Planning Ahead – Meals

Fun at the park

How to make the most of your time and money while still eating healthy meals.

On any given day, I wear a lot of hats!
Guess that’s true of any wife/mom, especially one who also happens to run a business.
However, mine is a tad more complicated than most as I actually run two businesses and I also homeschool our 9 and 11 year olds.
Some days it would be impossible to get a healthy dinner on the table if I hadn’t planned ahead.

Recently, I’ve been a tad lazy on the planning ahead part and have slipped back into Costco pre-made meals far too often.
Not a good thing because they are much more expensive and typically not a healthy as what I want to feed my family.

So, I’m working to get back to my former plan-ahead-awesomeness and thought I’d share some of my ideas with you all.

I always dreamt of being one of those plan meals out for a month type of people, but honestly…
in 17 years of marriage…
I succeeded doing that for one month,
and it was before adding my second business and before the kiddos entered the picture.
So, I had to come up with a way that worked for our family.

I hope you can glean some tidbits that will help you provide meals for you and your family, too!!

This is really not as daunting as it  might sound. Really, all this phase includes is figuring out what your family likes to eat:
• types of meats
• types of protein alternatives (dry beans, etc)
• types of side dishes
• types of veggies
• types of fruits

MEATS: They are typically what takes the longest to cook or most preparation when preparing a dinner. Our staple meats are usually: chicken, hamburger, pork and occasionally, if I can find a good sale, steak. I buy them in bulk, often at Costco, and work to use their coupons or anything to get the best cut of meat I can for the best price.

SIDE NOTE: I’m still learning to like seafood {as in I hate it, but know fish is good for me, so I’m working on trying to like it}, so I have NO advice on anything seafood related… yet. LOL

Once I’ve purchased my meat of choice and get home… I attack it with a vengeance, slicing it into thin, usually quarter inch slices, and put what is needed for a single meal into quart freezer Ziploc bags.

Then comes the fun part! I grab out all the sauces, seasonings that I have and I create a meal. For instance, this last batch of pork I did I created 8 meals:
• Italian, pesto, sundried tomato {aka Italian dressing, Costco pesto, Costco sundried tomatoes}
• Orange pork {Panda Express’ orange chicken marinade sauce, also found at Costco}
• Yoshida’s original sauce and stir-fry sauce {just like it sounds}
• Soy, ginger, garlic {soy sauce, freshly grated ginger and freshly sliced garlic with a touch of toasted sesame oil}
• Creamy balsamic and pepperoncinis {creamy balsamic salad dressing and sliced pepperoncinis}

It took me about an hour to slice and decorate all eight bags, but here’s the real reason I do it…
When I need a quick meal, I can pull it from the freezer, thaw it a few minutes in the microwave and cook it up in less than 10 minutes because the meat is thinly sliced. And the meat is more flavorful because they have been marinating while in the freezer, so it actually takes less “sauces” than if you were to only season it later. Think of it… a healthy main dish, reasonably priced in less than 10 minutes… yes please!Prepared freezer meals

HAMBURGER: I do things a little differently with hamburger. Typically I take the 10 or 20 pounds I buy in bulk and cook it ALL up at once, drain the fat, let cool and put into labeled ziplock bags (enough in each for one meal). Then stack in freezer. When I need to use these, it’s a quick 1-2 minutes in the microwave and it is as if I just cooked it fresh. Easy to throw into spaghetti, tacos, fajitas or anything else that’s needed.

PROTEIN ALTERNATIVES: I’m still trying to master using dry beans and collecting yummy recipes that do not involve canned beans. Dry beans are a very economical and healthy way to get protein… if/when I get better about this perhaps I’ll write a blog post just on this topic.

SIDE DISHES: For us there are a few main sides… potatoes, rice or pasta. Pasta is pretty easy to cook quickly, so I just make sure that I have my favorite pastas on hand {Garofalo pasta from Costco… totally fool-proof pasta that keeps its shape at the end… love this stuff! www.pastagarofalo.it}

As for rice, we typically do one of two things: either make a ton of it and eat it over several days in various meals or make it ahead of time, let it cool and freeze it in meal-sized portions {just microwave to reheat}.

Regarding potatoes, there are so many ways to eat them. Since we’re talking about time-crunch meals… I will only mention the quick options. Costco has great instant potatoes that don’t have hardly anything added to them and they are super-fast and inexpensive. We do add seasonings and butter when we make them, however. Another way to enjoy potatoes is microwaving whole potatoes {of course making sure to puncture them well first so they don’t explode}. It’s easy and relatively quick. You can also freeze potatoes in almost any form {cooked or raw} if you wanted to prepare/season them ahead of time.

VEGGIES: these are easy… you can get almost any vegetable in a frozen form that can be quickly made into a yummy side dish. The great thing is that places like Costco or Cash and Carry {I’m sure there are many other places as well} you can buy them frozen in huge bags and save a bunch of money. In the summer we have a garden and eat our own produce: green wax beans, purple wax beans, yellow wax beans, rattlesnake wax beans, zucchini, standard cucumbers, lemon cucumbers, varieties of tomatoes, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas. We eat them raw as often as possible, not just because it’s quicker, but because it’s better for us and SO good straight from the garden!!

One of our favorites is green beans sautéed with bacon {we use Hormel’s bacon in a jar… sooooo good} and garlic. Be careful… they’re addictive!!

SIDE NOTE for those of you who are single or are only cooking for two: If you’re cooking for just a few and feel like this “bulk buying” thing is just too much, find a friend(s) that you can spilt the bulk purchases with. This gives you the savings for buying in bulk while not having to store excess food that will likely get freezer burn before you get a chance to consume it. This also works for bulk purchases of fresh foods like fruits and veggies, too.

FRUITS: Fruits are best fresh, of course, but we also freeze lots of our fruits to use in our VitaMix smoothies {this could be a blog post on its own, too!} or just as a treat. They are so good!! We just make sure there is always fresh fruit on hand… and for the few times I haven’t gotten to the store yet we have canned fruit, dried fruit and ‘no sugar added’ fruit cups. But mostly the non-fresh fruits are used for lunches more than dinners.

Whew… this ended up being much longer than I had intended. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for sticking with it!!

I’m hoping to do more of these types of blog posts… ones filled with tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years {aka gathered/learned from other brilliant people and a few I’ve come up with}.

REQUEST: If you have secrets, advice, tips, or suggestions
on how you keep meals inexpensive and quick…
I’d love to hear them!!
Please leave them in the comments section below so everyone can benefit from your wisdom!!!

Comments

  1. This is such a superb idea – thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Any money or time-saving tips are always helpful!

  3. Inspirational Stacee! love how the new year always brings out how to do things better and healthier and more cost efficient = have a great week.

  4. Great meal planning ideas…

  5. Very good ideas! Thanks for sharing Stacee!

  6. Oh this is such a great idea – thank you so much for sharing!!

  7. I love these ideas!! The baggy main dishes, totally doable! Thanks!

  8. Great tips! I love Costco and will have to look for the orange chicken sauce. I have been pinning a lot of recipes..now I just need to try them!