick from the cute little man around the corner.
This is why meal planning rocks my face off:
- I don't have to think, all day long, about what I'm going to make, whether we'll have the ingredients or I'll have to run to the store.
- We don't end up eating out (almost ever), which helps us save money (to go back to America in the fall), and makes us feel better (fewer MSG headaches).
- I'm learning to cook. Slowly, but surely. It's not that I couldn't before. I could follow a recipe. But it's gotten easier to read a recipe and know how it will work/know if it will taste good. It's gotten easier to alter recipes I already have, and to just make things up on the fly without them tasting like roadkill -- or how one might imagine roadkill tasting.
Anyway, something I read, early on, that is supposed to make meal planning easier (because it was a pain in the beginning), was to get together your 21 Favorite Meals. When I started, we didn't have 21 meals that we ate on a regular basis, much less a Favorite 21. So, there was a lot of experimenting, a lot of repeats, and some leftovers, and like, fifty-hundred failures. But now it's May (and I'm a total MASTER), and I've compiled our FAVE 21 Meals.
And, for lack of a better post, I thought I'd share them here.
I've linked to recipes where I could, but I've altered most of them, so we don't follow them as is. My favorite recipe websites are, All Recipes and Tammy's Recipes.
In no particular order.
Ben and Catie's FAVE 21 Meals:
2. "Hamburger Helper" (toward the bottom of the post)
3. Baked Salmon
4. Oven-fried Chicken (we turn them into "chicken nuggets")
5. Taco Soup/My Grandma's Vegetable Soup
6. Kung Pao Chicken/Stir-fry
8. My Mom's Macaroni and Cheeze
9. Bean and Cheese Burritos
10. Chicken Fajitas
12. Pesto Spaghetti with Vegetables
14. Pot Roast
16. Chicken Tacos
17. King Ranch Chicken/Chicken Mexicali
18. Pesto Pizza
19. "Shepherd's Breakfast" (I can't remember if that's what it's really called, but it's just pan-fried potatoes, scrambled with eggs and tossed with cheese)
20. Quesadillas (sometimes with chicken, sometimes without)
21. Beef Stew
Most of it I've either made up, or smooshed together from two or more similar recipes.
But, look it, that's THREE WEEKS of meals there! Maybe I will get around to posting some recipes so they can all have links (not because I think other people might want them, just because the OCD in me wants all the items in the list to be the same color... is that weird?).
Things I (almost) always keep on hand that make everything move like clockwork:
- Homemade chicken stock, frozen: For soups and gravies and even drinking -- yum.
- Diced onions, frozen: When you're only cooking for two, a whole onion is ALWAYS too much, I throw all my diced onion leftovers into a freezer bag and then, when I need some fast, I always have it.
- Homemade yogurt: To use in place of sour cream, cream cheese (I use drained yogurt), buttermilk, sometimes "cream of..." soups, and even milk when we run out.
- Fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes/regular tomatoes: 16-20 cherry tomatoes, cut in halves, sub great for a can of diced or stewed tomatoes.
- Chicken gravy/bechamel sauce: great for replacing "cream of..." soups in 99% of recipes.
- Shredded chicken: We buy 1-2 whole chickens a week that I either boil or roast (chicken is tons better for you off the bone, plus you can save and freeze the bones for making stock later on) and then I pick them all at once and either freeze the leftover meat, or leave it in the fridge to use the next day.
With all of that, dinner's almost never take more than forty five minutes to prepare, even if I'm making homemade tortillas or something. And I always know exactly what we'll need to get from the store, so we only have to grocery shop once a week now (instead of every night). It's probably cut our weekly food money at least in half.
Sometime over the past four months, I've gotten a little ridiculously frugal... I guess I finally realized that if I put the work into planning our meals, I'd have a better chance of finding money to buy yarn.
Plus, I get this really cute, happy husband who writes nice things on our blog.
I figure it's paid off.