Kitchen Tips

Meal Planning 101

Hello there my lovely followers! It’s been a minute since I’ve posted. Okay, more like 15 months. That is just far too long but as you can imagine, life happens. First and foremost, I wanted to let you know I am in fact alive and well. I have been busy working full time managing a design studio, doing lots of freelance design work, carting my son around to sports which he does about 10 months out of the year, and squeezing in as much family time as I can during our down time.

But here I am, dealing with all the craziness that has come along with the COVID-19 pandemic. I am currently safe in my home with my family. My husband and I are both thankfully still working (from home), and trying to also juggle the schooling of our 10-year-old son. With so many events and youth sports cancelled, I find myself with more free time than I ever remember having. (At least since becoming a mom.) I am trying to make the best of it and just enjoying playing games with my family, doing puzzles, binge watching shows, finally finding the time again to get back to running a few days a week, sitting down and having at least two meals a day with my family, and in all that, trying to carve out a little extra time to get back to blogging. I am determined to let some good come out of all of this.

I absolutely love sharing recipes with all of you, so much so that I am literally getting teary as I am trying to post this. They are happy tears though. I hope that I can get you at least an email a week to bring a little sunshine your way.

So, what better post to come back with than, how on earth I manage my busy schedule and getting meals on the table. It is all about meal planning! It is the only way I can get through the week. When people ask me how I manage to cook as much as I do, I tell them it is all about meal planning. It seems like such a simple task but I realize so many people don’t even know where to begin. So, consider this my beginners guide to meal planning.

I am going to share with you my tips, tricks, and even a handy shopping list you can print and use at home. This is the same one I use myself every week. I have it organized by categories that follow the flow of most grocery stores. I absolutely hate it when I feel like a pin ball at the grocery store bouncing back and forth from one end of the store to the other. Organization and order is key!

It has been about four years of me using this list and I noticed that as soon as I started spending the 30 minutes doing my meal planning each weekend I was saving so much money by not eating out as often and not buying things I didn’t need, I reduced our wasted food to almost nothing, and best of all, eliminated so much extra stress! It is an easy routine that takes some time to adopt but so worth it once you get into the groove.

Meal Planning Grocery List

MY TIPS AND TRICKS FOR MEAL PLANNING

  • Print out several of my shopping lists at once. I do about 10 at a time. You probably won’t be as consistent if you are only printing out one at a time. If they are nearby and ready to go, you are more likely to use them.
  • If you find yourself running low on or finishing off any items, add that to the shopping list throughout the week. For example, if my husband finishes off the oregano, he just writes it on the shopping list clipped to the fridge. This helps keep you stocked on the essentials and you aren’t trying to rack your brain trying to remember what it was you finished off earlier in the week when you do go to sit down and write out your list.
  • When you are ready to do your planning for the week, look at your calendar and write in your evening commitments so you know what you need to plan around. If you have to work late, or your child has a game, plan to do quick and easy dinners those nights or maybe even takeout.
  • Clean out your fridge each weekend of anything that has gone bad or you know you won’t use. It is good to know what you do have in there.
  • Do a quick inventory of what you have that you need to use. For example, if I have half a bag of shredded cabbage or a handful of tortillas from a few days ago that I know will go bad if I don’t use it soon, I try to plan a meal around that early in the week. This helps you cut down on waste and can save you money.
  • When doing your planning, look at what recipes take common ingredients. For example, last Sunday I wanted to make pork tacos for dinner and those took cotija cheese, chopped red onions, and sliced jalapeños. I decided to make juevos rancheros for breakfast that day since they shared so many of the same ingredients. I was able to prep and chop all my ingredients for dinner while I was doing it for breakfast so come dinner time, I already had all my ingredients ready to go and I got two meals out of those ingredients.
  • Use leftover ingredients from one meal as part of the next one. I will cook twice as much broccoli as I need for a dinner, and then make a broccoli and egg quiche the next day or grill extra chicken for dinner on Sunday, to go on my salads for lunch throughout the week.
  • Plan your meals around seasonal produce. You will get the best quality ingredients and the best prices.
  • Make a shopping list every weekend for the week ahead. Once you have all your meals planned for the week, start filling in the bottom portion with what grocery items you need to make them. Having an organized and written shopping list keeps you on track at the grocery store. You are more likely to buy items you don’t need and spend more money if you go to the store and just try and wing it. Plus, you then only need to make one trip to the store a week.
  • Keep your dinner menu for the week on the fridge and check it each day. That way you remember if you need to defrost any meat, get anything marinated, or load up the crock pot before leaving for the day.

