Thursday, July 24, 2014

Guest Post || Notes from a Newlywed

Today, Amanda and I are taking over each other's blogs with some fun how-to's and ideas! I'm not going to give away what I'm sharing on Notes from a Newlywed, but I'm sure you'll enjoy it ;)

how to start meal planning
Hi there A La Maxfield readers! I’m delighted to be here guest posting today. My name’s Amanda, and I blog at Notes from a Newlywed, where I write all about my life as a new wife and share what I've learned along the way. One of the things I started doing recently is meal planning, and for several reasons.

1) To save money. By planning what we’re going to eat, and just buying things to make those meals, saves me money because I’m no longer buying items we’re not going to eat. I used to put anything and everything that looked good in my cart, thinking I’d figure out the meals as they come. I didn’t. I ate whatever I felt like, and often ended up getting delivery anyway because I never wanted what I had at home. 

2) To be less wasteful. All that food I bought and never ate because I got delivery? Yeah, it went bad and ended up in the garbage. I was wasting so much food, and for no good reason. 

3) To make better use of my time. Back when there was no rhyme or reason to what went in my mouth, I’d just stare at my cupboards and fridge wondering what to make. And then sometimes if I decided on a certain recipe, I wouldn’t have everything I needed and I ended up at the store again getting ingredients. Having every meal planned out saves me so much time because I know what I’m making every day, and I plan ahead to have all the ingredients on hand. This also means I only go to the grocery store once a week now, and only supplement that with a few trips to a farmer’s market during the week for fresh local produce. 

4) To be healthier. In those days when I didn’t meal plan, I ate very poorly. I pretty much never got off of my college girl diet of boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, soda and chips. In no way were my meals balanced, and I was lucky if I even got one serving of a fruit or veggie in a day. Awful, I know, right?! Anyway, when I got married, I decided meal planning would be a good way to plan nutrition into our day, and it was something both my husband and I needed. Meal planning works for me because I love lists, and I’m the kind of person that if it’s written down, that’s what is happening, period. It was also one of the changes I’m most proud of as a wife because my husband has fully embraced it with me. He likes knowing what we’re having every night, and I often ask him to help plan the meals so he has input in what we both eat. He also loves to grill, and is way better at cooking meat than I am, so meal planning has helped bring us closer since we both get to partake in it.

OK, enough rambling. Let’s get down to it. How do you start meal planning?

First, make a list of all the foods/recipes that you know how to make and enjoy eating. Hop on Pinterest and find some inspiration too. Try a few new recipes and see what works. Make a list for both main dishes and sides. This will help you plan in the veggies, fruits and starches in your diet too so you can easily pair things together depending what you have on hand.

Next, group your list into types of protein, listing all your chicken recipes together, and beef and pork and vegetarian meals, etc. Once you’ve assembled a “master meal list,” find a way that works for you to note your meals for the week or month. I used to plan weekly and wrote all my meals on a small dry erase board that was on my fridge, like this: weekly meal list
After doing that a few months, I felt like it was time to step it up and plan monthly. It may be easier for you to find a larger white board, or just write your meals into your planner. For me though, I print off a blank calendar each month (Calendarpedia has some versions that I like), then block off any days where we have plans and don’t need dinner (say a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant). I also pick out a day or two where we’re allowed to go out to dinner as a date or order delivery in. Once those are blocked off, start filling in the remaining days with meals. I like to make bigger meals on the weekends so that we have leftovers for the next day or two and don’t have to cook early in our workweek. Also think strategically to best use the ingredients you have on hand and plan to use the same protein a few days in a row (that’s where having your list grouped together is helpful). I often will have chili, tacos and meatloaf in the same week to use up all the ground beef I have and carry the leftovers into the next meal. meal lists Now that your calendar is filled up, shop smart and stock your cabinets with basic ingredients you’ll need over and over again, and watch them so you always have spices, canned foods, milk, eggs, sour cream, shredded cheese, etc. on hand. Then make a weekly grocery list so you only have to visit the store once a week to get the special things you need like meats or any fresh veggies. You may want to be strategic with how you plan that too, so use up your fresh foods right away since things like lettuce, berries and chicken can go bad quickly. If there’s any recipes in your lineup you don’t know how to make off the top of your head, I’m a fan of pulling it up online and stashing my laptop in the corner of my kitchen to reference (while also jamming to fun party tunes of course) while cooking. Or, do as my friend Katherine does and print out every recipe you have planned and store it in a meal planning binder! It’s really just finding what works for you. Experiment for a while. You’ll find a groove, I promise!

I recommend getting in the habit of always having some frozen and/or canned veggies, a box of rice or quinoa, and potato flakes on hand to fill in meals when you didn’t plan for a side. For instance, when I make spaghetti, I always pair it whatever veggie I have on hand, whether it’s a bag of salad, can of corn or bag of frozen mixed vegetables. I typically only plan my veggie or starch in when we want something special like fresh asparagus or a baked potato. Otherwise, winging your sides is 100% fine! I also personally don’t plan our breakfasts, but some of you might want to, depending on your habits. My husband and I both like yogurt, so we each take one to work each day for breakfast, and then also throw in a banana, granola bar or blueberry muffin, depending what we have on hand. A couple days a week, I also like to make us some refrigerator oatmeal as a special treat. Then on the weekends, we just have cold cereal or eggs and bacon, depending what we feel like. Our lunches aren’t planned either since most days we have leftovers from the previous day’s dinner. Any time we don’t though, I always keep cheese and lunchmeat on hand for sandwiches, and also always have some fruit or pudding cups to pack with it.

The key to making manly lunches is to simply stuff the lunchbox so it seems like a lot of food. A sandwich, fruit cup, couple of boiled eggs, baby carrots and ranch, cheese stick, and small bag of pretzels is enough to keep even a hungry man happy. (And always a love note!) Again, it’s just getting used to having some of those extras on hand. I haven’t gotten too much into freezer meals since our freezer is small and we simply don’t have room to store a lot of pre-made meals. However, I do like to make some blueberry or sausage muffins about once a month and freeze a dozen each of those to have on hand for breakfasts. I also found a great tacquito recipe that freezes well, so I make a bunch of those and freeze them too since they don’t take up too much room and are quick and easy to heat up if I simply don’t feel like cooking the planned meal that day. I usually also make an extra meatloaf or batch of cheesy potato casserole to throw in there for those days you need something in a pinch and don’t want to cook.

Lastly, always watch sales and use coupons too to make the maximum impact. I sometimes change my meal plan if I see a great deal on something and stock up on it. Just never buy something you won’t use just because it’s on sale. And always have fun with it.

Do you meal plan? What tips would you add?

Wow, thank you so much Amanda! You have a lot of really good tips and tricks in there. I hope that you can find this super useful like I have :) It's sometimes difficult to plan dinners that are gluten free and relatively healthy, but I like the idea of writing it all down on a calendar!

xo. Nicole

1 comment

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