Sunday, July 8, 2012

Five Week Meal Plan

This is for all the ladies on BBC that requested my meal plan.

Some background first.  I’ve tried several methods of preparing meals ahead of time, and this is the one that works best for me.  If this doesn’t suit you, feel free to modify however you need to to make it work.  I’ve tried the method where you actually plan out which meals you’re going to eat on which days of the month or week, but I’m not good at sticking to that plan.  Plus, being pregnant doesn’t make it any easier, because I may or may not be able to eat whatever is on the “menu” for a given day (yay for food aversions!).

What I did is sit down with the Excel grid (it’s also attached to this e-mail) and write in all the meals I make often and don’t need recipes for.  Things like spaghetti, chili dogs, quesadillas, etc.  Then I fill in at least four boxes with “leftovers”, because I know we’ll have them, and that’s a few nights during the month that I don’t have to worry about food.  And of course we like frozen pizza, and it’s great for busy nights, so I put that in three boxes.  Then I look through all my cookbooks (I have probably 200, no joke) and find recipes that we’ve tried, and some that we haven’t, to fill in the rest of the boxes.  I also add at least one side dish to each meal, and bread.  DH also insists that every meal contain meat, so if your household isn’t so specific, you could probably save a little money by substituting vegetarian meals once or twice a week.

One final disclaimer.  DH hates Hamburger Helper, so I found a website that gives you the recipes so you can essentually make Hamburger Helper dishes from scratch.  If you don’t mind Hamburger Helper from a box, you can use that on the nights where I have an actual recipe.  Personally, I think it takes exactly the same amount of time to cook it either way, and I think the scratch recipes taste better.  But that’s your choice.

So once I have all my boxes filled out, I start making a rough draft copy of my grocery list.  A lot of the spices and pasta that I need, I already have as staples in my pantry.  I like to keep at least four different kinds of dry pasta, and I have a separate can pantry where I keep veggies and beans and other canned goods.  So I take stock of all these things while going over each recipe, and write down anything I don’t have.  I call it my rough draft because it gets messy, and I always rewrite it in a better format before I leave for the store.  Once the list is ready, I go to the store and get everything I need.  I only get some of the fresh bread and veggies that I need, because I don’t want stuff to go bad.  I still have to make a trip to the grocery store every week for milk and juice and sandwich bread, so if I need some fresh veggies I’ll get them then.

When I get back from the store, I separate out all the things that can go in the fridge or freezer in their current state and put them away.  I do the same with things going in the pantry or cabinet.  Then I work with the meats that I’m not going to cook ahead of time.  For this meal plan, I set aside two packages of porkchops and two packages of chicken, labeled with the meal they’re part of.  Then I start on the ground beef.  I’m pretty sure my menu used 10 pounds of ground beef, so I separated it out into one or two pound groups, depending on how much I needed for a particular recipe.  Then I cooked it all, put it in pre-labeled ziploc baggies, and put it all in the freezer.  The only thing that needed to be cooked ahead of time that I didn’t do the first week was the red beans and rice, and only because I got tired.  I cooked them the following weekend.

I think that covers the preperation.  The spreadsheet that comes with this document will show the names of the meals and the sides that go with them.  The rice I use is Rice a Roni, and I just pick a couple flavors that sound good.

First, the meals that require little to no explanation:

Fishsticks and french fries – we use the frozen variety, and make ours in our fryer

Chili dogs – I used canned chili with no beans

Hamburgers – it’s up to you whether you make your own patties or buy pre-made

Spaghetti and meatballs – I like to buy a bag of frozen meatballs, because they last for a long time, and you can use them in multiple meals

Chicken patties – I buy the pre-made frozen breaded patties from Tyson.  They come in a resealable package of about 10 patties, and they only take about 20 minutes in the oven.  I like to serve them with Knorr noodles (in a bag) in the butter and herb variety, and frozen niblets corn with butter sauce.

Frozen pizza – obviously this is an easy one

Beef tips and noodles – this is a frozen meal I bought at Walmart (it’s their brand), and it feeds the four of us

Frozen chicken and rice dinner – this was a Stouffer’s meal I bought at Walmart, and it was actually pretty good

Breakfast tacos – I use a pound of breakfast sausage and six eggs.  I cook the sausage ahead of time and freeze it, then thaw it out when I’m ready to make the meal.  Once the sausage is warm in your pan, add the eggs and mix together while the eggs cook.  You can add other things to the eggs and sausage if you like, but my family eats them plain.  DH adds salsa to his taco after it’s made.  Once the eggs are fully cooked, you just spoon the mixture into your tortillas and enjoy.

Tacos – I cook a pound of hamburger meat with taco seasoning for these ahead of time, then freeze it until I’m ready to use it.  Then just thaw and reheat the meat, cook your rice and beans, and enjoy.  Obviously if you like to add lettuce and tomatoes, or anything else, to your tacos, feel free.

Leftovers – we call these “biblical” at our house.  It stands for “seek, and ye shall find”, basically meaning “help yourself to whatever is still in the fridge”.  You should do this every so often (once a week is probably best) to make sure that none of your food goes bad before you get a chance to eat it.