Meal Planning Dinner Menu

 

PREPPING FOR THE WEEK

  • Chopping and slicing can quickly become one of the most time-consuming parts of any meal. If you have a busy week ahead, consider washing and prepping all your produce on Sunday. I will wash and chop broccoli, onions, peppers, zucchini, pretty much any veggie ahead of time and then just put them in Ziploc bags in the produce drawer of the fridge.
  • If you have a recipe that calls for a marinade, combine all your marinade ingredients in a mason jar ahead of time. Before you leave for work in the morning just pour the marinade into a Ziploc bag with the meat.
  • If you are making a crockpot meal that calls for seasoning and liquid ingredients, combine all those together in a Tupperware or mason jar over the weekend or the night before so that in the morning you just have to dump it over the meat into the crockpot. I do not want to be spending my morning trying to open cans and measure seasonings when I am already running late for work.


OTHER TID BITS

  • Make a double batch of any of your recipes that freeze well. One for now and one for later. My enchiladas freeze awesome! I will make a triple batch, eat one batch fresh and freeze two more. It isn’t that much more work to just double a recipe if you are already taking the time to make it once. Then later on you have a quick dinner that you can just toss in the oven. Soups, lasagna, and baked pasta casseroles also freeze great.
  • Keep foil baking dishes on hand. They are great for your freezer meals! I love the 8” x 8” square foil dishes. They hold 4 enchiladas perfectly and slide right into a gallon Ziploc bag.
  • Purchase meat in bulk and separate into meal size portions. Huge money saver!
  • Invest in a FoodSaver so you can package items in a way that allows them to last a long time.
Grocery List Thumbnail
Click on the above image to save a printable pdf of my shopping list.

 

Is there anything I missed or do you have any advice? I always love hearing ideas from other people.  Please feel free to share in the comments below.

Dinners

Recipe—Crock-Pot Italian Pot Roast and Parmesan Risotto

Italian Pot Roast and Parmesan Risotto

The first time I actually made this recipe was Christmas Eve. Some of you might be thinking, who makes a crock-pot meal on Christmas Eve? The answer is, this lady! Why is it that people feel the need to spend half the day in the kitchen and half their paychecks on holiday dinners? You can have an amazing meal with minimal time in the kitchen and by spending less than $25. Thennnnnnn you can use that money you saved on groceries and buy some nice red wine that will compliment this dinner perfectly.

That Christmas Eve I just wanted to be able to fully relax and enjoy the day with my family. I didn’t want to be in the kitchen for most of the day slaving over the oven. And guess what, this dinner was just as good as many of the dinners I spent the entire day making. And best of all, my family loved it!

The meat had so much flavor and was so juicy! The sauce is a very mild tomato-based sauce that goes so fabulously with the parmesan risotto. This is probably in the top 5 recipes I have ever made. It is so filling and hearty. A perfect comfort meal for the cooler weather. I love that this recipe is “fancy” enough for a special occasion or a holiday but is quick and easy enough that you can pull it off on a Thursday night after a long day of work. Literally an all occasion dinner.

POT ROAST INGREDIENTS
3 lb beef chuck roast
1 tbsp dried minced onion
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 (.6 oz) package au jus mix
1 (.7 oz) package dried Italian salad dressing mix
2 tsp black pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 c tomato juice (like V8)

RISOTTO INGREDIENTS
3 tsp olive oil
1 lb arborio rice
6 c chicken broth, room temperature
1 c parmesan cheese
1 tsp onion powder
ground pepper

GARNISH INGREDIENTS
1/2 c parmesan cheese
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

