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A Heart For Home: Meal Planning: Our Very Simple Menu

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Meal Planning: Our Very Simple Menu

I’ve been meal planning for several years and have tried several different approaches and methods to find what works best for our family during this season of our life.

I started my meal planning journey when we had only one child. I would choose 15-20 meals to prepare every month, repeating some favorites and allotting days for eating leftovers. This worked well for me for awhile, but as life got busier I found it difficult to keep up with the planning, grocery shopping, and preparations involved.

Now, we’ve settle into a much more simple meal plan method. I’ll admit that I’m only able to maintain this approach because my husband isn’t picky and only requests that I feed our family as healthy as possible within a very limited budget (last month our groceries totaled under $300 for 5 hearty eaters).

Why do we have the same very simple meals every week?
  1. planning is quick ~ I have a list of 5 dinners and just plug them into the days in my planning binder
  2. grocery shopping is simple and fast ~ at least as fast as it can be with four kiddos, I usually buy the same things every single week plus a pantry staple or two as we run out
  3. meal prep is easy ~ I’ve chosen very simple meals for this season of life, so preparing the meals is easy, plus since I’ve made them so many times, I’ve memorized the few recipes that are actually needed
  4. dinnertime is happy ~ everything on our typical rotation is liked by the entire family, so we are able to enjoy a pleasant meal together
  5. we can eat healthier foods ~ by cutting down our grocery costs, we’re able to afford better quality foods (we buy a lot of organic produce)
So, what do we actually eat?
 fried eggs
  • Green smoothie (raw spinach leaves, kefir, bananas, frozen blueberries, frozen mixed fruit, OJ concentrate)
  • Eggs ~ cheese omelets, scrambled eggs (sometimes with cheese), over-medium eggs
  • Tim makes a blender full of green smoothie and cooks his own eggs before he leaves for work at 4:45 AM. He puts the remaining smoothie in the fridge for us. When the rest of the family gets up I serve the smoothies (with super cool stainless steel straws) and cook up a large batch of eggs.
  • occasionally we’ll toast some homemade bread or have oatmeal instead of eggs (usually just during the winter)
  • about once a month, we’ll cook a special breakfast together on Tim’s day off
  • Tim and the kids eat (all natural) peanut butter on homemade soaked whole wheat bread. I eat celery and peanut butter.
  • carrot sticks and assorted fresh fruit: apple slices, pear slices, orange slices, Tim takes a whole carrot and an apple and orange/pear, the kids and I normally share one large carrot and two pieces of fruit.
  • Tim also eats a small handful of almonds and/or roasted chickpeas when he works.
  • IMG_6921
  • We always serve a green salad as the first part of our dinner, unless of course, dinner is a salad. This helps make sure that we all eat our salad before filling up on the other food.
  • IMG_6143
  • I do not fix side dishes other than the salad. We also do not eat dessert at home (thankfully we usually have a reason to make dessert at least a couple times each month to help with my baking itch).
  • We usually eat dinner at my parents’ house about once a week. We typically contribute something and we enjoy whatever we’re served. The kids still have to eat their salad before the get the rest of their meal.
  • Depending on what our budget looks like, we like to plan a special cooking night once a month. On this night we try a new recipe or simply cook something we don’t usually eat. Our last special dinner was Tim’s Sweet & Sour Wings—yummy!
  • Black Bean and/or Venison Taco Salad (twice a week)~ black beans, cooked ground venison (from my brother-in-law), a little brown rice, half of an onion (chopped and sautéed), diced tomatoes, mince garlic, a splash of lime juice, cumin & salt to taste, served over spinach or mixed lettuce with shredded cheddar cheese, salsa, and kefir cheese (or sour cream). We love adding tortilla chips, too, but decided to cut them out on our last grocery budget review. (During the winter I typically cook this in the Crock-Pot.)
  • Pasta with Tomato Sauce ~ I cook our pasta in homemade veggie broth to get a few more nutrients. We’ve used whole wheat past in the past, but we’re looking into brown rice pasta to eliminate some issues with eating unsoaked whole wheat. On past nights we all have a larger salad at the start of dinner so we don’t fill ourselves with pasta.
  • Brown Rice and Beans ~ This meal is technically not the same every week, but the main ingredients stay the same. I simply change the taste by adding different spices, veggies or sauces. Tropical  – coconut milk, lime juice and unsweetened shredded coconut; Mexican – cumin, garlic, chili powder, diced tomatoes; Italian – pasta sauce, parsley, basil, oregano, topped with shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese. (During the winter I typically cook this in the Crock-Pot.)
  • “Grilled” Chicken Salad (twice a week) ~ Since we’re living in a town house right now, we can’t actually grill our chicken, but these salads consist of spinach or mixed lettuce topped with pan-seared or baked chicken chunks, cut fruit (apples, pears) or canned mandarin oranges. Sometimes we add a little shredded cheese, some sliced hard boiled eggs, or crunchy chow mien noodles. We typically just serve up the same dressing on everyone’s salad and Tim, Jonathan, and Eliya top theirs with a sprinkle of garlic powder. The kids all love creamy poppy seed dressing, but I’ve been experimenting with making my own dressing, too.
  • fresh veggies (carrot sticks mainly)
  • roasted chickpeas
  • almonds
  • homemade crackers, when I have time to make them :)
  • smoothies
Today’s Question: How do you plan your meals? Have you written about your meal planning method? Leave me a link so I can add your post to my Meal Planning Pinterest board.


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Blogger Kristin said...

Thank you for sharing this! I'm always looking for ways to simplify! It sounds like your simple meals are full of flavor, as well as super healthy.

April 27, 2012 at 11:13 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

A couple questions:

Do you make your own pasta sauce or do you have a jar brand that you use?

What is your veggie broth recipe?

April 29, 2012 at 10:56 PM  
Blogger Tim, Allyson, and kids said...


We usually can pasta sauce every summer and have a great recipe! But with our move last year we don't have any homemade sauce.

If our grocery budget was not so tight, I'd buy organic sauce, but I at least stick to the all natural. We really like the Classico brand. I look for varieties with no added sugars.

Some of the Classico jars are also canning lid compatible (not all their jars are the same) so we'll be filling them with our own sauce this summer.

As far as veggie broth, I have a post in the works for that, it should be ready by next week. (Email me if you need a sneak peek.)

April 30, 2012 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I think I can wait until next week for the broth recipe. I did a little cooking today for the freezer so I'm good on meals for the week. On Wednesday, I'm making pasta sauce, though. It's been awhile since I've made it because Brian and Owen don't like chunky sauces. I think I'll try pureeing in the blender and see how they like that.

April 30, 2012 at 9:17 PM  
Blogger Suanna said...

I've been doing a series on staying on top of food costs. Here is the link to my Menu Planning post.

April 30, 2012 at 9:51 PM  

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