Quesadillas – I make these with canned shredded chicken in my quesadilla maker, but you can make them in a skillet.  I just take a tortilla, put some shredded cheese on it (I use the “fiesta blend”), then add shredded chicken and more cheese.  Then I put another tortilla on top and cook it.  For DH, I add salsa when I’m putting the chicken on.  Cook until the tortillas are crispy, flipping when necessary, then remove from the skillet and cut.  I use a pizza cutter for ease of cutting.  Let cool a little, then serve.  I also make Rice a Roni Spanish rice and heat a can of refried beans to go with the quesadillas.  If you’re a fan of guacamole and sour cream, feel free to bust those out, too.

Chunky soup over rice or potatoes – got this recipe from a magazine.  Take a can or two of your favorite chunky-style soup, and pour it in a bowl on top of either white rice or mashed potatoes.

Corned beef hash and corn – this is something my family has made as a cheap and easy meal my entire life.  Buy a can of corned beef hash (make sure the can says HASH, not just corned beef), put it in a pan and add a can of whole-kernel corn, drained.  Cook until heated through, then serve and eat.  The food is already cooked in the can, you’re just reheating it and searing a little by cooking it on the stove.

Here are a few that take a little more explanation:

Poor Man’s Pot – this is one of my personal inventions.  I created it years and years ago when it was just DH and I, and we were really broke.  I just threw together what we had, and it actually turned out pretty good.  It’s been a staple ever since.

One can of black beans, drained
One can of red beans, drained
One can of ranch style beans, not drained
One small package of Kielbasa sausage links
Two cups of cooked white rice

Basically, just throw all the beans together in a big pot, put your sausage on the grill (or on the stove, or in the microwave, whichever you prefer) and then start your rice cooking.  Once the rice is done, add it to the beans and stir.  When the sausage is ready, cut it in to small slices and add it to the bean and rice mixture.  Stir again, and serve.  Easy-peasy.  DH likes to add salsa to his bowl, but I prefer it as-is. 

Red beans and rice – this is an old family recipe. 

Two pounds of dry red beans
One ham steak slice
Bell pepper
Salt and pepper

I use two pounds of dry red beans so that I have plenty of leftovers to freeze for later.  Some people soak their beans first, I don’t.  I put the beans in my “bean pot”, add enough water to more than cover the beans, then turn the heat on to get a boil.  Once I have a good boil, I turn the heat down to just above a simmer, put the cover on the pot, and let the beans cook for about an hour and half.  Check on them periodically, in case you need to add more water.  I prefer to have to add water later than start with way too much.  After that hour and half, I add a heaping handful of diced onion, diced celery, and diced green pepper (my cajun grandmother always called those the “holy trinity” of cajun cooking), and the ham steak cut into bite-sized chunks.  Stir the veggies and meat into the beans, and recover the pot.  Check on them every 20 minutes or so, just to stir the beans and make sure they’re not in need of water.  Cook them for about another hour and half (we’re going for close to 3 hours total cooking time), then add salt and pepper and restir.  Taste the beans.  If they’re a little hard still, let them cook longer.  If they need more salt or pepper, add and retaste.  Once your taste-test meets your satisfaction, take them off the heat and serve, or put into containers for the fridge and freezer.  When you’re ready to eat the beans, just make some instant rice (I usually make two cups) and serve the beans on the rice.

Chili casserole – this is a modification on a recipe I found years ago.

One can of chili with beans
One can of chili without beans
One can of black beans (drained)
One can of whole-kernel corn (drained)
Shredded cheese
One package (box or bag) of cornbread mix

In an 8x8 square pan (I use glass), add half of each of the chili cans and mix together.  Then add the black beans and corn, just as much as you think you’d like (I actually only use about half of each can).  Then add the rest of the chili on top.  You can’t really mix it at this point, so I just kind of spread them both out to get a sort of mix.  Then sprinkle the shredded cheese on top (I prefer a colby-jack mix).  In a separate bowl, make the cornbread mix as called for on the box or bag.  Once mixed, pour the cornbread batter over the cheese.  Try to spread it out to cover the entire meal.  When the batter is spread, put the whole pan in the oven at whatever temperature is written for the cornbread itself, and cook for the directed length of time.  When it’s done, take it out of the oven and let it cool for a few minutes, then serve.

The rest of the meals have actual recipes, either from one of my cookbooks, or the internet.  The three home-made hamburger helper recipes on this particular menu are from a website called Chickens in the Road.  I’ve scanned the pages for those meals, and they’re at the bottom of this post.  That covers Cheesy Italian shells, Beef Stroganoff, and Cheeseburger Macaroni.

Meal in One Potatoes and the meatloaf came from a book called Once a Month Cooking.  I've scanned those pages and included them here, as well.  Lemon-Garlic chicken, Golden-Onion Baked porkchops, and Skillet Chicken Parmesan are all from a book called Back of the Box Cooking.  Those pages are also included in this post.  Honey-Mustard Glazed porkchops is from Good For You Cooking.

Chicken Alfredo Rollups and No Boil Baked Penne are recipes i found on Pinterest.  Click their names for links to the recipes.  Mozart Mozarella and King Ranch Chicken are from  The only difference in my recipes is that i use canned chicken for the king ranch chicken, because it's easier for me to store than buying a whole chicken or even extra chicken breasts.  and i don't use mushrooms.

So here are all the pages of recipes, plus the printout for the 5 weeks of meals.