STEPS

  • Spray your crock-pot with cooking spray.
  • Place the pot roast in the crock-pot.
  • In a bowl, whisk together all the remaining pot roast ingredients.
  • Pour the tomato mixture over the top of the roast.
  • Cook on low heat for 8–10 hours, or high heat for 5–6 hours.
  • When the roast is done cooking, transfer it to a cutting board and allow it to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Using two forks, shred the roast and place back into the crock-pot.
  • Cover the crock-pot and keep on low.
  • While the meat is soaking in all that yummy sauce, begin to prepare the risotto by putting the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat.
  • Add the rice and stir to evenly coat the rice with the oil.
  • Cook for about 2–3 minutes.
  • Add 1 cup of the broth and simmer, stirring constantly, until the broth has completely reduced and the pan is nearly dry, about 3 minutes.
  • Repeat the above step incrementally using 1 cup of broth at a time. The gradual addition of broth is key to getting the rice to develop a nice and creamy sauce.
  • Once all the broth is cooked down, stir in the cheese and onion powder and season with pepper.
  • Scoop a large spoonful of risotto into a serving dish and top with the shredded meat, additional parmesan cheese, and some parsley.

 

Recipe adapted from Plain Chicken.

Appetizers, Beverages

Recipe—Bloody Mary Shooters

Bloody Mary Shooters

I recently hosted a bridal shower brunch and of course we had bottomless mimosas but I also made these super cute bloody mary shooters that are the adult equivalent of grilled cheese and tomato soup. I used a spicy bloody mary mix so it had a nice kick but then you take a bite of that crispy mozzarella stick to cool down your mouth. Just the best combination ever! Plus, how cute are they?!?!

This recipe makes 12 but I recommend you make double from whatever you think you will need. Just trust me on this one. These will disappear!

Bloody Mary Shooters

Note: I made these using 2 ounce shooter glasses. If you use 2 ounce glasses this recipe will make 12 portions. You can find the mozzarella sticks in the freezer section of your local grocery store.

INGREDIENTS
12 mozzarella sticks
14 oz your favorite bloody mary mix
10 oz vodka
celery greens

STEPS

  • Bake the mozzarella sticks per the package instructions.
  • In a pitcher, mix together bloody mary mix and vodka.
  • Distribute the mix evenly among the shot glasses.
  • Garnish with a sprig of celery greens and lay a mozzarella stick across the top.
  • Dip, bite, sip, repeat.
Dinners

Recipe—Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta

Recipe—Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta

Right now, I am drowning in youth sports. My son is currently playing soccer and baseball which takes up about 5–6 days a week and sometimes we have both on the same day. I lost my sanity a few weeks ago.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it! It just means that I need to be diligent in my menu planning and have some recipes that allow me to have dinner on the table quickly. We certainly have nights where dinner consists of sandwiches, Kraft Mac N Cheese, or takeout, but I try and cook a real dinner at least 4–5 nights a week. That means whatever I am making needs to be quick!

This recipe takes less than 30 minutes to make and costs about $15, assuming you have the basic stuff on hand. It is so simple, fast, and tasty! My family loves this recipe!  The chicken comes out so juicy and flavorful after simmering in the creamy lemon sauce. Hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Recipe—Creamy Lemon Chicken Pasta

INGREDIENTS
4–5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1/4 c flour
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 lb penne
1 c chicken broth
3 lemons, 2 for juicing and 1 sliced
3/4 c heavy cream
1/4 c capers
parsley, chopped

STEPS

  • Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
  • Place the flour in a large Ziploc bag and add chicken breasts.
  • Toss the chicken breast in the Ziploc bag until they are all evenly coated in the flour.
  • In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat.
  • Place the chicken breasts in the skillet.
  • Cook the chicken for 6–7 minutes per side or until cooked all the way through.
  • While the chicken is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta per the package instructions.
  • Add the broth, juice from two lemons, sliced lemon, heavy cream, and capers to the skillet with the chicken.
  • Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bring the sauce to boil and reduce heat to medium-low heat.
  • Continue cooking the sauce until it has thickened up, about 3–4 minutes.
  • Transfer the chicken breasts to a plate or cutting board.
  • Drain the pasta and add it to the skillet with the sauce, tossing to coat all the noodles.
  • Serve the pasta on plates and top with a chicken breast.
  • Sprinkle the dish with fresh chopped parsley and serve.
Beverages

Recipe—Apple Cider Sangria

Recipe—Apple Cider Sangria

Tis the season for apples and cinnamon! If you are having a hard time transitioning into the fall season and all that goes with it, then make yourself a big batch of this apple cider sangria, get out your pumpkin pie candle, and slip on a cozy flannel.

I made a double batch of this recipe for Thanksgiving last year and it was gone before I knew it. It went down just a little too easy. If you could take all that is fall and contain it in a drink, this would be it. It is literally the perfect drink for all your fall festivities, or even just a lazy fall Sunday.

Note: This recipe is best when made right before serving as the champagne and club soda can lose their fizz and the apples can brown.

INGREDIENTS
750 ml bottle champagne
2 1/2 c apple cider
1 c club soda
1/2 c Disaronno or Frangelico
2 apples, sliced
cinnamon sticks

STEPS

  • In a large pitcher or serving container, combine the champagne, apple cider, club soda, and Disaronno or Frangelico.
  • Add in the apples and cinnamon sticks.
  • Stir and serve over ice.
Dinners

Recipe—Crock-Pot Pork Ramen Bowls

Recipe—Crock-Pot Pork Ramen

Last year for our anniversary dinner, my husband took me to this swanky restaurant in downtown Sacramento. Their special of the night was a spicy pork ramen bowl. It is totally not something I would typically order but that chilly October night, it just sounded so good. And it was. The spicy broth warmed me right up and it was just so rich and flavorful. Not at all what I had expected. I thought it would be similar to a beef broth but it had so much depth to it.

Ever since then, I have been experimenting with perfecting my version of a pork ramen bowl. I think I have the delicious meal pretty much dialed in. The broth is flavorful and the meat so juicy and tender. This dish warms you from the core out and is a perfect dinner as evenings start to cool with the seasons.

Note: This recipe will make between 4–6 ramen bowls.

Recipe—Crock-Pot Pork Ramen

INGREDIENTS
3 lb boneless pork shoulder
salt and pepper
6 c chicken broth
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp miso broth concentrate
8 tsp chile garlic sauce (4 for the broth, 4 for finishing)
2 tsp ginger paste
2 c shiitake mushrooms
large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 (3 oz) packages ramen noodles (dispose of flavor packets)
4-6 boiled eggs, peeled and halved
1/2 c green onions, chopped

STEPS

  • Season the pork with salt and pepper and place in a crock-pot.
  • In a large bowl whisk together the broth, soy sauce, miso broth concentrate, 4 teaspoons chile garlic sauce, and the ginger paste.
  • Place the mushrooms and sliced onions around the pork shoulder in the crock-pot.
  • Pour the broth mix into the crock-pot.
  • Cook on high for 4–5 hours or low for 7–8 hours.
  • When ready to serve, carefully transfer the pork from the crock-pot to a cutting board.
  • Allow the meat to rest for 5 minutes and then shred using forks.
  • While the meat is resting, cook the ramen per package instructions and drain completely.
  • Distribute the noodles among 4–6 bowls.
  • Top each pile of noodles with a scoop of the shredded pork.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and mushrooms from the crock-pot and place around the bowls.
  • Using a ladle, top off each bowl with broth from the crock-pot.
  • Add two boiled egg halves to each bowl.
  • Place a teaspoon of the chile garlic sauce on the top of each pile of meat.
  • Garnish with green onions.
  • Serve with chopsticks and enjoy!
Salads, Side Dishes

Recipe—Mexican Street Corn Salad

 

Recipe—Mexican Street Corn Salad

I made this salad last month for a final end of summer hoorah BBQ and let me just tell you, it was delish! The olive oil mixed with vinegar and lime juice creates a zesty vinaigrette dressing and just pairs so nicely with the sweetness of the corn and the saltiness of the quest fresco and then don’t forget the smoky flavor from the paprika. It hits all those flavor points your mouth desires.

This recipe goes great with grilled meats or any Mexican dish. Tacos, enchiladas, you name it. It is cheap, easy, and so quick to make. Like really quick. This recipe literally took me 5 minutes from start to finish.

Note: You can make this with fresh corn on the cob or canned. It is great both ways. If you are using fresh corn you will need about 6-8 cobs of corn. Cook them as you normally would, whether that be on the grill or in a pot of water. Then allow the cobs to cool completely and cut the kernels off the cob and prepare the salad as directed. 

INGREDIENTS

3 (15.25 oz) cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 c cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 c green onions, chopped
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lime juice
1/2 c queso fresco, crumbled
paprika

STEPS

  • Place the corn kernels, tomatoes, and green onions into a serving bowl.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, and lime juice.
  • Pour the dressing over the corn and stir to coat.
  • Top with the queso fresco and a sprinkling of paprika.